Cultural Appropriation or Admiration?

The topic of fashion and cultural appropriation rears its head once again – this time Dior is in trouble for an advertising campaign that got nixed before it was even launched. A campaign for their men’s fragrance Sauvage (which means ‘Wild’ in French), starring Johnny Depp, has already been pulled. Clips of a Native dancer and Rosebud Sioux Native actor Canku One Star are shown between images of Johnny Depp playing the guitar and doing ‘Johnny Depp’-like loner activities.

Dior said in a release that the advertisement “was meant to be a celebration of the beauty, dignity, and grace of the contemporary Native American culture”. It was created with the full cooperation of the Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO) organization who stated: “The goals of AIO for providing consultations on media productions are to ensure inclusion of paid Native staff, artists, actors, writers, etc., to educate the production teams on Native American contemporary realities and to create allies for Indigenous peoples. AIO does not speak for all Native Americans. We are proud to have successfully achieved our goals of education and inclusion for this project with Parfums Christian Dior.” However, once a massive backlash began over the advert, AIO wrote via Instagram “Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO) deeply regrets its participation in the Dior campaign.”

While I can point out some issues I have with the ad (where does Johnny Depp plug in his electric guitar on top of a mesa, why the Inukshuk, and why is there a Plains dancer in the Southwest?), the mob ready to lynch Dior was out of proportion to any offence the advert may have inadvertently created. Knee-jerk reactions to anything that smacks of cultural appropriation are leading to a world where everything is so culturally segregated that there will be public shaming unless only the rehashing of established boundaries are pursued by anybody judged to be of European descent. As writer Vanessa Friedman of the New York Times points out, that for Dior: “…it doesn’t encourage any kind of cross-cultural fertilization or civil debate. When you get mocked for claiming you tried, why try at all? And if you don’t try at all, where does that leave us? Endlessly plowing the same New Look furrow…”

What this will do is make producers of adverts, television shows, and films, avoid referring to, showing, or hiring anyone Native for any production. It’s not worth the trouble.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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