An Auckland woman was horrified to find "Maori Collection"-branded perfume while holidaying in Russia, dubbing it a gross example of cultural appropriation.

The woman, who did not wish to be named, found the fragrances being sold in a chemist in an underground mall near Red Square in Moscow.

It was impossible to miss the posters that featured a woman with a stylised facial tattoo.

"I thought it was a gross example of cultural appropriation," she said.


The tribal tattoo design across the woman's eyes obviously did not reflect what a traditional moko is at all, she said.

"I thought, 'God if people at home could see this, there would be an absolute outcry'."

They were all cheap body sprays that would have cost about $12 each to buy, she said.

The woman said she checked out the back of the packaging and was surprised to find that the designer behind the scent was actually Italian.

There was a variety of different scents but "none of them were good smells," she said.

Senior Lecturer at the School of Māori Knowledge, Massey University, Dr Fiona Te Momo, said in this case the issue was not entirely clear cut.

An Auckland woman found the fragrances being sold in a chemist in an underground mall near Red Square in Moscow. Photo / Supplied
An Auckland woman found the fragrances being sold in a chemist in an underground mall near Red Square in Moscow. Photo / Supplied

There was the obvious use of the name, but the imagery used in the branding seemed more so to draw upon Pasifika culture in general, she said.

"When you look at it there are those linkages, and we link them to our knowledge of Aotearoa New Zealand," she said.

Deciding if cultural appropriation had occurred "used to be easy" but "today the lines are getting so blurred".

A much clearer example of cultural appropriation was back in the 1990s when the Spice Girls performed the haka, Te Momo said.

That was cultural appropriation because the haka was specific to Māori culture, the song belonged to Aotearoa New Zealand and the group performing were all women, she said.

Te Momo said she could see why cultural appropriation occurred in business abroad.

"They have looked towards New Zealand to try and capture something unique in the market," she said.

"I have no doubt that in Russia that would be different to what they are seeing."

Victoria University cultural anthropology lecturer Dr Grant Otsuki said cultural appropriation was when somebody from one culture took something from another and used it for an aesthetic purposes, without an understanding the significance or value it had to the originating culture.

"It's a decontextualization of a symbol from one place to another."

One of the reasons it was problematic was that often it happened to cultures with a history of experiencing dispossession, Otsuki said.

Many indigenous societies had experienced the loss of land, people, children or in some instances had entire ways of life taken away from them, he said.

"This was in many ways an sort of extension of that, a dispossession of culture."

Colonisation was ongoing in many ways and was responsible for structural, social and economic inequalities that people still faced, he said.

"It is sort of taking things that people value and still have some strong claim over and stripping that away from them."

The possibility then of gaining recognition or even making economic profit from the symbol was taken away, he said.

Otsuki said cultural appropriation could be seen across the world.

For example, every Halloween there were cases were people wore clothing from a different cultures and took photos for instagram, he said.

"[They were] doing it in sort of a way that can feel, especially to the people who place strong value in those things, as exploitative."