Is It Game Over for Dolce and Gabbana?
FASHION IS THE NAME OF THE GAME, BUT NOT EVERYBODY PLAYS BY THE SAME RULES.
In this industry, the highest esteem a brand can earn is when its name becomes synonymous with the word “fashion” itself. Some companies become so big that it seems they play by their own set of rules. For decades iconic brands have pushed the limits of acceptable behavior without facing many repercussions, if any at all. Banning journalists that critique their work from shows, brushing off accusations of cultural appropriation, the blatant practice of nepotism when it comes to hiring anyone, from models to creative directors, it’s all in the name of “fashion.” Which begs the question: Can a brand be too big to fall from grace, and therefore exempt of any and all rules?
Dolce and Gabbana is an Italian fashion luxury house, one of the industry’s most prominent labels, and notorious for being politically incorrect. The promotional videos for their highly anticipated fashion show in Shanghai, The Great Show, which donned the hashtags #DGLovesChina and #DGTheGreatShow, were quickly called out for being politically incorrect and controversial. They featured a Chinese model, dressed in cliché chinoiserie, failing to eat Italian food with a pair of chopsticks that the video’s subtitles called a “small-stick” tool, while a presenter fired off in rapid Mandarin. Jing Daily also noted an “outdated and stereotypical” use of Chinese cultural symbols and elements used in the videos, like lanterns and couplets.The videos were removed from Weibo but still remained on Instagram for a few days longer before they were ultimately removed. The criticism and outrage the videos received were brushed to the side. After all, the show (that’s estimated to have cost over $40 million must go on. Until it simply can’t.
Picture this: It’s the night of Dolce and Gabbana’s Great Show in Shanghai. Models are getting pulled. Celebrities are refusing to attend. Ambassadors are dropping out. Influencers are releasing statements saying they’ll no longer be purchasing products from the brand. The editor-in-chief of Vogue China is flying home. It might just be the downfall of a major fashion house. All of this, over promotional videos made in poor taste? Apparently, that was just round one. To make matters worse, Stefano Gabbana, designer and co-founder of Dolce and Gabbana, referred to China as the “country of [insert 5 poop emojis here],” called it an “Ignorant Dirty Smelling Mafia,” and made multiple comments about people eating dogs via Instagram direct messages. The messages were posted by popular fashion account @diet_prada.
D&G and Stefano Gabbana have since taken to Instagram to claim that their accounts have been “hacked.” The fashion show was cancelled by the Cultural Affairs Bureau of Shanghai and Chinese retailers have started to remove the brand’s products from their online sites. According to Bain & Co. Chinese consumers account for 33 percent of global luxury sales, and is projected to become responsible for 46 percent by 2025. They were also responsible for a third of Dolce and Gabbana’s annual revenue. That group of consumers is now throwing all things with the D&G label in the trash and burning it – literally. Dolce and Gabbana just made a major misstep, and it’s a mistake that many big-name fashion companies have been making as of late.
This incident is following in the footsteps of other fashion industry faux pauxs, such as Victoria’s Secret’s recent headline scandal in which their Chief Marketing Officer, Ed Razek, told Vogue that their annual iconic runway show would never feature a trans model. “The show is supposed to be fantasy and there would be no interest in featuring a plus-size model,” he said. His responses exposed how the leading lingerie brand is not only built off of the male gaze, but still continues to look through an outdated and discriminatory lens.
While “brand authenticity” is one of the first terms in a marketing major’s vocabulary, so is “rebrand.” If the steady decline of sales over the past few years and major dips in their stock value weren’t big enough indicators that the brand’s vision and positioning was out of touch with its consumers, the scathing social media comments spelled it out loud and clear. Victoria’s Secret CEO, Jan Singer, has resigned from her position in light of said controversy and declining sales. The interview not only scarred the brand’s reputation, it shed light on a bigger problem. As much as the fashion industry is dominated by women’s wear and buoyed by female dollars, it’s controlled by men – and white men, at that – with closed minds and outdated ideals.
If fashion companies plan on sticking around, they need to step up and realize that archaic views aren’t going to ride well with predominantly young and progressive consumers. Resisting progress and rejecting inclusivity will be the ultimate downfall of even the biggest brands. With just a few direct messages through a social media app, Stefano Gabbana and his seemingly untouchable fashion house offended the fastest growing group of luxury consumers and now his entire empire is at risk. Moving forward, companies need to be more mindful of who they have representing them and what message they’re sending out into the world. If not for the sake of social progress, then for the sake of their business. Otherwise, it’s game over.