French brand Sézane apologizes after controversial photo shoot in Mexico

The video of a photo shoot with an old lady from an indigenous community caused a scandal in Mexico. The Parisian company has been accused of “manipulating, using and exhibiting elderly people from native peoples in the context of its advertising”

The French fashion company Sézane has apologized after a photo and video shoot with an elderly lady from an indigenous community that caused a scandal in Mexico where the current authorities say they are particularly sensitive to respect for indigenous peoples.

“I want to express my deep apologies for my mistakes,” wrote Sézane founder Morgane Sézalory. His message in English was shared Tuesday on the Instagram account of the NGO Lienzos extraordinarios, which had already published the video of the controversy two days earlier.

This video shows an elderly indigenous woman, seated and wearing a green vest, photographed by several young people who speak in French, some of whom are laughing or not wearing a mask. The lady is then invited by a member of the team to sketch a few dance steps on Mary Hopkin’s hit “Those were the days”. The video was shot on an undetermined date in the state of Oaxaca (southwest) and the lady belongs to the Zapotec community, according to sources in Mexico.

Accusations of manipulation and exploitation

The Parisian company was accused of “manipulating, using and exhibiting elderly people from native peoples as part of its advertising”, in an official press release on the letterhead of the Ministry of Culture and the National Council for the Prevention of Discrimination ( Conapred).

The National Institute of Indigenous Peoples (INPI) also condemned “the exploitation of the image of indigenous people by the Sézane brand” and launched “an appeal to brands and private companies to stop exploit indigenous and Afro-Mexican peoples and communities as cultural capital”.

In its press release, the official body announces an “investigation to act in accordance with the law”.

“Cultural Appropriation”

The current left-nationalist government has its sights set on international fashion brands which, according to the Mexican executive, are plagiarizing the patterns of indigenous craftsmanship in their clothing lines. Mexico denounces an enterprise of “cultural appropriation”.

Another French designer, Isabel Marant, had already apologized in November 2020 after being accused of plagiarizing the designs of purepecha artisans for one of her coats.

Last November, the government organized meetings between international fashion brands (Isabel Marant, the Spaniard Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, etc.) and artisans from communities from all over the country.

Mexico has 126 million inhabitants, of which 7.3 million (6.1% of the population) speak an indigenous language, according to the last census of the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Inegi) dating from 2021. And 2% of the population (2.57 million) identify with the “Afro-Mexican” or “Afro-descendant” identity.

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