It is not a great surprise that Dior has done something appropriative, but what does shock is just how wrong they have managed to go with the latest Dior “Sauvage” ad campaign. For those of you who missed what is going on, Dior recently launched a new campaign for the Sauvage cologne, with Johnny Depp still at the helm. Though the brand has deleted the campaign, and all references to the campaign across any of its social media pages, nothing is ever gone from the internet of course. I remember seeing the teaser that Dior put out before they launched the campaign saying it was “an authentic journey deep into the Native American soul in a sacred, founding and secular territory”. Alarm bells ringing anyone?
Well what a shock it is that, when it was released, it was full of whitewashing, racist stereotypes, oppressive tropes and total disregard for cultural appropriation. But there are enough people that will tell you what was wrong with the ad, in so many ways, and why. I want to think more about why they managed to make this monstrous mistake in 2019, when it is so clear to literally everyone who sees the ad that it is wildly inappropriate.
Dior quickly responded to the uproar, pointing out that they worked to make the campaign with advert the non-profit known as Americans for Indian Opportunity “in order to respect indigenous cultures, values and heritage”. Even I would be shocked if Dior had not done something of the kind to try and ensure they weren’t completely slammed for appropriating this culture. However, this is proof that even working with members of the culture isn’t always enough. It is simple. POCs and people from these cultures cannot just be bought in to collaborate for a small amount of time on specific parts of the campaign. It doesn’t work, and it isn’t enough. These minds have got to be in the room from very early in the process and actually be part of the team forging these ideas. The only way to avoid appropriation of this severe kind (not to say that POCs cannot be guilty of appropriation, I would just be shocked if it would happen to this extreme) is to ensure that you have a diverse team at the very beginning of these projects.
Dior was trying to commercialise this culture, making it into some magical relic from a (not so distant) past to rebrand the now old cologne. And though it offered the community some exposure and opportunity even (I’m being generous here but let’s go with it for a moment), the fact of the matter is Dior was clearly not interested in doing that for the benefit for a marginalised group. They wanted to commercialise and appropriate the culture, and tried to cover their asses by bringing in some consultants to make it seem like that wasn’t there only aim. But if you really wanted to bring these cultures to the forefront, one must start by having all these people involved from the very start.
It would be a wonderful thing in many ways to be made more aware of different cultures through advertising, and a fantastic way to change the white face and white background of the whole fashion industry. But to do this successfully, diverse staff have got to be in the boardrooms, the marketing rooms, the social media rooms, and just about every other room you can find. If it’s a cultured and varied image you want to present, you sure as hell better have a cultured and varied staff to help present. Or, you’ll end up with massive gaffs like this.
And it continues to go on behind closed doors. Ariana Grande has been outed by Farrah Moan for stealing a look, getting a designer to remake that look for her, and then failing to credit the original (queer) artist:
Ariana, who has been queer-baiting and appropriating black culture for just about her whole career, is again proving that stealing from minorities is still common practice. But we’re still not seeing those minorities. Farrah Moan may be famous in particular Drag Race loving circles, but she’s not exactly Ariana Grande is she….
It is clear that even when it is not on the mass scale appropriative stupidity that is this Sauvage ad, there is still constantly appropriation by large white artists and massive commercial brands (who also primarily target a white audience). And the only way to tackle this is to push for more diversity in the workforce behind these massive campaigns and brands. So, let’s keep on exposing and let’s keep on fighting!!
“When you have wit of your own, it’s a pleasure to credit other people for theirs” – Criss Jami