It seems as if every week brings a new batch of stories profiling luxury brands that “missed the mark” when addressing claims of cultural appropriation or blatant racist activities. While many of these behaviors aren’t new to the twenty-first century, the public is beginning to demand change. Most recently, two major international brands—Dolce & Gabbana and Prada—have been at the center of claims of using racist imagery in their campaigns, and each brand took very different approaches in handling the backlash. For Dolce & Gabbana (D&G), this was not the first time they’ve dealt with a major scandal, yet they continue to happen. As luxury brands continue to strive to appear transparent and fair, what needs to be done to avoid these mistakes in the future?
“[We] will never forget this experience, and it will certainly never happen again. We will respect the Chinese culture in every way possible. From the bottom of our hearts, we ask for forgiveness.” This quote was a part of a statement given by D&G founders days after videos were posted to the company Instagram showing a Chinese woman try—and fail—to use chopsticks to eat pizza to promote the upcoming “DG Loves China” collection. The backlash was immediate, and Chinese consumers voiced so much disapproval on social media that the debut fashion show was canceled, and stores were closed nationwide.
As if the clear lack of cultural competency weren’t enough, D&G went on to claim that the video was never meant to be shared and was only released after a hacker released it without permission. From their response, it’s clear that D&G is used to these situations blowing over, especially since co-founder Stefano Gabbana has been recorded making countless sexist, racist, and homophobic remarks with little retribution.
With such a strong Chinese client base, one can’t help but wonder why no one stopped this advertisement from being released out of the presumably large number of people who saw it before the public. Was there no one to say, “do you all see how horrible this is?” Or, if there was this person, how did the company decide that it was more beneficial to release the video and deal with repercussions later than to never release it at all? Based on D&G’s actions, it’s clear that there are little to no people of color in the room when these decisions are made, and it seems they have no intention to change.
However, not all racial scandals are created equally. The fashion community was shocked when social media users pointed out some similarities between a Prada keychain character and blackface imagery. Although not completely immune, Prada has a generally strong track record of featuring models of color and keeping their nose clean when it comes to poorly made statements. Some Prada fans defended the fashion house, citing more similarity to the Paul Frank monkey than a blackface character (the keychain in question was from a collection of carnival animals).
Nonetheless, Prada immediately recalled all accessories featuring the figure and issued a believable statement citing no intention to reference such imagery and admitted to employing a staff that greatly lacked people of color. This incident most likely won’t hurt Prada; the people were given what they wanted—and then some. No store closings, no show cancellations, no Instagram rants.
These two very different scenarios prove that consumers are changing and that luxury fashion is not immune. While it’s not in anyone’s best interest that incidents like these keep occurring, they may be the wake-up call that brands need to create more opportunities for people of color. Until then, brands will continue to force a discriminatory narrative that no longer pleases those who truly call the shots—customers.