Advertising has often been described as a barometer of what's on people's minds. That's why I'm perplexed about a new billboard appearing throughout the city. I noticed it a few weeks back, high above Church Street just south of Wellesley, a mammoth thing promoting a new type of perfume by the Lise Watier company called Capteur de Rêves, or, translated, Dreamcatcher.
The kind of individual who evidently wears this perfume is portrayed as a young, bone-thin woman (who I can only assume is supposed to be First Nation) squatting on her heels in what looks like a loin cloth and gazing off into space with an uninterested look on her face.
In her braided hair are what appear to be feathers. And worst of all, the texture of the photo (brown and heavily textured) gives the impression that she's very dirty. No doubt this woman represents the target audience.
Speaking as an aboriginal male, this image produced the opposite effect from the one it was no doubt attempting to elicit. Nothing in the ad encouraged me to think to myself, "Boy, now there's a woman I'd love to smell." Perhaps if I drank the perfume first. A lot of it.
Now, on a political level I don't object to the use of native imagery or models to sell products, as long as it's done tastefully. I know too many unemployed actors and models to say what anyone should or shouldn't do. God knows the dreamcatcher entered the public domain years ago. You no longer have to be native to have it dangling from the rear-view mirror (though it helps).
Its original purpose was to hang above the bed of newly married couples or newborns. It allowed good dreams to pass through the web and bad dreams to be caught and dissolved by the morning light. A charming and entertaining story... but there's no mention of squatting women in it.
Maybe it's me, but the image of a dirt-strewn woman with quail-like feathers sticking out of her hair, and (I have to mention it again) squatting, does little to entice. And she's also far too thin to be taken seriously in the native community, where the Gwyneth Paltrow look does not hold sway. Aboriginal women do not believe calories are for the poor. They are also aware of the benefits of soap and water.
On a more puzzling note, a friend saw the ad and asked, "Is that supposed to be a woman?" The figure certainly has an unmistakably androgynous quality -- enough of one to make another female friend of mine declare quite assuredly, "That's a man. Look at the hair on the arms. The shoulders. The collar bone. That's gotta be a man."
Yet beside the squatting figure whose knees are hiding in the chest area, it says quite plainly, "For Women." Of course, the poster is at Church and Wellesley, so everything is up for grabs.
This could be one of those ambidextrous/unisex kinds of perfumes that doesn't see the need for X or Y chromosome limitations. After all, in the dark we all smell alike.
Perhaps the best description of this poster was given somewhat graphically by another friend.
"It looks like she's taking a dump."
Just 3o or so days of shopping left till Christmas. Look for Capteur de Rêves/Dreamcatcher at finer perfume salons.