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Dolce & Gabbana’s comeback

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So much for moral posturing and cultural sensitivity. Dolce & Gabbana, the Italian brand that was, for a brief moment at the end of last year, a poster child for cultural ignorance and the comeuppance that can ensue; that was held up as an example of how a fashion brand can so profoundly mess up that repercussions are felt throughout the world; and that was variously seen as having a reputation “in rags” (Forbes) and being in the midst of a “downfall” (Hypebeast), is quietly, but publicly, on its way back. If not necessarily in China, the front line of its transgressions, then in the rest of the world. And not just because of its men’s wear show in Milan on Saturday.

Though conspicuously absent from red carpets at the Golden Globes and Oscars earlier this year, in April things began to change. That month, Emilia Clarke wore a Dolce & Gabbana red corset and tulle dress to the Time 100 gala. A few weeks later, Glenda Jackson wore a Dolce white trouser suit to the Met Gala.

Then, this month, Kacey Musgraves wore Dolce rose-print trousers and a matching bustier to perform at the Governors Ball, Will Smith wore Dolce to an Aladdin premiere, and Melania Trump (a longtime Dolce fan) wore custom Dolce to meet the Queen during President Trump’s state visit to Britain.

And, on Sunday evening, four Tony Award attendees, including James Corden, the host; Gideon Glick, a nominee; Michael Shannon, a presenter; and Kate Arrington, Shannon’s date, all wore Dolce. Outrage, apparently, lasts only so long when looking good and consumer desire are involved.

Especially since celebrities are not the only ones who seem to have moved on (though with the celebrity embrace comes implicit permission for others). According to Lyst, the global fashion search platform, Dolce & Gabbana moved back into the top 20 most-searched brands in the first quarter of 2019, after disappearing in late 2018, and ranks 15th overall, thanks to our yen for floral dresses, T-shirts, printed swimwear and men’s sneakers. For those who don’t remember, here’s a brief recap of why this matters.

In November last year, Dolce & Gabbana was planning a mega-show in Shanghai, following in the footsteps of Valentino and Chanel in bringing a live catwalk directly to one of its biggest consumer groups.

It had more than 300 models and celebrities set to walk for 1,500 invitees at a reported cost of about $25 million. To generate excitement in the run-up to the show, the company released a series of videos on Instagram and YouTube featuring a young Chinese woman trying to eat a cannoli with chopsticks.

Asian viewers took offence at what they considered racial stereotyping. Then Stefano Gabbana, who, with Domenico Dolce, founded and designs the label, took offence in return.

There was name calling and insult trading on social media and claims (not believed) of hacking. Influencers and celebrities started cancelling their participation; the international community moved to distance itself; and the whole shebang was finally called off amid news of Chinese consumers posting videos of themselves burning their Dolces.

Retailers like Lane Crawford dropped the brand; Yoox Net-a-Porter and other e-tailers removed its products from their websites. The designers officially apologised a few days later, but they were isolated and unsupported by an alienated Italian fashion establishment, and it was unclear if they could recover.

Not anymore. Now the episode is starting to look like another fashion fall-and-redemption narrative. Or more precisely, fall-and-return. Because the redemption part of this story is not exactly clear. And that has implications when it comes to call-out culture, and the ability (or willingness) of consumers and influencers to hold brands to account over time.

Katy Lubin, the vice-president for communications for Lyst, said in an email: “While it seems like fashion customers are certainly becoming more woke and more vocal on their social channels, the data suggests they’re not necessarily following through when it comes to their purchasing decisions.”

Indeed, while Lane Crawford still does not officially stock Dolce & Gabbana, Andrew Keith, the chief executive, said: “We have had our personal shopping and styling teams working directly with customers on personal preorder appointments. So far there is limited interest.” The store is monitoring the reactions, and though “the initial impact and scale of response is still fresh in the collective memory,” Keith said, he added that he believed “Chinese customers will inevitably come back to the brand.”

It may be that Dolce & Gabbana has finally learned its lessons. It may be that all of the celebrities and armchair shoppers who are glorying in the designers’ florals and laces have privately interrogated their own superegos and decided wearing the label was the right thing to do. And the jury is still out in China. But shouldn’t the rest of us at least have the conversation, now as then, before we put on the clothes?

© 2019 The New York Times

Source: Business Standard