Has Dolce & Gabbana Been Forgiven?
After years of comments that were racist, homophobic, and anti-Asian, the positive response to the brand's Alta Moda collection in Venice shows how short fashion's memory really is.
My social media feeds have been full of good things about Dolce & Gabbana for the past 72 hours. As A-list celebrities, supermodels, and top-tier stylists flocked to Venice, Italy on August 29 to celebrate the Italian brand's Alta Moda (their version of haute couture) presentation, I went deep into Instagram, and when I came back hours later, I felt really...uncomfortable.
Had everyone suddenly forgotten how racist and homophobic Dolce & Gabbana used to be? Did I miss the message that D&G had apologized and been forgiven for things like their deeply insensitive 2018 campaign that made fun of Chinese culture? This was clear from all the fuss made about this very expensive event.
Every time I swiped my phone, a new, more beautiful picture came on: Models and guests arriving in glamorous gondolas; a selfie between Kardashian supermom Kris Jenner and Princess Diana's niece Kitty Spencer; a video of a golden Jennifer Hudson singing "Nessum Dorma" from the Italian opera Turandot; a Venetian gothic runway that used the iconic landmark of Piazza San Marco as a backdrop; ornate and ostentatious gowns, dripping in kaleidoscopic patterns; and a And I haven't even mentioned J.Lo's jaw-dropping ensemble.
But every time I saw a beautiful picture or photo of a celebrity, I was reminded of fashion's short-term memory problem.
Dolce & Gabbana is well-known for at least two things. If you don't know much about fashion history or just want a quick review, these are the things. The first is that they have a very Italian, over-the-top style of design. Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana are the creative directors of Dolce & Gabbana. They don't use the word "minimalism," and their commitment to exuberance is loved by many, even though streetwear and a more casual way of dressing is becoming more popular.
The brand's history of racism, sexism, and homophobia is the second, and much less positive, thing that makes it unique.
Dolce & Gabbana once called a shoe the "slave sandal" and a pair of earrings the "Blackamoor earrings." Elton John called for a ban on the designers after they called IVF babies "synthetic children." Stefano Gabbana called Selena Gomez ugly for no reason other than sexism, and the brand is now known for supporting and dressing former First Lady Melania Trump while she was in the White House. With a strange series of #boycott Dolce & Gabbana T-shirts, the luxury house even made fun of people who were protesting against the Trump administration but still supported the former President.
But the Italian brand's 2018 scandal may be the one that speaks the loudest and makes the most noise.
Before Dolce & Gabbana's 2018 fashion show, which was ironically made to attract Chinese customers, the luxury brand put out a series of videos with a Chinese model trying to eat Italian food with chopsticks. The backlash on social media happened right away, and the brand had to take the series down from its Weibo account because of it. Gabbana started personally responding to critics, insulting both China and Chinese people in the process. His direct messages quickly got posted online, which led to the cancellation of the brand's 500-look show and the end of the brand as a whole.
In the wake of what happened, Diet Prada was at the forefront of people criticizing the brand, and they published screenshots from the founder. They didn't tell anyone until early this year that the Italian brand has been suing them for defamation since early this year. The news organization wasn't the only one to criticize. Net-a-Porter and other online stores took D&G items off their sites. Kim Kardashian West deleted an Instagram photo of her wearing one of their designs, and customers from all over the world started sending them back.
Anti-Asian hate crimes have gone up in the last 18 months because of racist talk and false information about COVID-19. It's disappointing, but maybe not that surprising, that major fashion outlets and celebrities are so quick to embrace Dolce & Gabbana.
Fashion loves a comeback story (or is too quick to forgive and forget for a free trip, dress, or fancy party, depending on who you ask). Think about John Galliano, who was fired from Dior in 2011 for making anti-Semitic remarks and is now famous as the creative director of Maison Margiela.
People and brands can get kicked off the internet quickly, but it's harder to tell who stays off and who gets back on after a break. As a result of political correctness, celebrities, companies, and media figures are all being looked at closely. This has led to real results. Ellen DeGeneres is probably the best example of this in recent years. Her daytime talk show was canceled after 19 years because she was said to have created a toxic work environment. Put on hold for now? Yes. But will Ellen be back with a new project in a year or two? Most likely, also yes.
Most of the fashion world accepted Dolce & Gabbana back into the inner circle in less than a year. Emilia Clarke wore a D&G dress to the TIME 100 Gala in 2019, and at least seven A-list stars wore them to the 2020 Oscars. The brand was the focus of a whole editorial in British Vogue, which included an interview with the designers.
Dolce & Gabbana's ban was lifted pretty quickly, and it's up for debate whether they really changed after offending so many groups.
The brand name has been changed in some ways. After the 2018 Chinese campaign got a lot of negative feedback, both designers apologized and stayed mostly quiet for a few months while they tried to fix their reputations. Gabbana's personal Instagram account has since been deleted. Kerry Washington's 2020 Emmys dress was auctioned off to raise money for When We All Vote, a group started by former First Lady Michelle Obama to help people register to vote. On #BlackOutTuesday in June 2020, the luxury house promised to give a "significant donation" to the NAACP. And for their 2021 Valentine's Day campaign, they teamed up with the LGBTQIA+ charity The Trevor Project (above).
Is this enough, though? Is it as easy as saying sorry and moving on?
Vanessa Friedman, the fashion director and chief fashion critic for the New York Times, told Fashionista in March 2021 that it's all about living with your choices when it comes to D&G or any other brand or person you choose to support.
"If you are going to publicly support and fund a brand that has hurt people in the past because you think they have learned from their mistakes, I think you should be able to say, 'I understand what they did in the past, and I feel this, and I thought this, and I made this decision.' To me, that's totally fine. But I wish people would do that instead of acting like there's no problem or showing that they haven't thought about their choices and don't know about the problem.
When it comes to cancel culture and being responsible, people can have very short memories. It seems like influencers, celebrities, and shoppers have never been more aware and vocal on social media. However, the fact that cancelled celebrities and brands keep coming back to life shows that people don't follow through with who they support, whether with their money or their double taps. An angry online mob might form quickly, but other things, like a fancy party or a crazy outfit, can happen just as quickly. The rest of us have to carry on the conversation.