Dior is facing accusations of cultural appropriation after Chinese social media users – and protesters outside one of the label’s Paris stores – claimed that a $3,800 skirt was inspired by a centuries-old traditional garment.
The pleated wool and mohair skirt has drawn comparisons to an item of historic Chinese clothing known as a “mamianqun,” or “horse face skirt,” despite being described by the French fashion house as a “hallmark Dior silhouette.”
The controversy began earlier this month, with Chinese netizens and state media outlets accusing the brand of failing to acknowledge the alleged inspiration behind its design. A recent editorial in the Communist Party’s official mouthpiece, People’s Daily, said that Dior had “shamelessly” misrepresented the skirt as an original creation, describing social media outrage as “completely understandable.”
Indignation then spilled onto the streets of Paris last Saturday when a small group of demonstrators gathered outside one of the brand’s boutiques on Avenue des Champs-Élysées. Images and videos shared online show protesters holding signs, written in a mixture of French and English, with messages including “Dior, stop cultural appropriation” and “This is a traditional Chinese dress.”
Dior did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
According to nationalist tabloid Global Times, the protest was organized by Paris-based Chinese students, who were joined by demonstrators from other French cities, as well as some from Spain and Italy. Some of the participants appeared to be wearing a form of historical Chinese clothing known as “Hanfu.”
Several counter-protesters also arrived at the scene holding signs referencing China’s alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
Horse face skirts date back to the Song dynasty, which began more than 1,000 years ago, though they were popularized among women during the later Ming and Qing dynasties. The design features pleated sides and openings at both the front and back, making the garments well-suited for horse-riding.
The skirts are often worn by members of China’s growing “Hanfu” subculture, along with other outfits resembling the clothing traditionally worn by ethnic-majority Han Chinese before the Qing dynasty.
Dior’s skirt is part of its Fall 2022 collection, which the label has described as a “fascinating exploration of past, present and future.” The item is no longer available for purchase on the fashion house’s website.
According to Global Times, which spoke to several of the protesters, future demonstrations are currently being planned by overseas Chinese students in London and New York City.
It is not the first time in recent years that Dior has sparked outrage in China. In 2019, the label issued an apology over a map of the country, used during a presentation at a Chinese university, that didn’t include Taiwan (Beijing views the island as a breakaway province). A statement, posted to the fashion house’s Weibo account at the time, blamed an employee for the oversight while voicing support for China’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Then, last year, social media users criticized a campaign image by celebrated fashion photographer Chen Man, saying that its choice of a model with “small eyes” perpetuated negative Western stereotypes about Chinese people. Noting the “sinister” expression in her eyes and “gloomy face,” an article in the Beijing Daily newspaper at the time asked, “Is this the Asian woman in Dior’s eyes?”
Dior withdrew the photo from a Shanghai exhibition and posted a message to social media expressing respect for “the sentiments of the Chinese people.”