Elm Staff Writer
Fashion house Christian Dior has been facing backlash in recent weeks over the latest promotional advertisement it has produced in conjunction with celebrity Johnny Depp.
The promotional video, which runs just over one minute in length, shows Depp, decked out in cowboy attire, hiking along a ridge, while being followed at a distance by a Native American woman. He proceeds to find a guitar, wrapped in a blanket presumably of Native American origin, and uses the guitar to belt out a riff from “Ramble,” a song written by Native American rock musician Link Wray. These vignettes intermittently cut to shots of a dancer in traditional garb, dancing at the summit of a mountain.
Dior has since pulled the ad from running, but the damage has been done. The fashion giant defended the work, noting that there were a number of collaborations with indigenous people’s organizations in an effort to prevent the typical forms of cultural appropriation that plague media tropes and stereotypes. Despite their efforts, people were not amused.
In response, many have deemed the advert to be outdated, racist, and that is cultural appropriation, which occurs when members of a cultural majority adopt elements of a cultural belonging to a disadvantaged minority.
Dior’s Sauvage line has been in production since the late 1960s, and the direct translation of “Sauvage” to English can be interpreted as either “wild,” or “savage.”
The tropes Dior’s ad campaign play into are certainly alarming, as they perpetuate the stereotype that Native Americans and indigenous people are savages, a misconception that predates the founding of the United States.
This is not the first time Christian Dior has come under scrutiny for racist behavior.
In 2011, its head designer, John Galliano, was fired after making a number of racist and anti-Semitic statements. In 2012, the company was accused of making clothing that closely resembled Native American garb.
Regarding Depp, this is far from the first time he has come between the crosshairs of those seeking social justice. In 2013, his portrayal of Tonto in Disney’s box office flop “The Lone Ranger” drew the ire of many, as Disney chose to use a white actor rather than a descendant of the First People to portray the Native sidekick.
Depp has since developed much closer relationships with many people of Native American heritage, including the chair of Americans for Indian Opportunity, the organization which Dior consulted in an effort to prevent any potential issues.
This incident, while disappointing, is nothing new in the world of the fashion industry. During New York Fashion Week, an American fashion line, Bstroy, sparked outrage after promoting hoodies with bullet holes and schools targeted by mass shooters emblazoned on them. This year, Kim Kardashian received backlash regarding her Kimono shapewear brand.
There is a difference between wearing an item to look good and wearing something for the history and meaning behind it. When fashion lines replicate clothing or items from another culture, it strips it of its meaning.
Not only that, but it is seen as hypocritical and oppressive. Why can members of a cultural majority dress like that and be seen as “hip” and “worldly” whereas if members of that minority dress according to their culture, they are labeled as “savages” or “uncivilized”?
The United States is, and has always been, a melting pot for cultures. This does not mean cultural appropriation.