Dior sticks by Johnny Depp in defiance of 'wife beater' ruling

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Fans pledge to buy cologne still advertised by actor after court finds he abused ex-wife

Johnny Depp outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London during the hearing.
Johnny Depp outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London during the hearing. Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA
Johnny Depp outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London during the hearing. Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

Last modified on Fri 27 Nov 2020 09.46 EST

Evidence suggests defiant Johnny Depp fans have been buying Dior’s Sauvage fragrance in support of the actor, who continues to be the face of the cologne despite a high court judge finding that he violently abused his ex-wife during their relationship.

Depp has been the face of the aftershave since it launched in 2015 with an advertising campaign that was criticised for its racist portrayal of Native Americans. But many were surprised to see an advert for the fragrance, featuring Depp playing a guitar, being shown on TV during The Great British Bake Off this week.

“We have received a total of 11 complaints about this ad,” a spokesperson for the Advertising Standards Authority said, “with the complainants believing that Johnny Depp shouldn’t be in the ad due to details concerning his recent court case.”

Depp has been ordered to pay the Sun newspaper an initial amount of £630,000 in legal fees after the court found this month that there was overwhelming evidence that he attacked his then wife, Amber Heard, during the mid-2010s.

Depp was rumoured to have been paid between $3m and $5m for the Sauvage advert.

The British PR expert Mark Bokowski, who has worked with Michael Jackson and American Express, said: “I think it would be sensible for Dior to sever links with Depp. Anything can be stopped by pressing a button if they really wanted to.”

Since the advert was broadcast, fans of Depp, using the hashtag #Justiceforjohnnydepp, have been posting messages of support on social media for the actor and Dior’s continued association with him. “Johnny Depp is still the face of Sauvage, because Dior aren’t idiots,” said one post. “Shout out to Dior for practically being the one sponsor left for Johnny Depp that hasn’t turned their back on him,” said another. “He’s still the face of their cologne Sauvage, definitely gonna get me a bottle to show my support.”

Since the ruling, which dismissed Depp’s claim that the Sun had libelled him by calling him a “wife beater”, internet searches for Sauvage have increased by 23%, according to the beauty website Cosmetify. The cologne is the bestselling male fragrance at The Fragrance Shop and is in the bestsellers list at The Perfume Shop.

Bokowski said he believed the fashion label was hedging its bets by keeping Depp as the face of the fragrance.

“A brand like Dior is not just looking at this territory,” he said. “The attitude [toward Depp] in the UK will be very different to the one in eastern Europe, for example.

“Brands hope for short-term memory loss and long-term amnesia. These fashion companies live in their own bubble, it’s like The Devil Wears Prada [film]. They live in a world where they are used to facing controversy.”

In 2005 Depp’s former partner, the model Kate Moss, was dropped by Burberry and Chanel after her News of the World cocaine scandal. But instead of killing off her career, it added to her appeal. “She became the darling of the non-high street and high-end fashion brands who didn’t care [about the scandal],” Bokowski said.

Asked if there was a chance Dior could use Depp again, Lauren Sherman, the chief correspondent for the Business of Fashion, said: “In the past, pre-social media, I would have bet on it. Now there is more to lose. It’s possible, but it’s riskier.”

Despite the shadow of “cancel culture”, Sherman said she thought Dior was taking the position of “all publicity is good publicity”.

“Most businesses like that take a long view, which is that growing awareness is good overall,” she said. “People will forget about the Depp association with time, but they may not forget the Sauvage name so easily.”

The Guardian has contacted Dior for comment.