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