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Voices: Why is Johnny Depp still the face of Dior Sauvage?

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“I acknowledge the fact I was the old craggy fogey and she was this beautiful creature,” said Johnny Depp during his three-day testimony at the $50m defamation suit he’s brought against his ex-wife, Amber Heard.

Why so modest, Johnny? The comment comes across as a touch disingenuous from a man who still carries the reputation for being one of the most beautiful men in Hollywood. After all, while Depp’s movie career many have hit the skids, he’s still earning millions for his film star looks and charisma in ads for Christian Dior’s Sauvage fragrance.

Acting as a proxy for the idealised loyal wife, Christian Dior continue to stand by their man. Not just keeping his “old, craggy fogey” visage on billboards, TV screens and in the glossies, but helping to bolster his reputation as a wild but noble and honest man with a “smooth animal charm”.

Don’t believe me? Have a look at Dior’s description of their fragrance Sauvage: “In a parenthesis inhabited by ancient legends, where wolves are gods and men let their animal instincts talk… Relieved of all artifice, he becomes at one with the desert.” Blimey.

To really bring out Depp’s embodiment of wild, animalistic glamour, in the ads he’s variously surrounded by wolves, alongside a howling wolf, bare chested and staring moodily into the middle distance, and standing in the middle – yes, you guessed it – of a desert. It might sound like a load of old tripe, but Dior’s blurb and imagery help to anchor public ideas of Depp’s persona. He’s cast as the face of Sauvage because Dior reckons he embodies the spirit of the fragrance: wild and animalistic, but also noble, honest and authentic.

You’d think the associations between being wild and animalistic might prove to be poor taste following Heard’s accusations of domestic abuse against Depp. There’s a dual benefit here, though.

Dior have been smart. At a time when many celebrities scream “cancel culture!” any time they’re criticised or called to account for their comments or behaviour, the team at Dior seem to recognise that controversy can drive sales.

Following Heard’s accusations of domestic violence and Depp’s ill-fated libel case against The Sun in 2020 for branding him a “wife-beater”, when Justice Andrew Nicol said the defendants had proved their allegations against Depp were “substantially true”, Dior not only maintained their collaboration with Depp but also released new ads. Was Dior cancelled? Was Sauvage pulled from the market? Nope. The sales of the fragrance increased.

The #JusticeforJohnny hashtag that’s been active since Heard alleged being physically and sexually assaulted by Depp showed fans’ strength of feeling. They thanked Dior for the brand’s loyalty to Depp.

In the courtroom, Depp has played up to the support of his fanbase, stating: “My goal is the truth because it killed me that all these people I had met over the years… that these people would think that I was a fraud.”

Depp met Heard while working on The Rum Diaries, an adaptation of a novel by Hunter S Thompson. Heard fulfilled Depp’s notion of the perfect femme fatale and he seems to be constructing the same scenario in the courtroom. He’s an eccentric but charismatic and noble gentleman; exploited and ruined by his love for a beautiful, fame-hungry young actress.

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For example, Depp apologises for his “vulgar language” in the texts about killing Heard and then violating the corpse “to check that she’s dead”. He attributes the horror of the imagery to the pain he was feeling at the time of writing, thereby making the imagery of the torture of a woman about his own emotional distress.

He also attempts to intellectualise these abusive texts about Heard by likening the writing style to Thompson’s gonzo style of journalism… well, if portraying obscene violence against women is a literary device then that’s just Depp being proper arty, isn’t it?

Heard isn’t coming out of the trial smelling of roses, but Depp – despite evidence showing his aggressive and abusive behaviour – seems to be coming out smelling of Dior’s Sauvage. He owes them, big time.

The Independent has approached the team at Christian Dior for comment

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