TOKYO — A photographer and a fashion company said Friday they apologized after a new image of a young woman wearing a red trench coat with cuffs seemed to be an echo of one in which a white model walks in the famous 1947 cigarette pose.
The image from photographer N.E. Kyu hit headlines Friday when it appeared in reports about Dior’s spring/summer collection, which was shown in Shanghai on Thursday and caused quite a stir with references to Dynasty, China’s former imperial dynasty, as well as a princess being shown smiling while clutching a pear.
The new model in the striking image with tall red shoulder pads is black and Asian, wearing the trench over a white blouse with cuffs.
While social media users erupted in scorn, a Dior official in Paris said Friday that they immediately requested that it be taken down as soon as they saw it, and it has since been removed.
But the image was still widely shared on sites like Sina, a Chinese version of Twitter, on Friday.
Kyu tweeted “Deepest apologies,” as did a Dior spokeswoman who had only put the words out over several times.
“Dior always upholds diversity. The freedom of expression is an important part of Dior’s human values. Dior requires it to always be our basic rule and principle,” the spokeswoman wrote in an email Friday.
The photographer, whose photo shoots are regularly published in prestigious publications including Vogue and Elle Japan, said that he had no such intention in mind when he took the photo.
“That’s a hat that I just put there,” Kyu said in an interview Friday. “I don’t know, I thought it would look interesting and chic.”
Kyu said that while he was fully aware that people can take these kinds of images in a negative way, “it is not that deep to take that kind of image.”
Although he said he was personally appalled by the reactions, he said he empathized with those offended by the omissions.
“It’s because I’m in an Asian country,” he said, noting that he was surprised that only two Asian faces were shown in the collection.
“I understand that a new generation is going to interpret this into different words,” he said.
China’s online forum responses were downright venomous.
One Instagram user said that Dior’s imagery made him “question their values,” and that China has been struggling “for years to stand back from Western invasion,” while that image only “wants to glorify colonialism and colonialism killed one million of my people.”
Others pointed out that these sorts of images could be taken even more literally by a reality television show depicting a young woman from China raising a red flag in front of an airport.
Many drew comparisons to the “Milk Tray girl” image from almost 60 years ago, when John Lichman photographed a striking young woman who wore a red dress with a Liberty Bell button. The photographer quickly apologized, and Dior released the accompanying promotional film.
Japan has long been accused of fostering a fetishistic attachment to American culture, which dates from the time when Japanese sailors “cowered” on farmlands at sundown, as a midcentury diplomat called it.
Since then, Japan has embraced many forms of American culture, from a number of pro-American trends in haute couture, such as Boy Meets World, to the ubiquity of McDonald’s burgers. The new image from Dior, like the “Milk Tray girl” image, was a nod to an old American style.