My beef with Maison Kitsuné

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Maison Kitsuné is a French brand designed by Gildas Loaëc and Masaya Kuroki. Loaëc is straight up French, and Kuroki moved from Japan to France aged 12, according to this article. Thus, I assume he has a somewhat limited understanding of Japanese culture and perceptions due to that. Earlier this year Kitsuné faced controversy when its visuals for an upcoming collection featured the Japanese military flag, which is considered by many to be a symbol of Japanese imperialism and aggression. For the uninformed, the Japanese military in the mid-1900s invaded, colonized and committed heinous acts of violence throughout much of Asia, most of which the Japanese government has refused to apologize for or even recognize happened. Therefore a symbol of that military is extremely offensive to many. The brand apologized, but its other actions over the years I’ve followed it reveal how blind the creators are to cultural sensitivities and biases.

For instance, I noticed over the years that almost 100% of the models they used were white. They finally used Asian models recently to advertise their shoes, though it looks more like a shoe fetish porno:

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As opposed to most of their other models, who were styled like this:

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The overexposed shots of the Asian shoe models are reminescent of the photography of Terry Richardson, known for sexually exploiting his models. As opposed to the white models, who get to be fully clothed and are styled like, you know, models you want to look like, instead of creepy shots of Asian sex trafficking victims.

Asian people, especially women, already face enough challenge getting society to view them as full individual human beings. Asian women are often viewed as mere sex objects, usable and disposable toys–the French, especially, have a history of colonization of large parts of Asia. These models look exposed, vulnerable, and exploitable. They probably were in order to get these shots–who in their right minds would participate in creating such images?

Lastly, a recent collection by Kitsuné featured their mascot fox (kitsune means fox in Japanese) wearing a cap with the South Korean flag. Huh? Why? What made these designers, with no ostensible cultural connection to Korea, think it would be okay to use for their own profit the flag of a people that the Japanese, their stated inspiration, oppressed and mutilated for decades? Were the pandering to Korean customers? They were not amused, based on what I saw on Kitsuné’s Instagram comments. Did they think the flag pattern was just fun and pretty?

 

 

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The fox’s cap has the South Korean flag

 

I don’t think they ever officially apologized for this. But it really demonstrates how people who have no understanding of a foreign culture should be extremely cautious about handling that culture, especially if they do it in the public sphere and absolutely mandatorily (is that a word?) if they seek to profit from the use. I personally think they have zero justification for using the Korean flag for their own profit, considering the brand’s stated Japanese inspiration/roots.

It really pains me seeing Asian models and other assets of Korean culture be exploited like this. It’s additionally painful because one of the perpetrators is himself of Asian descent. I don’t flatly expect cultural sensitivity from Asian people who grow up abroad. But it still hurts a bit more.

 

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What do Asians look like?

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Tao Okamoto, model/Japanese person

The easiest way to learn what white people think about Asian people by talking to racist white people. I was recently talking to a white woman about Asian models, and I mentioned that I thought the Japanese model Tao Okamoto was very beautiful. When I showed her a picture of Tao, the woman said, “Well, she looks more white than Asian.”

What?

This woman apparently held a preconceived notion that Asians are all slitty-eyed (thus ugly), and when she saw a beautiful Asian person with large eyes (whether large eyes are a requirement for beauty is beside the point), her mind apparently resolved that internal contradiction by deciding that this Asian person was only pretty because she looked white. She then had the audacity to say to me, an Asian person, that Tao didn’t look Asian, implying that her “whiteness” was the only reason she was both Asian and beautiful.

Tao is Asian. She’s from Chiba, Japan. As far as I know her ethnicity is fully Japanese. If a Japanese person looks a certain way, then that particular feature is one present in Japanese people. Besides, plenty plenty plenty Japanese people (and Koreans, and Thai, and Nepalese, etc…you get the point) have large eyes. I do, too. I have giant Bambi eyes with long eyelashes, and there are tons of Asian girls who look like me.

The same white woman, at another point while discussing a mutual friend, a tall, broad-shouldered man of Chinese descent, said “well, he’s taller than most Asians.” I mentioned to her that he had characteristic Han Chinese features–tall and sturdily built. She maintained that he was just an exception–Asian men are short and small! All of them on the entire continent! Just like black people have wide noses! At this point I gave up. I can’t fix stupid.

 

The politics of Asian beauty is complicated. A lot of Asians undeniably spend a lot of time and effort trying to look white, and pine over features like blond hair and blue eyes. However, large eyes and whatever other features Tao has are features that do naturally occur in East Asian people, and are not rare. It’s frustrating that many white people have a set notion of what Asian people look like, based on what they believe we look like. It’s not just a superficial thing–it’s one of the many ways that white people justify how “All Asians look alike, I can’t tell them apart” and other dehumanizing of Asians and POC. It’s not just about insisting nonwhite races can also be beautiful–which is an important recognition as well–it’s also about recognizing that Asians and POC have individual and varied features, and each of us is a full human being and shouldn’t be grouped into one massive group of 4 billion.

So white people, please stop thinking we all look the same. We never have, it’s your closed minds that tell you we do.