Dior’s Hong Kong site website describes the skirt as “a hallmark Dior silhouette” with “a new elegant and modern variation”. Photo: SCMP

French luxury brand Dior has come under criticism in China after launching a skirt said to resemble a piece of ancient Chinese clothing, branded by the company as its “hallmark silhouette”.

“The so-called Dior silhouette is very similar to the Chinese horse-face skirt. When many details are the same, why is it shamelessly called a ‘new design’ and ‘hallmark Dior silhouette’?” fumed an opinion piece published by People.cn, an online portal of Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily.

The commentary, published on Saturday with the hashtag “cultural appropriation” on Chinese social media platform Weibo, accusing it of the unacknowledged adoption of foreign cultural elements.

The Chinese horse-face skirt, or ma mian qun, dates back to the 10th century Song dynasty and was commonly worn by women during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties.

The wraparound garment features pleated fabric on either side when draped. Four slits down the sides make it suitable for horse-riding, though its name refers not to the animal but to defensive structures jutting out over city walls in ancient China.

The People.cn piece called on Dior to respond to the controversy and offer details on its design which has “stirred public opinion, raised questions among netizens and has continued to ferment”.

“Dior should respond to the concerns of [Chinese] netizens as soon as possible. This would show that an internationally renowned company [such as Dior] is responsible for its own corporate culture and pays tribute to world history and cultural heritage,” it said.

Dior has been contacted for comment.

While the skirt can no longer be found on its mainland China site, and was marked as “sold out” on the Hong Kong site, it is still available in the city’s physical Dior stores for HK$30,000 (US$3,820).

The Hong Kong site describes the “flared skirt” with “pleated style” as “a hallmark Dior silhouette, the mid-length skirt … updated with a new elegant and modern variation”.

In response, a Weibo history blogger posted: “I hope copyright lawyers and experts from cultural preservation units will jointly evaluate this matter and pay attention to its foulness. This is not just plagiarism.”

The horse-face skirt has drawn the attention of French fashion houses before, but with due recognition of the source of inspiration. Chanel’s 2010 Paris-Shanghai collection was inspired by elements from Chinese culture and included a shortened horse-face skirt.

This is not the first time that Dior – part of the world’s largest luxury group, LVMH – has sparked controversy in China. Last year, it took down a photo at a Lady Dior show in Shanghai after it was criticised for perpetuating stereotypes and “smearing Asian women” with its portrayal of “spooky eyes” and a “gloomy face”.

State-owned newspaper Beijing Daily slammed the photo with the headline: “Is This the Asian Woman in Dior’s Eyes?”

In 2019, Italian label Dolce & Gabbana was forced to cancel a high-profile fashion show in Shanghai after posting a video featuring a Chinese model eating Italian food with chopsticks. The clip was called out on social media for what was seen as a disrespectful and demeaning depiction.

Global brands H&M and Nike were also in the cross hairs of Chinese consumers last year, but not for design reasons. The backlash came after the two firms pledged to shun cotton from the far-western Chinese region of Xinjiang over allegations of forced labour involving the mainly Muslim Uygur population.