Valentino slammed by Japanese for disrespecting their culture in photo shoot

·3-min read
Koki sitting on what looks like an obi in a Valentino photoshoot.
Koki sitting on what looks like an obi in a Valentino photoshoot. (Photo from defunct Valentino campaign)

Valentino recently got into hot water in Japan for featuring a model sitting and stepping on a piece of fabric which resembles an obi, or kimono sash.

The model happens to be the daughter of former SMAP member Takuya Kimura, Mitsuki Kimura (professionally known as Koki), who debuted in 2018. Koki has since appeared on numerous covers for fashion magazines, including Elle Japon, Numero Tokyo, Nylon Japan and Vivi, and even represented luxury brands like Bulgari and Chanel

Her latest stint was a photoshoot for Valentino, published last month, for the brand’s spring/summer 2021 Valentino Collezione Milano for Women collection in Japan. The shoot featured shots of a strip of cloth resembling a kimono sash, otherwise known as obi.

What seemed like a usual luxury brand photoshoot setting turned out to be insensitive and disrespectful, as Koki was pictured sitting on what critics say looks like an obi, and even walking on it with high heels. Not only is the kimono significant in the Japanese culture, it is also a work of an art in which skilled artisans hand-craft kimono using specific and time-consuming techniques.

Japanese netizens were appalled when they saw the photos: 

“I don’t like that she’s stepping on it with heels. Sitting on it feels wrong too. The obi is for wrapping, not for laying out.” 

“It’s like stepping on the Japanese flag.” 

“The obi is not a carpet.” 

“If the craftsman who made the obi sees it, he will be overwhelmed.” 

“This is impossible to accept.”

Due to the backlash, Valentino has removed the photos from their website and social media accounts. They issued an apology on 30 March in both Japanese and English, which said, “The fabric unwittingly resembles the Japanese traditional obi and Maison Valentino deeply apologises for any offence caused.”

However, the apology was less than satisfying for many, and only seems to imply that Valentino was making excuses by claiming that any similarity between the obi and the cloth used was unintentional.

Many chimed in on Valentino’s insincere apology: 

“Even if these fabrics are H&M’s clothes, not the obi, it’s still a very rude act.” 

“Obi or not, we avoid stepping on any types of cloth in shoes.” 

“Which means you prepared the fabric which is very similar to obi then sitting or stepping on it?” 

“How about stomping on Valentino's new collection with an Italian model? Wouldn't it be nice because Italian fabrics were respected?” 

“Even if it's fabric that has not yet been made into obi, it's still fabric people have put their time and passion into designing and weaving.”

Although it's apparent that Valentino could have been more culturally sensitive, many said that Koki should not be held responsible as she was merely following instructions from the creative team.

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