Capitalizing on the labor and image of Indigenous people is unfortunately not a rare occurrence with major brands often using Indigenous culture to promote their products. Popular French fashion label, Sézane, has come under fire for reportedly intending to use photographs of an Indigenous woman from Mexico to promote their upcoming collection without properly compensating her. Behind-the-scenes video footage from the photo shoot, which was conducted in Oaxaca, in early January, surfaced on social media, inciting some to call for accountability from Sézane and its founder, Morgane Sezalory.
The video in question featured Guillermina Gutiérrez, an elderly indigenous woman sitting on a chair set up in front of a backdrop, while the Sézane production team instructs her to do things like dance, pose, etc. Guillermina later spoke with Mexican news outlet, Milenio, explaining that she stopped working at her craft shop to take part in the photo shoot and that the production team had her change clothes multiple times. She was asked to wear some Sézane pieces, and the Washington Post reported that she was not offered any compensation.
“Yes, my daughters and my sons got mad because they told me it was only going to take a moment but we ended up there for an hour so my own work got suspended,” she said in the interview, which was translated from Spanish by Instagram user, Bupu Cortés. Guillermina also said that the folks from Sézane indicated to her that they would make purchases from her shop, but did not follow through, instead leaving her with a single sweater from the line.
Bupu also posted a response from Sézane’s founder, Morgane, that she personally received, on her Instagram account which read, “I’m truly hearing you and I want to express my deep apologies for my mistakes in not managing to share all the deep respect, admiration and desire to meet and share with local community.” “I hope you can trust that I’ve never wanted to hurt anyone.” she continued, also expressing that her intention was to do things the “right way.” According to Vice, Morgane deleted two posts from the photo shoot form her Instagram account following the release of the behind-the-scenes video in question.
In response to the situation Mexico’s National Institute of Indigenous Peoples said that it “strongly condemns the misuse of the image of Indigenous Zapotec women by the French clothing brand Sézane. These actions threaten the dignity of peoples and communities and reinforce racist stereotypes about Indigenous culture and traditions,” it said in a statement according to The Washington Post, going on to indicate that it would be seeking a “legal remedy” for the issue.
However, representatives of Sézane have claimed that the footage was not intended for commercial use, but rather as a “backstage journal of the creative director,” although the company did not say how that journal would be used or whether Sézane intended to post any of it on social media.
“No payment was exchanged as these photos were not intended for commercial use,” Anne-Caroline Wacquiez, the head of communications at Sézane, told The Washington Post. “These are the photos of a woman met through a spontaneous encounter two days prior in the streets of Teotitlán del Valle, who accepted to come and share a lunch with the Sézane team and to participate in a quick informal backstage photo shoot.”
— 🕊🇺🇦🕊vintage human 🇲🇽🏳️🌈❤️🐾 (@One_LastWish) January 17, 2022
Despite their claims, social media users have continued to leave comments on Sézane’s accounts as well as on the accounts of the company’s founder, Morgane Sezalory, calling for a formal apology to and compensation for Guillermina.
“Shameful, shameless deplorable, gut churning…but not the only ones,” wrote one Twitter user, referring to other clothing lines like Zara and Anthropologie, as well as high-end designer, Carolina Herrera, all of whom have been called out for cultural appropriation of Mexican culture in the past.
Meanwhile, all of Morgane’s most recent Instagram posts have been absolutely flooded with comments calling for her to admit the company’s wrongdoing, and apologize to Guillermina and the Indigenous people of Mexico. “GROSS what you did to innocent people in Mexico. You should be ashamed,” wrote Instagram user, urenda8, summing up the feelings of many Mexicans and allies of the Indigenous people.
Several days have passed since the video surfaced on social media, and Sézane has still not issued a formal apology or made any public attempt to rectify the situation with Guillermina, herself. HipLatina has reached out for comment, but Sézane has not yet responded.