If he’s not being “relieved of all artifice” – while sporting a faceful of make-up and a good dose of the airbrush – for Dior Sauvage, he’s getting up close and personal with lumber for Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty lingerie brand.
In a controversial move, Depp was cast as the first man to headline as the “star moment” in the fourth instalment of the Savage X Fenty annual fashion film. There’s no doubt that Depp’s appearance got people talking about the brand’s show – just not always in a good way.
And the cameo is provocative. Depp’s ex-wife Amber Heard alleges that he subjected her to years of physical, sexual and emotional abuse during their relationship. A UK court found that her claims were “substantially true” and that Depp was indeed a “wife beater” – but this year’s now notorious trial in Fairfax, Virginia, ruled that, in fact, Depp was the victim.
Ever since, fans and activists have engaged in a raging online dispute over who’s the victim and who’s the perpetrator of abuse in the marriage. So much so that Depp v Heard-related hashtags trend every week, despite the trial ending months ago.
What can’t be disputed, however, is that Depp hasn’t emerged unscathed. The evidence used in court, including text messages and recordings, exposed a much darker, more sinister side to the man than the public had previously been allowed to see.
We got a glimpse of his misogyny – calling his underweight then wife “fat ass” and telling her to be careful of her “wide load”. There are the much-quoted texts to Paul Bettany when they “joke” about burning Heard and then raping the body. So when Depp meanders, grinning, towards the camera to OutKast’s “So Fresh, So Clean”, it does feel like Depp and Savage X Fenty are making fun of Johnny’s filthy laundry – not to mention his foul, misogynistic mouth.
The joke seems to be on us – the public – and Savage X Fenty’s customers, though. What kind of statement does the casting of Depp – a man who’s said such obscene dehumanising things about women – make for a brand that’s supposed to be all about the celebration of women, inclusivity and diversity?
Are we to believe that Rihanna, who reportedly personally invited Depp to star in the showcase, is showing solidarity with a fellow survivor of alleged domestic violence? On social media, there are thousands of comments suggesting that only a domestic abuse survivor can recognise a “true” fellow survivor; as if everyone who experiences domestic violence behaves the same, thinks the same and reacts the same.
As if those who experienced domestic violence develop some innate power to identify “real” victims and are therefore the ultimate judge of the truth. Maybe that’s true. Maybe.
But there’s also a commercial element at play. Savage X Fenty and Dior are both part of LVMH’s fashion and leather goods group. Rihanna was the first Black spokesmodel for Dior and Depp has been the face of Dior Sauvage fragrance since 2015. The styling of Depp’s Savage X Fenty film is very similar to the Sauvage ad campaigns.
The “So Fresh, So Clean” soundtrack also echoes Dior’s description of their fragrance, “the powerful freshness of Sauvage exudes sensual and mysterious facets”.
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It’s not unlikely that the brands have to work together to enhance the overall group’s commercial success – so crossover projects that complement and promote other products and brands in the LVMH family are smart business. I’m not so sure that the casting of Depp is such a canny move, however.
Depp’s cameo is a bit… well, barmy. The “star moment” opens with Depp leaning against a tree in a darkened forest. He walks towards the camera, grinning slightly. With his facial topiary, eyeliner and silk dressing gown, Depp is a bizarre Terry-Thomas/Captain Jack Sparrow mash-up. I keep expecting him to exclaim, “I say! Savvy?” and I laugh out loud. I’m pretty sure this isn’t the intended effect.
Depp walks to another tree and gives it a hug. Bless. All the while, OutKast sing “Ain’t nobody dope as me, I’m just so fresh, so clean…” Now there’s a surprising choice of soundtrack. “So fresh, so clean” isn’t the most accurate description of the Johnny Depp we’ve come to know in recent months. He looks a little, um, “lived in”, like he hasn’t met a bar of soap in a while.
Nevertheless, they’ve scrubbed him up good and proper for this event, and he looks more dapper Depp circa 2010 than the dilapidated Depp of 2022. Let’s hope Savage X Fenty is as adept at cleaning up its reputation after this show.