French fashion brand Dior mired in controversy in China, one of its biggest markets
Published: Nov 18, 2021 01:39 AM
Photo: Screenshot of Xiaohongshu

Photo: Screenshot of Xiaohongshu

French fashion brand Dior continued to face a lingering controversy on Chinese social media on Wednesday over a recent photo accused of smearing the image of Chinese women, with some Chinese netizens demanding an explanation from the company as well as the photographer.

Given the massive size of China's luxury market, which is one of the biggest revenue contributors to many global fashion brands, such a lingering controversy could pose a delicate situation for companies, as the Chinese public have become increasingly sensitive toward foreign companies' depiction and treatment of Chinese people and culture.

In 2020, China's luxury goods market grew by 48 percent despite the COVID-19 pandemic, according to industry data. Strong Chinese demand for Dior gave a $10 billion boost for its parent company LVMH, Bloomberg reported in April.

The controversy surrounding Dior started several days ago. The photo, which was on display at a Dior fashion exhibition that opened at the West Bund Art Center in Shanghai on Friday, shows a model with single eyelids and dark skin dressed in traditional Chinese clothing and holding a Dior bag. The photo was shot by well-known Chinese fashion photographer, Chen Man.

The photo triggered a controversy on Chinese social media over the past several days, with some criticizing the photo as depicting Chinese females in a way that feeds into Western stereotypes. But some netizens also pointed out that the photo departs from typical standards of beauty in China, which are often characterized by fair skin and large eyes.

The brand has since removed the controversial poster from its social media platforms but didn't offer any explanation. 

An article published by China Women's News newspaper noted that such photos by Dior showed the "pride and prejudice" of Western brands in their aesthetics and culture, and that such images reflect an intention to smear the image of Chinese women and distort Chinese culture.

The Global Times reached out to the public relations staff at Dior as well as at LVMH, Dior's parent company, for comment, but had received no reply as of press time on Wednesday.

The topic of "Dior photo being accused of smearing Asian descendants" was on the hot search list of Weibo on Wednesday afternoon. Some demanded an explanation from the company and the photographer.

"Neither the proud creator (of the photo) nor Dior is ready to give a response, as if they are despising netizens who they say don't understand art," one post read.

But some netizens insisted on supporting the brand, saying that Westerners are appreciating Chinese people's ethnic characteristics instead of just focusing on young, skinny, white females as the sole standard of beauty.

Dior is not an isolated case in triggering such controversy, as several international brands have met with criticism in China in recent years for showing what netizens called "distorted" aesthetics in the way they pictured Chinese models.

For example, some photos featuring LV's Chinese models were criticized by netizens as having a "Qing Dynasty filter", as the attire and hair styles of the models had some resemblance to people who lived in China's Qing Dynasty.

Earlier, Italian luxury fashion house Dolce & Gabbana met with fierce criticism in China after its video featuring a Chinese model struggling to eat Italian food with chopsticks was accused of insulting China and Chinese culture.