Protest At Dior

In Paris, Chinese students, wearing hanfu, want Dior not to claim a skirt as the maison’s “hallmark silhouette”

Chinese students in hanfu protesting outside the Dior Champs-Élysées store. Photo: 小红书

In February 2018, Dior showed the autumn/winter collection inspired by the student demonstrations that shook Paris in 1968—the models walked through a show space lined with wallpaper, as well as those for floor, of catchy slogans and ripped protest posters. Little did they know that four years later, they would witness a real protest right on their very doorsteps. About two weeks ago, consumers in China were deeply unhappy that Dior had described a “mid-length pleated skirt” that the brand sold online as a “hallmark Dior silhouette”. They considered the said skirt to be too similar to the Chinese’s own ma mian qun ((马面裙) or horse-face skirt and considered Dior’s a “plagiarised” product. The unhappiness rumbled through Chinese social media, but Dior probably did not expect that Chinese students furthering their education in Paris and elsewhere would take it further: To the street—the famed Avenue des Champs-Élysées, no less—in front of Dior’s flagship/headquarters.

Last Saturday, when they were not attending class, about 80 to 100 students (as well as those not studying in France) dressed in hanfu (汉服) fineness—traditional Han Chinese dress (but not necessarily historically accurate)—protested on one of the busiest and known avenues in the French capital. The student organisers, according The Observer, had expected about 20 to turn up, but the support was more encouraging than they had anticipated. According to them, even the locals were supportive of their action. Reportedly, a Frenchman who had previously participated in hanfu-promoting activities and and had worn a ma mian qun himself “understood what the students were doing”. One of the three organisers, surnamed Liu (刘), who apparently flew to France from China to see if Dior is still selling the offensive skirt in their stores in Paris, told the media: “Cultural reference (文化借鉴, wenhua jianken) we support—we are willing to share good things—but cultural appropriation (文化挪用, wenhua nayong) is absolutely not allowed.”

Protesters showing a ma mian qun. Photo: 小红书

The protesters held up cardboards and notices that read “Dior plagie la conception” (Dior plagiarises design), “stop appropriation culturelle (stop cultural appropriation)”, “C’est la tenue traditionnel Chinoise (this is traditional Chinese clothing)”. They chanted non-agressively: “Please stop cultural appropriation and respect Chinese culture”. The rather mild demonstration was livestreamed on Weibo and Wechat, according to Chinese media reports, and attracted more than 500,000 views. Online, Chinese outrage was also directed at how Dior, for the opening of its new store in Seoul and where the brand’s fall 2022 collection was stage to coincide with the event, acknowledged Korean influence in their work, sharing on Instagram that the store “fuses French and Korean culture, incorporating important and innovative digital dimensions”. Dior, those who oppose the brands action say, did not take into consideration the Chinese influence in their creative output, but would give a nod to the Korean’s. In the brand’s show notes of that season, it was stated that the collection, including the skirt, was inspired by school uniforms, hence—it could be assumed—the choice of Ewha Womans University as the show venue.

Some outside China consider the students’ action to be weakly-sighted cultural pride. And that there are other bigger issues to consider. One smaller group positioned themselves opposite the Chinese protestors with their own signs that read “les driots del’homme comptent (human rights matter)” and “裙子 〉人权 (skirts greater than human rights)”, likely referring to the still-problematic issues with the Uyghurs and the Xinjiang region in which they live, where the West believes crimes against humanity is committed by the Chinese government. It is tempting to see that perceived cultural appropriation can be used to divert the scary realness of human rights violation. A Chinese counter-protester was quoted by the press: “these people have the right and freedom to march, but they are discussing whether a skirt is plagiarized, rather than discussing June 4th, the Uyghurs, etc.” Ms Liu’s stand was that plagiarism and cultural appropriation cannot be ignored. She said, “Today, if you—an influential international brand—appropriate our culture, and we do not speak up, then in the future, no one would know that this, in fact, belongs to traditional Chinese culture.” As with most things now debated online, other counter-arguments have emerged. Some in France are now joking that the Chinese are finally aware that plagiarism is not good—the realisation, they say, is “a big improvement”.

Update (26 July 2022, 9am): The Dior “mid-length pleated skirt” is still available on their SG website

Additional reporting: Rachel Zhou

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