Kim Kardashian Temps for Dolce, Gabbana
Is this supposed to be the grand finale to their cancellation retribution tour?
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I can’t think of anything less imaginative than a fashion brand partnering with Kim Kardashian. However, a successful fashion company is only part imagination, many more parts commerce, so while I eye-roll at another brand contributing to her overexposure, I get it.
Kardashian headlined the spring 2023 Dolce & Gabbana fashion show on Saturday in Milan, which seemed to be something like the season finale to the saga of Dolce & Gabbana getting “canceled.” Designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana have long been the subject of negative publicity. In 2014, they were ultimately found not guilty in a high-profile tax evasion case after an Italian supreme court overturned a conviction that would have sent them to prison for 20 months. They also drew backlash in 2015 for coming out against gay couples having children (they later apologized), and then again for selling “slave sandals” in 2016 (they were quickly renamed online). Yet perhaps nothing has inspired quite so much lasting outrage as the brand’s ridiculously offensive 2018 video ad campaign to promote a Shanghai fashion show, in which an Asian model was filmed struggling to eat Italian dishes with chopsticks, with a voiceover that pronounced words incorrectly to mock Chinese speech. ("Let's use these small stick-like things to eat our great pizza margherita," the voice said in one video.)
The designers then apologized in another video in which Dolce said, “We love your [Chinese] culture and we certainly have much to learn. That is why we are sorry if we made mistakes in the way we expressed ourselves.” Gabbana also denied he was the one who sent racist messages about China from his Instagram account in the midst of the backlash (he blamed it on being “hacked”).
Of all the offensive things the fashion industry has done that have led to widespread outrage, the backlash to Dolce & Gabbana over its racist attitude toward China has had remarkable staying power. It’s in league with the other huge fashion scandal of the past decade or so involving John Galliano, who lost his job at Dior after video footage of him spewing an anti-Semitic tirade in a bar was posted online.
Galliano, who now leads design at Maison Margiela, and Dolce and Gabbana were in similar yet also very different situations. Galliano was designing for another house instead of his own label. He wasn’t nearly as wealthy or in control of his own destiny as Dolce and Gabbana, who are billionaires and jointly own their label. Galliano had an ally in Anna Wintour, the Vogue editor who has long adored him and who helped him get back to work after Dior (more details on this are in my book, ANNA: The Biography). He also relied on the Anti-Defamation League, an organization that works to stop the defamation of Jewish people, which helped educate and rehabilitate him. The ADL, people seem to forget (or maybe they just don’t care), publicly forgave Galliano and issued multiple public statements of support for him. One, on January 18, 2013, read in part:
Mr. Galliano has worked arduously in changing his worldview and dedicated a significant amount of time to researching, reading, and learning about the evils of anti-Semitism and bigotry. Along his journey to recovery he met with us on numerous occasions. He has accepted full responsibility for his previous remarks and understands that hurtful comments have no place in our society.
Forgiveness is not a tenet of the internet, but it is a tenet of Judaism. If I were Dolce & Gabbana looking at Galliano as a case study, I might notice that the support of both a reputable organization like the ADL and fashion’s most important person who has no social media accounts just didn’t have a big enough or lasting enough impact. What just might have better odds at mass impact in today’s culture than Anna and a top anti-racist organization? Celebrities.
This impact isn’t lasting in isolation, but if you consistently produce celebrity moments, that’s a different story. D&G hired Lucio Di Rosa from Versace in 2020 to run celebrity and VIP relations, and since then, their clothes have consistently appeared on major stars, including Blake Lively, Lupita Nyong’o, Kate Middleton, Mariah Carey, Cardi B, and many more. Whereas many high-fashion brands only loan to an approved shortlist of A-list celebrities, D&G is said to be extremely celebrity friendly. The Cut reported earlier this year that they make custom and plus-size red-carpet looks, which isn’t typical for a top-tier house.
The celebrity relations approach serves another purpose. Gabbana had caused smaller bursts of backlash by appearing to make nasty comments about celebrities using his Instagram account. Gabbana’s Instagram account once left a comment on a photo collage of Selena Gomez that read (this is translated from Italian) “She’s really ugly!!!” Gabbana’s account also left a comment on an Instagram of the Kardashians calling them “the most cheap people in the world.” The recent celebrity exposure wasn’t only helpful because this is an in-your-face, over-the-top, glamour sort of brand, it could also show that a group of people that Gabbana may have offended were over it.
Yet if none of those recent individual celebrity Dolce & Gabbana looks caught your attention, perhaps Kourtney Kardashian and Travis Barker’s wedding did. Media assumed it was a paid sponsorship since every Kardashian and Jenner wore Dolce & Gabbana for that entire highly publicized weekend. The designers also put Kardashian and Barker up on their yacht and created a pop-up shop in order to dress wedding guests. Business of Fashion called this “a major marketing coup.” A spokesperson told the outlet that this wasn’t a sponsorship deal, but simply Gabbana and Dolce “hosting this happy event.”
If you thought that the torrent of social media content from that weekend was firmly in your rearview mirror, Kim Kardashian is here to disabuse you of that notion. Over the weekend, she explained that all the Dolce looks worn by her and her sisters at that wedding (the couple’s third) were from her private Dolce & Gabbana collection. Apparently this collection included some deep cuts that even the designers themselves did not have in their own archives.
This is what Dolce, Gabbana, and Kardashian said inspired Saturday’s spring 2023 show, which involved Kardashian picking her favorite Dolce & Gabbana pieces from 1987 through 2007, and then the designers reworking them for 2023, for a #CiaoKim collection, as she called it on Instagram. This is why the looks bore a little tag with the year the original look first appeared. The show was staged, the AP reports, “against the backdrop of a film showing Kardashian, styled as a starlet, sensually eating a plate of pasta.” You can watch the entire show on Kardashian’s Instagram feed.
Some fashion shows are about presenting new ideas. All fashion shows are about marketing. This show offered little — if anything — but marketing. There wasn’t anything new about the clothes. The spokesperson endorsing it was entirely predictable. Even the branding feels been there, done that, including the pasta conceit that mirrors Madonna’s 2009 Dolce & Gabbana campaign:
It’s not even new for Kim Kardashian, who did the whole Old Hollywood thing when she wore Marilyn Monroe’s dress to the Met Gala. Vogue.com doesn’t really say anything bad about any show, but did insert this into its review:
“It’s very Skims-y,” a seatmate said, nodding at a stretch-jersey number circa 1990 and a new one made in its image.
Even that has already been done — by Fendi!
Both Kardashian and Dolce & Gabbana benefit from this #CiaoKim arrangement. For Kardashian, it’s another flex of her Fashion bona fides. For Dolce & Gabbana, it’s having someone they once called “cheap” be the face of their brand, bringing her endorsement to all of her and her family’s (of course, they were all there) fans and followers.
Expecting or wishing for this brand’s downfall feels futile at this point. The truth is that billionaires get away with stuff in our society, no matter who on social media comes for them or how many people they offend. We’re never going to know what is actually in these people’s hearts and heads, if they truly feel sorry or if they don’t and are just savvy business people. Maybe, with this #CiaoKim show out of the way, next season, at least, they can get back to being creative.