UTM alumna, Indigenous fashion designer, and Temagami First Nation tribe member Lesley Hampton speaks out against French luxury goods company Dior’s “very, very bad campaign” advertising their new fragrance, Sauvage.
The original Sauvage fragrance was launched in 2015. Its advertising campaign featured Johnny Depp in an urban setting.
The September 2019 launch of the new Sauvage cologne featured an ad campaign titled “We are the Land.” In the new campaign, Depp walks through a desert, while Indigenous actress Tanaya Beatty, wearing a wolf coat, follows him from a distance. Clips of Canku One Star, a Rosebud Sioux tribe member, performing the Fancy War Dance are spliced in between.
Dior quickly pulled the campaign after widespread backlash.
Hampton mentions that the Utah desert setting of the Sauvage campaign is a direct reference to the “Navajo region and the people in that area.” She emphasizes that the “connection between the word and the culture is the most offensive part.”
“Sauvage” is the French word for savage and is a slur that is “relatively put on the same level as the n-word” when used toward Indigenous peoples.
Historically, it “dates back to colonialization where the French settlers that came to Canada and the [United States] would call Canadian and American Indigenous people, ‘savage,’ in a derogatory way.”
Advertising a fragrance labelled Sauvage with Native imagery alongside naming it after a slur is problematic because “it ignores all the oppression and colonial violence that happen[ed] at that time.”
The Washington Post reports that some scholars have defended the fragrance’s name by stating that the error lies in the translation of the word “sauvage” into savage in English. Defenders note that sauvage can also refer to a “wild nature.”
Hampton refutes this idea. She explains that “Dior is such a major brand, there’s no way every person who had a say in this didn’t know [the negative connotations of the word ‘sauvage’]. It’s fair to assume they knew and used the exploitation of a culture to push their brand forward.”
Johnny Depp released a statement defending the campaign in which he said that non-profit Indigenous peoples’ rights organization Americans for Indian Opportunity “was involved in its creation.”
“There’s no way that an Indigenous person was put in an executive role because there’s no way that an Indigenous person would have allowed that word to be attached to our culture,” responds Hampton.
“If they wanted to do it authentically, why didn’t they put an Indigenous person in an authentic role?”
Hampton suggests that the campaign is “a marketing ploy” by Dior executives who ignored the possibility of “offend[ing] a few Indigenous people” just so “[other] people [would] buy the product.”
Hampton says that there has also been “lots of research and backlash from the [Indigenous] community about the people that [Dior] said advised them. [It is suggested] that they were just paid to find a location and not [put in an] advising role.”
The campaign’s 60-second advertisement is equally as offensive as the fragrance’s name.
“In the advertisement, they have this kind of Indigenous woman climbing out of the bush and they made it seem like [she] is climbing to go and find [Johnny Depp],” explains Hampton. The imagery depicts “this wild sensual mating.”
Johnny Depp himself is a controversial choice of lead actor for the Sauvage campaign. Hampton mentions that “there has been some discussion about Johnny Depp having Indigenous heritage.” For reference, in 2012, Depp stated that his “great grandmother was quite a bit of Native American. She grew up Cherokee or maybe Creek Indian.” The Americans for Indian Opportunity also noted that Depp was granted the status of an honorary member of the Comanche Nation that same year.
Hampton asserts however that “if [Depp] truly was an Indigenous person, he would understand the title being so offensive.”
“They knew what they were doing and that’s kind of the worst part of it,” Hampton says.