Dior draws ire in China with photo that 'smears Asian women'

The photo depicts an Asian woman dressed in a traditional costume and holding a Dior bag. PHOTO: WEIBO

SHANGHAI (BLOOMBERG) - Christian Dior is the latest international fashion brand to face criticism in China, after an exhibition in Shanghai featured a photo that state media said was "smearing Asian women".

The photograph, included in the Lady Dior show, depicts an Asian woman dressed in a traditional costume and holding a Dior bag.

It drew ire in an editorial published by the state-owned Beijing Daily on Monday (Nov 15) with the headline: "Is This the Asian Woman in Dior's Eyes?"

Shot by a local Chinese photographer, the image makes Chinese consumers feel uncomfortable, the report said. It features "spooky eyes, gloomy face, and Qing Dynasty-styled nail armour", according to the article.

Social media posts by Dior, newspapers and the photographer all drew angry responses from the public, though there's been no talk of a boycott. Dior did not have an immediate comment.

"The photographer is playing up to the brands, or the aesthetic tastes of the Western world," the report said. "For years, Asian women have always appeared with small eyes and freckles from the Western perspective, but the Chinese way to appreciate art and beauty can't be distorted by that."

Dolce & Gabbana experienced similar criticism three years ago after it posted videos featuring a Chinese model awkwardly attempting to eat cannoli and other Italian foods with chopsticks.

Widely deemed offensive, the ads incited a consumer backlash and a sharp sales decline even after its founders apologised. While the luxury Italian fashion house lured back some customers, sales remain lower than they were before the misstep.

Consumers still are not able to find Dolce & Gabbana on China's major e-commerce platforms such as Tmall. Beijing News, in a commentary published in October, said it will not be easy to regain market share without respecting Chinese consumers.

Global brands are facing a dilemma as they try to satisfy the demands of Western shoppers and human-rights groups for greater sustainability, without triggering conflict in China.

There is growing nationalism among consumers in the world's largest retail economy, amid escalating geopolitical tensions with the West.

A social media backlash hit Hennes & Mauritz this spring, with revenue in China falling at least 40 per cent in its most recent quarter after it expressed concern about forced labour in Xinjiang.

Nike has also come under pressure to walk a fine line in China - its fastest-growing market - amid a brewing controversy over its business practices there.

It is not the first time Dior angered China over political sensitivities. In 2019, it gave a presentation at a university that included a map of the country. It excluded Taiwan.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.