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FFrench luxury fashion house Dior has come under fire today on Chinese social media for the design of one of the skirts from its Fall 2022 collection, which resembles a traditional Chinese skirt known as a mǎmiànqún (马面裙).

On the Chinese version of Dior‘s official website, the French fashion brand describes it as a “midi skirt” which is a “brand new elegant and stylish piece based on Dior’s iconic silhouette”.

But many Chinese netizens disagree and say the pleated skirt in question is actually a mǎmiànqún (马面裙): A traditional Chinese skirt wrapped in the shape of an apron that was worn in China as early as the Song (960-1279) and Liao (916-1125) dynasties and became popular during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644).

The Dior skirt.

The literal translation of the word mǎmiànqún is ‘horse face skirt.’ The skirt is made of two overlapping fabrics wrapped around the lower body: both sides of the skirt are pleated, and there is a smooth section in the middle. The skirt is also known as the mǎmiànzhěqún (马面褶裙), ‘horse head pleated skirt.’

“Exactly the same,” some commenters wrote. “They copy China and then sell it to Chinese consumers, I don’t know what to say.” On Dior’s official Chinese website, the skirt is priced at 29,000 yuan ($4,292).

The Dior skirt on the left, the Chinese mamian skirt on the right, image from Weibo.

“They vilify China and at the same time steal Chinese culture. They are shameless,” wrote one Weibo user (@改改hj).

“Can’t the propaganda department create an organization to defend our legal rights?” other commentators write.

Influential story blog @Qinyimo (@秦祎墨, over 7 million fans) wrote, “I’m not even kidding. I hope that a copyright lawyer and a cultural preservation expert will jointly assess this issue and pay attention to the seriousness of the situation. »

Some people are particularly offended that Dior is suggesting that the skirt design is based on their own original Christian Dior skirt, without any reference to China. Others foresee bigger problems for traditional Chinese clothing if Dior actually claims the design is theirs.

Side-by-side comparison of Dior’s skirt and mamianqun.

The Qinyimo blog account drew attention to this potential issue.

“It’s not just a question of plagiarism,” they write: “As traditional Chinese clothing, mamianqun has historical origins in the traditional Chinese clothing system that has continued to the present day and is not If Dior patented the version of their mamianqun design, it would mean that when the Chinese fashion industry uses this traditional technique, they could end up in an international legal dispute for doing so.

“What’s ours is ours, I’m sure. But if their patent is approved, it would mean our exit is blocked (..) This is no joke, this needs serious attention.

Examples of Mamianqun shared on Weibo.

Traditional Chinese clothing is becoming increasingly popular among young Chinese people, especially due to the rise of the Hanfu movement, which can be described as a social movement that supports the wearing of Han Chinese ethnic clothing (read more here).

“Dior is blatant cultural appropriation [文化挪用]wrote a Weibo user, receiving nearly 12,000 likes on his comment.

At the same time, not everyone agrees that Dior is guilty of plagiarism: “It’s not plagiarism, make no mistake, the Mamian skirt is not protected by copyright. author so you can’t really plagiarize her. However, this is 100% cultural appropriation”.

“They hijack our traditional clothes,” write other commentators.

This is not the first time that a Western luxury fashion brand has sparked controversy in China. In 2018, Italian fashion house D&G faced consumer outrage and backlash from Chinese social media for a marketing campaign featuring a Chinese-looking model clumsily using chopsticks to eat Italian food ( read more here). Various other brands, including Versace and Givenchy, also came under fire in 2019 for listing Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan as separate countries or regions – not part of China – on their official websites or t-shirts. brand.

However, it is rare for online controversies to erupt in China accusing foreign brands of “cultural appropriation”. In the past, China has been accused of cultural appropriation, especially with regard to Korean traditions. Earlier this year, a performer at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics was convicted in South Korea for wearing a traditional Korean dress known as a hanbok.

Although “cultural appropriation” is at the center of today’s discussions, it is arguably a little more nuanced than previous mainstream discussions regarding the issue of cultural appropriation outside of China. More than feeling offended that Dior uses the Chinese mamianqun design, it’s about Dior claiming the design as being based on its own original classic. As one netizen wrote: “Make no mistake, there is no point in talking about ‘cultural appropriation’. [文化挪用], we need to let people know that in the future, if they wear mamianqun, foreigners might tell them that “Chinese people love to wear big fashion brand rip offs”. When our own international clothing brands use our own mamian skirt elements, it is likely that they will be sued by Dior for this.

As of this writing, the official Dior Weibo account has not responded to the controversy. They have, however, disabled the comment sections of their latest posts.

By Manya Koetse

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