Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Marketing of Dior Sauvage- Cultural Appropriation, Johnny Depp, And Missing Rene Gruau

Christian Dior photographed by Lord Snowdon, Anthony Armstrong-Jones, for Vogue 1957. Just a bit of a cultural and memory reboot.

This has been on my mind for more than a month now, since reading this opinion piece by Sarah Marrs about Johnny Depp and the cultural appropriation in the marketing of Dior Sauvage, the modern men's cologne. Please don't confuse it with the classic 1966 Dior Eau Sauvage. Please). I don't usually comment on cultural appropriation. I recognize it when I see it, avoid it like the plague because it's not my place, but I'm also Jewish and have the attitude that y'all are welcome to use Yiddish vocabulary and help yourself to my bagel & lox, so what do I know?

I spent too much time over the last few days watching and rewatching the various commercials and marketing clips released by Dior for their Sauvage campaigns from the  2016 launch till this year's new Sauvage Eau de Parfum. I was trying to make up my mind regarding the level of offensiveness, irrelevant drivel, and general annoyingness. The original Johnny Depp poster for Sauvage happened to be released around the time the uglier details of his marriage and separation from Amber Heard. It was pre #metoo, so one wonders if the campaign would have been toned down or binned were it to occur eighteen months later. It was hard to reconcile the photos of Amber Heard's bruised face with the multiple ring cladded hands of her ex-husband, serving us the weird combination of Captain Jack Sparrow's eyeliner in the American Southwest desert. That scandal was enough at the time to eclipse the association between "savage", Johnny's heavy silver and turquoise jewelry, and the landscape.

Now, Mr. Depp has been claiming an affinity to Native American culture and tribes for many years. He's gone along with the story that he was of Native blood, and has done charity and awareness work for the Native cause, which can definitely use all the support it can get. Johnny has donated money to the Navajo nation and has always seems to lean towards their particular aesthetic and style. That's not any more cultural appropriation than any of us buying and wearing a squash blossom necklace with a black turtleneck sweater and a pair of denim. That's a look, not a costume. It was also quite nice when the Comanche Nation adopted Johnny Depp  in 2012 for his contribution to their image. His own heritage claim was actually neither Comanche nor Navajo, but either Cherokee or Creek, but it could have probably be given a pass had it not occur during the pre-campaign for Lone Ranger. Good intentions or cultural appropriation? Depp got the benefit of doubt from most people at the time, but not all.

Next came Ancestry.com's research into Depp's heritage. Their findings were fascinating, showing that while there's no base to the claim Johnny's maternal grandmother was all or mostly Cherokee, he was actually a direct descendant (eighth great-grandmother) of Elizabeth Key, the first African American female slave who sued and won her freedom in 1656. That's quite amazing, but apparently you can't use that to sell perfume.

Here's when things have gotten past the point of insufferable. A few months ago Dior has released  Sauvage Eau de Parfum and with it an onslaught of an a very expensive campaign capitalizing on what they claim is Navajo culture, but without any prominent Navajo people in the cast or crew (I've watched the credits for the commercial to many times). The whole thing is bizarre in itself as a standalone project, but as an actual commercial for a perfume from a French brand controlled by a French conglomerate it crosses the cultural appropriation line.

Does it make you want to buy Sauvage?

In my opinion, by the way, both Sauvage iterations (edt and edp) are incompatible with my personal space. I never wanted to review either one, because doing so meant I had had to spend several days of my life wearing it. Careful sampling was more than enough (and the thing is unscrubbable). The best review I've read of Sauvage is in the article that has started me on this path, the one by Sarah Marrs on Lainie Gossip. It's the best fragrance review I've come across on a non-perfume site, and I have a strong suspicion that Sarah is one of us. I want to send her a box of assorted samples just to read her reaction.

Let's get back to perfume marketing. I'm still trying to figure out what the bison and the coyote were trying to tell me about a Dior perfume. There's also a blonde woman, which is more on brand, even if she's depicted in the throes of finding her spirit animal or something. But what makes Sauvage so "sauvage"? Why was this the branding angle chosen for the scent? Am I overthinking it?

The original Dior Eau Sauvage campaign relied on illustrations by Rene Gruau. Gruau's work is classic, immediately recognizable, and quite sexy. In his later ads for Eau Sauvage there's also humor, and even a man who may not be white. It's fun. They make me smile, which I suspect was the main intention of the Dior people behind the campaign. Maybe we can go back to advertising perfume this way.