Update published August 4, 2022
Dior is facing cultural appropriation accusations in China once again. Its Fall 2022 products featuring what the house calls “Jardin d’Hiver” patterns have been called out by netizens for copying traditional Chinese painting styles. According to the product description on Dior’s official website, the collection is “a poetic and exotic representation of Monsieur Dior’s wall murals.”
Following the recent scandal over the plagiarism of traditional Chinese horse face skirts — to which the French luxury titan has yet to issue a formal response — this latest controversy further bruises Dior’s image in the mainland. The hashtag #NewDiorProductsAllegedlyCopyingChineseFlowerandBirdPatterns currently has 3.5 million views on Weibo. But worse than that, angered users are rushing to comment under Dior’s newest posts on the platform as well as Instagram asking the brand to apologize.
Strong sentiment for traditional Chinese wear has even manifested offline. Amid the ongoing backlash against Dior’s horse face skirt, around 50 Chinese students protested outside of the Paris Dior store in July, with the Weibo hashtag #ChineseStudentsinParisProtestAgainstDiorCulturalAppropriation gathering over 440 million cumulative views.
Clearly, keeping silent and trying to go unnoticed isn’t working well for the house.
Published July 18, 2022
What Happened: Dior’s latest drop has caught the attention of Chinese netizens — for all the wrong reasons. Over the weekend, the French luxury house was accused of cultural appropriation by netizens and official media outlets such as Global Times and People’s Daily for launching a mid-length pleated skirt in its Fall 2022 collection that mimics the design of a traditional Chinese horse face skirt.
Horse face skirt, or mǎmiànqún in Mandarin, is a Chinese garment that dates back to the Song dynasty. It has four skirt doors on the front and back sides overlapping each other, and the layered portion of the skirt doors is called “horse face.” On Weibo, #Dior plagiarism# has over 20 million views so far. Dior has not responded to the controversy and has banned comments on its recent Weibo posts.
The Jing Take: Dior is not a stranger to navigating the nuances of Chinese culture and innovating in the market, especially when it comes to the metaverse and wellness categories. However, the LVMH brand has also faced its share of faux pas in recent years; in 2021, it hit an unexpected road bump with the inclusion of a controversial image at its Dior and Art exhibition in Shanghai. Now, given the growing patriotism of Chinese netizens and Dior’s lack of response, this latest incident continues to fester online.
While it is common in fashion to take inspiration from other cultures — especially from China given its nearly 5,000 years of recorded history — questions over cultural appreciation versus appropriation can arise. This issue that Chinese consumers have here is not that Dior has incorporated traditional Chinese elements but that it has described its skirt as a “new design” and “hallmark Dior silhouette.” As an opinion piece by People’s Daily stated, “Copyright experts should join the discussion and use this incident as a starting point to clarify the boundaries between plagiarism and reference, reference and paying tribute.”
Ultimately, this incident is unlikely to tarnish the brand’s years of work in China. But what is certain is that China’s netizens are now culturally hyper-aware, especially when it comes to the activities of international names. On the cusp of a storm, learning how to respond to backlash and win back the favor of local consumers is a challenge all luxury brands need to prepare for.
Reporting by Hanyu Yang
The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.