Continuing its love affair with our city, Dior has released “Shanghai Dreamers,” a series of haute couture prints photographed by local talent, Quentin Shih. But the campaign has triggered accusations that it’s images of cloned Chinese people behind – usually – a white model dressed to the nines are pretty racist.
The prints are meant to adorn the new Dior flagship store opening here in Shanghai. Named “Shanghai Dreamers,” the shoot was inspired by Shanghai in the 1970s, and was inspired by a “certain style of group photography.” From the description on Shih’s site: “they replicate themselves, wearing plastic clothes, they stand on display in vast spaces or upon a stage – because they were, and still are dreamers. As China enters a new era, they begin to stand together upon a world stage, self-conscious and yet filled with power.”
But some have wondered why, while all the Chinese people are replicated in their “plastic clothes,” how come the ones that stand out are almost all Caucasian? How does this represent any ability to stand on a world stage except for as an accessory of a white person? And doesn’t this kind of feel like another “all look same” joke?
Says Jenny Zhang on Jezebel:
In the case of Dior’s ‘Shanghai Dreamers,’ the conformity and the old-fashioned appearance of the rows and rows of repeated Chinese faces and bodies only serve to constitute a visual record of the Western world’s construction and affirmation of self through the racial and cultural other. If Chinese people from a certain era (and to be quite uncharitable, I don’t believe Christian Dior knows what era of Chinese photography and life he is referencing when he says, “My inspiration came from a certain Chinese style of group photography but these ceremonial photographs marks a departure from a certain historical period and herald the future,”) represent how oppressive Chinese society is and how indistinguishable Chinese people are, then it must mean that European and American societies are so free and liberated and individualized!
I’m so tired of hearing about how scary and conformist China used to be (and might I mention, always hearing about it from people who AREN’T ACTUALLY CHINESE AND DIDN’T LIVE THROUGH SAID SCARY TIMES.) Can someone, for once, actually ask a Chinese person who lived through the scary sixties and seventies what it was like and how they see themselves?
Looking at the pictures, I’m not sure I completely agree. And that’s maybe because the Cultural Revolution period did preach conformity and oppression. And maybe it’s because I’m a Chinese person who HAS known people who lived through the scary sixties and seventies. As an actual theme – China in the 1970s – smiling, “plastic” youth pretending to be happy being exactly the same as someone else while one person stands out could be a Shanghai dream.
But why is it the white model that gets to be different? Well, to be honest, I think that’s more just the casually vapid decision made by whomever did the shoot – the same kind of decision that caused Sony to be lambasted for its white v. black PSP model billboards. Someone somewhere probably said “Okay, so we want someone gorgeous standing in our beautiful couture clothes amongst the photoshopped accessories… book them.” Then, because the fashion industry itself basically likes one type of model (ultra-thin, tall, high cheekbones, usually Eastern European), they were the ones that got to wear the pretty stuff.
It’s not to say that that attitude in fashion isn’t pretty racist and/or hurtful to women in general, but in this case, it’s just yet another example of the cluelessness of the fashion world… rather than Dior’s own obsession with Orientalism. Fashion, as it stands now, is inherently racist. The thoughts behind the theme of this series, less blatantly so.
As an aside, frankly – given the general “harmonization” of Cultural Revolution history and China’s own fetishistic use of white models in advertising, I doubt anyone who does go into the Dior store here in Shanghai would have been offended anyway.