Sep 29th, 2019, 01:20 PM

Dior's "Sauvage" Perfume Controversy

By Melissa Gomez
Dior Sauvage
Dior Sauvage. Source: Jonathan Knowles
Dior's new fragrance campaign smells like racism.

Dior, earlier this month, released a campaign video to promote Native American culture and their perfume, Sauvage. The campaign video, directed by Jean-Bapstise Mondino, stars Johnny Depp, Canku One Star, and Tanaya Beatty. This campaign video received negative feedback from Native Americans all over social media, as for the stereotypical portrayal of Native Americans and Native culture, racism, and cultural appropriation. 

The advertisement itself is a dramatic video. The film immediately starts with the words "We are the land," being spoken by an unknown voice as shots of a mountainous terrain are shown. The word 'Sauvage' is presented alongside the perfume bottle. Johnny Depp is presented either looking dramatically across rocky cliffs and mountains or playing a riff by Link Ray, a Shawnee rock and roll guitarist. A Native man is shown dancing in regalia and a Native woman is seen walking in the desert.  Dior released the film on their Twitter with a short statement: 'An authentic journey deep into the Native American soul in a sacred, founding and secular journey.'  

Screenshot of Dior's tweet promoting Sauvage. Source: Official Twitter Dior

Dior claims that this film was created in partnership with the non-profit organization, Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO). The main goal for this campaign, according to a statement from Dior, was "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 worldviews." To many innocently viewing this short film, it could on the surface seem like any other campaign. But deep down, Natives are angry at this portrayal. 

The word 'sauvage' is French for savage, meaning wild or uncontrollable. To give a brief history lesson, this word goes back to the early days of America, where the colonizers would use the word 'savage' to describe Native Americans. Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the United States and dubbed 'Indian Killer', openly called Natives savages. His main motive as president was to relocate Natives. In a particular speech to Congress on December 6, 1830, he called Natives 'savages' and even called on to influence Natives on 'their savage habits' and instead have them 'become an interesting, civilized, and Christian community.'

Trail of Tears Map. Source: Isala Gray 

Andrew Jackson's speech to Congress was for the Indian Removal Act of 1830,  which legalized ethnic cleansing, removed thousands of Native American tribes like the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole nations from their sacred homelands, and opened the lands (east of Mississippi) to white people and their slaves. This led to the Trail of Tears (nu na da ul tsun yi) where thousands of Cherokees were killed as they made their way west, from Tennessee to modern day Tahlequah, Oklahoma, now capital to the Cherokee nation and the United Keetowah Band of Cherokee Indians. 

The term savage was used to describe Natives and Native culture, which seemed foreign and barbaric to these European invaders. Dior claims they are being respectful towards Native Americans, but it seems like a ironic joke that the name of the campaign, Sauvage, a disgusting word used for hundreds of years to discriminate and depict Native Americans as inhumane and barbaric. It's a disgusting racial slur and the fact that the fashion house chose to use the word on a Native American-focused campaign is wrong and embarrassing. 

The campaign also portrayed racial stereotypes regarding Native Fancy Dancer Canku One Star and Tanaya Beatty's characters. One star is part of the Sićangu, Oglala Lakota, Onieda & Seneca Nations. Beatty, a Canadian actress who is well known for her role as Rachel Black in Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part I, is of Da'naxda'xw First Nations descent. In media, portrayals of men and women are usually done poorly. Men are usually depicted as warriors and women are usually depicted as over-sexualized. Romanticizing Native American culture is also a big problem in the video, for it depicts Depp 'soul searching' and 'finding himself among nature,' depicts One Star as a strong warrior, and Beatty as a quiet, beautiful girl amongst nature.

It also depicts Native culture as something from long ago, even though Natives American culture and tribes are still here today. Shandiin Vandervere, a freshman here at AUP, is Navajo and claims the campaign seemed "old fashioned" and "infuriating, but has been there with the stereotypical costumes." "It's really frustrating," she says, "it happens a lot but sadly, it's going to continue to happen. The campaign seems like it did no research and there was no validity in what they were doing. No one came forward and said what was being done was wrong." 

Sauvage Dior Campaign Video. Source: Youtube

Dior released a statement a few weeks after the release of their campaign, saying, "The House of Dior has long been committed to promoting diversity and has no tolerance for discrimination in any form. Recently, a film trailer for the Sauvage fragrance was posted on social media and immediately withdrawn. We are deeply sorry for any offense caused by this new advertising campaign, which was meant to be a celebration of the beauty, dignity, and grace of the contemporary Native American culture. As a consequence, we have decided not to release this version of the campaign.” The campaign has then since pulled from sites and now promote the perfume with only Johnny Depp. Even the Americans for Indian Opportunity wrote on their Instagram  “Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO) deeply regrets its participation in the Dior campaign."

Cultural appropriation has always been a big issue in the fashion industry for years. For example, Gucci had a big scandal earlier this year with being accused of blackface due to a sweater they released. Since then, they have hired a diversity chief to not commit any more mistakes, and the sweater is no longer available on Gucci's site. Ironically, Dior had another scandal last year. During their promotion of Dior Cruise 2019, they had inspiration from Mexican culture and the escaramuzas. Escaramuzas is a female equestrian sport where the riders move along with music in synchronized choreography. Jennifer Lawrence, who claims no Mexican heritage, was the face of this campaign. The campaign was also shot in California instead of Mexico and lacked Mexican representation. This was seen as poor character from Dior, especially during the time of the release there were tensions on the Mexican-American border. 


Dior Cruise 2019 show. Source: Youtube

It seems like Dior hasn't learned anything from the Cruise Scandal earlier this year. The Sauvage campaign made its debut and was taken down within weeks and received negative reviews from Native Americans all over Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Facebook. It is unknown if the campaign or Johnny Depp were going to donate any of the proceeds to a Native American organization or tribes, for Dior never released a statement nor has Depp.

It was good on Dior's part to collaborate with Americans for Indian Opportunity and other Native Americans for this campaign. But overall, Dior needs to do better. If they want to include representation, they have to fully do research on what is offensive towards a racial group (slurs, stereotypes, etc). Dior could've executed this campaign better by having a different face (Johnny Depp claims Cherokee or Creek ancestry but is not enrolled in any tribe, however, was adopted by a Comanche woman back in 2012, making him an honorary member of the Comanche nation). Dior as well should have, if working with Native tribes, immediately declare alongside the campaign that proceeds would be going towards Native American tribes. They failed to do that, hence creating more controversy and anger from the Native community.