Fixing a faux-pas: How fashion brands deal with...
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Mar 23, 2015  |  Vote 0    0

Fixing a faux-pas: How fashion brands deal with controversy

What do designers have to do to recover from missteps or worse?

OurWindsor.Ca

As Fashion Week descended on Toronto Monday, the runway was a reminder of the controversies that designers can deliver each season.

In the last month, Dolce & Gabbana lost some of its faithful when co-founder Domenico Dolce suggested gay men shouldn’t have children using in vitro fertilization, while Canadian designers Dsquared2 received backlash for naming their latest collection “Dsquaw.”

Whether or not these missteps hurt these brands in the long term depends on who the brands are selling to, says Queen’s University marketing professor Ken Wong.

“D&G’s (comments) will hurt their brand — there is no question about it,” said Wong. “The clientele they are serving is . . . the profile of somebody who would be very sensitive of the issue of gay and lesbian rights.”

Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, who are both gay and used to be a couple, spoke to the Italian magazine Panorama about their new collection devoted to mothers.

“You are born to a mother and a father, or at least that’s how it should be,” Dolce said. “I call children of chemistry, synthetic children.”

Elton John took to Instagram to start the hashtag #BoycottDolceGabbana, calling Dolce’s comments “archaic thinking.” Other celebrities quickly moved to support the singer, including Courtney Love, Ricky Martin and Madonna.

“Any crisis today is going to be an online crisis,” said Megan Wintersteen, a digital strategist with the New York-based firm Huge Inc.

Responding early is the best way to get ahead of the conversation and stop it from overwhelming a brand’s online presence, she says. Wintersteen advises brands to think about what their first page on Google will look like.

Gabbana responded to John’s post, calling him a “fascist” and posting on his own Instagram — including an image with the tag line “Je Suis D&G.”

The designers responded together in a CNN interview, where Gabbana stressed their love for gay couples and gay adoptions, while Dolce addressed the issue by saying it’s his “private point of view.”

Wintersteen said that despite the privacy argument, Dolce’s name is inextricably tied to the “iconic” brand.

By contrast, Dsquared2 — run by Toronto-born twins Dean and Dan Caten — is a newer brand with a smaller following.

“Dsquared is selling to a small portion of the population that is probably not looking for the same style as D&G — they are looking for something that is edgy, and Dsquaw is edgy,” said Wong.

Critics took to Twitter, outraged at the use of the derogatory term that refers to aboriginal women in the name of the designer’s latest collection.

Other than the designers dropping the hashtag #Dsquaw, their response has largely been no response. Wintersteen says silence is one extreme on the spectrum. Although it’s a traditional public relations tactic and one Apple often uses, in her opinion it rarely works.

“Even if you think you didn’t do anything wrong, be smart enough to know you did offend people,” said Wintersteen.

On the other end of the spectrum is what she likens to the “Kanye” response — loud, brash and unapologetic.

“If they do choose to respond, it’s not like you should be addressing people attacking you,” said Wintersteen. “You should always be getting to the underlying issue.”

Why the Dsquared2 controversy matters

Dsquared2 faced criticism this month not only for using a slur in its latest campaign name, but also over how indigenous designs were used in the collection.

The Toronto-born duo’s website describes the collection as “magic and mysterious tribal influences” meeting “the noble spirit of Old Europe.”

Sage Paul is a fashion designer who grew up in the aboriginal arts community in Toronto. She’s disappointed with the collection, but unsurprised.

“The way I prefer to react is to be proactive,” she says. Paul works on her own designs and supports other young indigenous women through the Setsuné Indigenous Fashion Incubator. She spoke with The Star about why fleeting fashion controversies like Dsquared2’s should matter.

Why should people pay attention to this?

The political climate of how indigenous people are viewed in Canada and around the world right now, that’s important. When there’s an active push and renaissance of indigenous people who are allowed to practice their culture and when you have fashion houses take it and use it as a trend, it really degrades us as a group of people.

How does this type of collection impact your work?

It gives me drive to do more. It upsets me, but I don’t really associate my work with their work (because) I would never appropriate my own culture.

Is cultural appropriation a widespread problem in design?

Yes, definitely. It happens a lot. I understand that it can happen, so I do my best to educate. For example, if you look at Scotland and you look at the Tartans, all the Tartans are related to clans. There’s a lot of meaning behind those patterns.

We have beadwork and patterns that go on fabrics — there are a lot of meanings . . . behind those things. There needs to be more education and people taking the initiative to learn where those come from and working with the right people so it’s not used in a way that’s not following a protocol or stealing a family’s identity for the sake of fashion.

Who, in your view, is doing a good job of bringing indigenous designs to the mainstream in a more respectful way?

For the Super Bowl game, Nike partnered with an indigenous (Navajo) designer to design a shoe to acknowledge the people whose land the game was on. I thought that was an interesting way to partner with the community through design.

Toronto Star

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