A mid-length pleated skirt designed by Dior (left) and a mamianqun, a traditional Chinese garment, sold on a Chinese e-commerce site.
Dior has been accused of appropriating Chinese culture for a pleated skirt that is said to resemble a traditional Chinese garment. Priced at $3,800, the mid-length pleated skirt was launched in May as part of Dior’s Fall 2022 collection by creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri. But it was thrusted into the public spotlight last weekend after Chinese social media users noticed the similarity of its pattern and folds to the Chinese horse-face pleated skirt, or mamianqun—a type of Hanfu typically worn by women in the Ming Dynasty.
An op-ed in the Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily slammed the French luxury brand for describing its design as “a hallmark Dior silhouette.” “The so-called Dior silhouette is very similar to the Chinese mamianqun and many details are the same. Why would they shamelessly call it a brand new design? Netizens’ confusion and even anger are completely reasonable,” it wrote.The case has shed light on the fine line foreign companies have to tread while doing business in China, which is expected to become the world’s largest luxury market by 2025, but whose 1.4 billion consumers are increasingly difficult to please. Not only are brands subject to scrutiny for any political message as well as cultural insensitivity, they are also under growing pressure to portray Chinese people and culture “positively”.The People’s Daily commentary acknowledged that the fashion industry often borrows from different elements. “This kind of design by Dior doesn’t seem to be paying homage,” it added, without explaining why. “Was Dior inspired by Taobao?” one comment on Chinese social media site Weibo asked, referring to the popular Chinese e-commerce platform by Alibaba Group. Zhang Yan, a young Chinese fashion designer that made his debut at the New York Fashion Week in 2019, weighed in on Saturday, calling it a more serious offense than plagiarism. “By calling it their hallmark design, Dior is misleading their customers around the world,” Zhang said in a video on Weibo, criticizing the luxury brand for failing to credit Chinese culture as the source of its inspiration.
However, a few users pointed out that in some previous scandals, where international brands offended Chinese consumers for perceived slights, the controversy did little to affect the companies’ sales revenue and popularity in the long run. “This will just blow over in a matter of days,” one user wrote. Dior did not respond immediately to a request for comment. The product has since been removed from Dior’s mainland Chinese site, but it is still stocked at physical stores in Hong Kong. It is not the first time Dior has stirred controversy in China, where consumers are growing more sensitive to foreign depiction of Chinese culture. Featured in an exhibition hosted by the brand last year, a photo by the well-known Chinese photographer Chen Man sparked backlash for “smearing Asian women”.The photo featured a heavily stylised and freckled woman gazing at the camera, while holding a Dior bag. State outlets accused the photo of uglifying Chinese women and distorting Chinese culture. Chen the photographer later issued an apology for her “inconsideration” and pledged to showcase Chinese beauty in her work.Follow Rachel Cheung on Twitter and Instagram.