There are a lot of rules surrounding polite and respectful behavior in Japan, particularly when it comes to traditional culture like kimono and everyday customs like removing your shoes when indoors.
Showing respect for these traditions is such an important part of Japanese culture that any departure from convention is likely to spark ire and disdain, so when luxury Italian fashion house Valentino released images showing a Japanese model walking on a kimono obi sash while wearing shoes, the Internet erupted in outrage.
The photo shoot, for the brand’s spring/summer 2021 Valentino Collezione Milano for Women collection in Japan, featured Japanese model Koki, the well-known daughter of Takuya Kimura, a former SMAP boy band member and one of the nation’s most famous stars.
▼ Takuya Kimura, or “Kimutaku” as he’s widely known, pictured on the left, with daughter Mitsuki (professionally known as “Koki”) on the right.
Since making her modelling debut in 2018, Koki has worked with famous fashion houses around the world, including Valentino back in 2019.
Tt was this year’s Valentino shoot that really caught everyone’s attention, though, as photos for the collection showed Koki sitting on a narrow strip of cloth resembling an obi sash, which is usually worn around the waist with kimono (see photo at top).
▼ She was also photographed walking on the fabric while wearing high heels.
The images from the photo shoot shocked people around Japan, who couldn’t believe the disrespectful behavior they were seeing.
“This makes me feel as if Japanese culture is being trampled on.”
“If an obi artisan were to see this, they’d keel over.”
“Japanese people know to treat obi carefully, so the idea of sitting or trampling on it is inconceivable.”
“It’s like walking on a Valentino dress with shoes on. How would they feel about that?”
“This is terrible…the obi is neither a ‘runway yukata’ nor a tarpaulin. It’s part of a kimono. The person in charge should come out and explain themselves.”
Adding insult to injury was the fact that the promotional video for the collection showed the model wearing shoes while inside what appears to be a Japanese home, another cultural taboo that viewers were quick to criticize.
Following the negative reaction online, Valentino pulled the photos and video from their official website and social media accounts, and issued an apology in both Japanese and English.
The apology above reads:
“It has recently been brought to our attention that the Valentino Collezione Milano visuals shot in Japan featuring a Japanese model, includes cuts that unintentionally feature the model sitting or stepping on a Japanese fabric which recalls a traditional obi and involves her wearing shoes on the doorstep or inside a Japanese traditional home.
The fabric unwittingly resembles the Japanese traditional obi and Maison Valentino deeply apologises for any offense caused.
Valentino holds a strong commitment to nurturing a culture of inclusion on a global scale that respects the individuality of every single member of the Community, artistic work, designs and artistic craftsmanship.
The brand has developed a broad campaign empowering the deep connection with different cultures embracing all communities globally and respecting all forms of creative expression, all identities and values.
Maison Valentino is based on a future-focused culture that thrives on creativity and fresh perspectives, while fostering protection, inspiration and exploration.
The brand confirms that the content has been entirely removed.
Maison Valentino is committed to further cultivating a culture of inclusion on a global scale and would like to turn this event into a powerful learning moment for the brand and its Community.”
The apology seems to have missed the mark in Japan, however, with a lot of people taking issue with the fact that the company appears to be trying to dodge criticism by claiming any similarity between an obi and the cloth used in the images was unintentional.
“The problem isn’t whether the fabric is an obi or not, it’s the fact that someone is trampling on something that looks like an obi–like a foreign country trampling on Japanese culture.”
“What kind of cloth is it if it isn’t an obi? It’s an obi. Their bad-loser behaviour makes me feel sick.”
“This isn’t an apology at all. It’s like they’re making us out to be fools. Do they really think it’s okay to say it’s not a kimono obi?”
“This ‘apology’ is just adding fuel to the fire.”
“This isn’t good enough–this is not an apology. I loved this brand but I’m so shocked I’ll never buy from them again.”
“If you think of kimono as a type of national costume, you can see why this is out of line. If a Japanese clothing maker made a commercial showing someone trampling on national costumes from other countries, it’d be serious.”
“I’m surprised to see the apology exists online only as an image.”
The majority of Japanese comments online say the apology lacks sincerity, and the fact that it’s only been issued as an image on the brand’s Japanese and English-language Twitter accounts has left a bad taste in people’s mouths as well.
One thing a lot of people do agree on, however, is that 18-year-old model Koki shouldn’t receive any hate for the images–which is what happened to American-Japanese model Kiko when she controversially posed with her legs spread apart on a table in a Japanese room–as she was merely following instructions from the creative team.
With Valentino now involved in a second backlash from the campaign, it’s yet to be revealed whether the company will attempt to redeem themselves with a reworded apology. It’s something the company should seriously consider, though, because with the Asian community feeling particularly vulnerable at the moment, admitting to your mistakes and accepting full responsibility for them is the real “powerful learning moment” the world needs to see right now.
Source: Twitter/@Valentino_Japan via Hachima Kiko
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