French luxury label Christian Dior posted a teaser for an upcoming fragrance campaign to Instagram earlier on Friday and immediately drew charges of cultural appropriation and insensitivity before it was removed.
“With images saturated with colours and emotions, @c1star performs the mesmerising Fancy War Dance that embodies all the modernity of the Native American culture,” read the now-deleted post on the official Dior Instagram feed, accompanied by an image of a figure clad in beaded regalia dancing in the desert sunset.
“A film developed as a close collaboration between the House of Dior and Native American consultants from the 50-year-old Indigenous advocacy organization @americansforindianopportunity in order to respect Indigenous cultures, values and heritage,” the post continued, ending with the line “More to come. September 1st.”
The post also includes a brief video clip of the dancer, Canku One Star of the Rosebud Sioux tribe, with the fragrance campaign’s star Johnny Depp saying in a voice-over, “We are the land. Dior.” (‘We Are the Land’ is the name of the upcoming Jean-Baptiste Mondino-directed campaign film starring Depp.)
The problem: The fragrance is called ‘Sauvage’ — a name that immediately conjures up the centuries-long casting of Native Americans as a sort of “noble savage.”
Although the Sauvage fragrance has been part of the Christian Dior brand portfolio since 1966 (reportedly named in honour of fashion publicist Percy Savage) and previous ad campaigns have featured Depp in a series of desert scenes, the prominent use of Native American motifs and customs alongside a word that translates from French to mean “savage” or “wild” struck a chord, and social media response was swift.
Although the offending post — and a second one that talked about the upcoming campaign’s back story — had disappeared from Dior’s Instagram feed within about six hours of going live, by all accounts the House of Dior had taken extraordinary measures on the front end to avoid criticism.
According to the official campaign release notes, Mondino and Depp sought out Native American consultants, and details of the film, from casting and costume to script and location, were vetted by Native American academics and activists (including LaDonna Harris, founder and president of Americans for Indian Opportunity and Depp’s adoptive Comanche mother).
When contacted about the controversy, Dior representatives declined to comment specifically but shared the following statement: “The Parfums Christian Dior project is a part of AIO’s Advance Indigeneity Campaign to change the misperceptions about Native Americans, to share accurate American history, to build awareness about Native Americans as contemporary peoples and to promote Indigenous world views.”
That the offending post came down so quickly nonetheless is another example of how brands are being increasingly responsive to online condemnation of cultural insensitivity — purposeful or accidental.
Back in June, it was Kim Kardashian West who found herself in the cultural-appropriation/-insensitivity crosshairs when she announced she was launching a shapewear line under the name Kimono — and it turned out she had tried to trademark the name of the traditional Japanese garment. She managed to pivot, announcing several months later that she would be rechristening it SKIMS Solutionwear.
It won’t be known until the September 1 release date (at the very earliest) whether Parfums Christian Dior will end up scrapping the campaign in its entirety or somehow pull off a Kardashian-esque mea culpa and pivot, but there might be a simple, if somewhat self-deprecating, solution: Simply rename it Sauvetage — the French word for “salvage” — as a nod to the efforts to rescue the cargo and the campaign from the shipwreck of cultural insensitivity.