Why Sézane is at the heart of a bad buzz in Mexico?

Why Sezane is at the heart of a bad buzz

A shoot of the Parisian brand in Mexico is at the origin of a controversy that does not stop.

In a few years, Sézane has managed to unite a real community of fans around his creations that are easy to adopt and appropriate.. The recipe for the success of the label created by Morgane Sézalory? Its collections drop regularly on its website, which has long been the brand’s only point of sale. To highlight her creations, the entrepreneur has art and style. From gay and colorful photo shoots also relayed on Instagram de Sézane followed by 2.4 million subscribers. It is precisely one of these photoshoots which has earned Sézane a growing bad buzz in recent days, relayed by the Instagram account @ lienzos.extraordinarios via a video on Monday January 10. We see a Zapotec woman (a people from the region of Oaxaca) wearing a green vest, immortalized by a team of photographers who made him perform a few dance steps.

Bupu Cortés, Mexican textile designer and owner of the @ lienzos.extraordinarios account, accompanies his video with an explicit caption: “Why do we feel embarrassed when a brand comes to Oaxaca to create models, campaigns or collaborations? It was not enough to denounce Isabel Marant [qui en 2015 et en 2020 a été accusée d’utiliser des motifs traditionnels mexicains dans les collections de la griffe à son nom, ndlr]; now, it is the French brand Sézane which arrives in Oaxaca with its big clogs. (…) We can only feel bad watching this video. Sézane’s team thought it would be easy to film an old woman from the Teotitlán Del Valle market, no matter what[e la griffe] had previously agreed with the city that it would not annoy the population. Sézane had nothing to do with it and dressed this woman almost as if she were an accessory (the cardigan she is wearing is part of the brand’s collection) and made her dance by offering her 200 Mexican dollars, or about 10 US dollars. Will it be presented as an inspiration? Will people be proud to see Mexico represent an international brand? Enough, enough, enough. The original cultures of Mexico are not a zoo. We are not props. We are not a self-service design catalog. We are not at the service of international brands“.

A national controversy

January 10, always, the Mexican government organization INPI, the National Institute of Indigenous Peoples, announces the opening of an investigation and launches “a firm call on private brands and businesses to stop exploiting the cultural capital of indigenous and Afro-Mexican peoples and communities“. The INPI specifies, with reference to the aforementioned Sézane photo shoot:”These actions threaten the dignity of peoples and communities and reinforce racist stereotypes against indigenous cultures and traditions.“.

For his part, Bupu Cortés relayed on Wednesday January 12 on his account @ lienzos.extraordinarios a message of apologies sent by Morgane Sézalory.

The founder of Sézane wrote in it, among other things: “I hear you sincerely and I want to offer you my deep apologies for my mistakes by failing to share all my respect, my admiration and my desire to meet and exchange with the local community (…). Hope you can believe that I never meant to hurt anyone or disrespect. My only intention since I started working and traveling has always been to do things in the nicest and fairest way, with all my heart and passion. And I have always given and tried to act in the best way through concrete actions (…) I have always built a collaboration between my brand and local communities by concretely helping each part of the world that welcomes us through our charity program Tomorrow (…) I mean how much I never wanted to do something of badness. But I understand that I did it despite my best intentions; i feel really sad and above all want to fix my mistakes. “The designer also specifies:”These photos with the indigenous people were for me and not for my brand, during our traditional farewell lunch – they were not intended for commercial communications but to share my journey“, detailing the conditions of the shooting and the meeting with the old lady immortalized in the green vest.

A text that aroused an immediate response from Bupu Cortés : “The content of your message is qualified in my country of “white tears”, adding “How can you use the words collaboration and charity in the same sentence when you say indigenous community? Are you arriving in a territory to which you do not belong and which you do not understand and you want to immediately integrate your charity program? Did the community ask you? We don’t need a charity program. We need fair financial compensation for the different places you used. We need you to pay the same wages that you pay your models. (…) And above all, we need you to stop extracting cultural capital from indigenous cultures as if it were nothing. It has nothing to do with charity programs; it’s about showing respect through concrete actions“. Bupu Cortés also emphasizes the know-how and history of Zapotec clothing and fabrics. A message closes firmly: ‘The indigenous communities of Mexico are not studios or souvenir shops that you can admire like on a safari. Do you understand the big difference that there is between your reality and ours?

What can Sézane (and the other brands) learn from this controversy?

If we hear more and more talk cultural appropriation in fashion and the bad buzz that brands generate in recent years, it is because social networks allow a huge sound box to voices that until now were not necessarily able to make themselves heard (and that few people were ready to listen to). Thanks to Instagram, Twitter and others, countries all live at the same time and a scandal in Mexico can almost instantly have global reach. But the question that always arises is why no one in the brand teams realizes that the actions taken, the clothes created or the words made can be offensive. The answer some give is the lack of racial diversity shouting in the fashion world. This is one of the reasons why large luxury groups are starting to appoint people responsible for representativeness issues, like, in 2019, Kalpana Bagamane, Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Talent at Kering, or in 2021 Vanessa Moungar Director of Diversity and Inclusion at LVMH … Other solutions cited: financially support creators from diverse backgrounds by investing in their brand, appoint at the head of big houses and at the direction of brands which are a hit. It would be a good start.