It is unlikely that fashion designer Domenico Dolce could ever have predicted the fallout from comments he made to Italian magazine Panorama, about same-sex families and babies conceived through IVF as ‘synthetic’.
Some argue that he was simply airing his own – however archaic and misguided – views, however Domenico has been in the business long enough to know that you can never switch-off from a ‘brand’ – particularly one which bears your name.
The controversial statements have led to worldwide condemnation and a public boycott of the Dolce & Gabbana brand – a decision that has been fuelled by celebrity support and a social media frenzy. The backlash was largely instigated by Sir Elton John who sent Instagram into a furore by posting to his 92,000 followers, “How dare you refer to my beautiful children as synthetic”, and calling for a boycott of the brand using the hashtag #BoycottDolceGabbana, which quickly trended.
Social media is a powerful tool when it comes to garnering support for a cause, particularly when, like Sir Elton John, you wield such huge influence in the online sphere. Since Sunday, the campaign has gathered an unprecedented amount of engagement and support, with fellow celebrities such as Victoria Beckham and John Barrowman pledging their allegiance to Sir Elton John; this public backing from such high-profile personalities, each with a legion of fans, threatens to damage Dolce & Gabbana’s popularity even further.
And it appears the situation went rapidly from bad to worse for Dolce & Gabbana when highly influential fashion publicist Kelly Cutrone brought up a Dolce & Gabbana advert from 2007 which had been previously banned and criticised for appearing to simulate a “gang bang”. Cutrone tweeted: “I guess simulating gang bands are fine – but IVF and same sex marriage are not – life according to Dolce & Gabbana.”
The designers have so far been unapologetic and have responded by calling Elton John a ‘fascist’ and ‘ignorant’ – likening his backlash to the Charlie Hebdo attack. In my opinion this was an unwise response as it serves only to further turn the tide of public opinion against Domenico and the brand; in order to protect himself, his business partner and the Dolce & Gabbana brand from further criticism, it is imperative that he plans his next steps intelligently.
Thus far it seems Domenico has failed to take into account the responsibility he has to his brand, Dolce & Gabbana, and I believe this to be a grave error. As the head of such a powerful business, his personal views are constantly entwined with the ethos of the brand, and controversial statements such as the ones he made will not be taken in isolation. His views threaten to alienate a legion of Dolce & Gabbana customers, deter celebrities from wearing their designs at high-profile events, and turn the media and public opinion, against the brand.
It is of course possible for brands and personalities to come back from a crisis; the key is to communicate the right messages to the right people. In 2013, after his fall from grace, John Galliano granted Vanity Fair an exclusive interview which saw Dior’s ex-head designer apologise for his anti-semitic comments and speak candidly about his drug addiction. This powerful piece was read by millions and gathered sympathisers from the public, as well as notable influencers from the fashion industry. He is now creative director of French fashion house Maison Margiela, and seems to have once again been embraced by an industry which was quick to shun him at the time.
It would be wise for Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana to seek expert advice from a media expert to engineer a plan of action. Offering a well-respected publication an exclusive interview will allow the designers to justify their point of view and apologise – whilst negotiating control over the published copy. A remorseful statement on social media is also advisable, and seeking to repair the relationship with any celebrities who have been offended by the remarks might allow Dolce & Gabana to rekindle some of the lost celebrity support.
In time, the brand will once again be known first and foremost for its stylish and classic Italian fashions, however in order for this to happen, the tide of public opinion will need to change and the designers have a significant part to play in this.
Phil Hall is chairman of reputation management agency PHA Media and a former editor-in-chief of the celebrity magazine Hello!