Italian designers Domenico Dolce (R) and Stefano Gabbana
What began as a brush fire over the weekend for the fashion designers behind the Dolce & Gabbana label spread quickly across the Internet.
Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce have found themselves at the center of a viral social media campaign after the pair criticized in vitro fertilization and nontraditional families in an interview with the Italian magazine Panorama. “I am not convinced by those I call children of chemicals, synthetic children,” Dolce told the magazine. “Rented uterus, semen chosen from a catalog.”
“The family is not a fad,” Gabbana added. “In it there is a supernatural sense of belonging.”
The comments caught the attention of the singer and songwriter Elton John, who took to Instagram over the weekend to urge a boycott of the high-end label, a perennial favorite of celebrities and socialites.
“How dare you refer to my beautiful children as 'synthetic,'” John wrote. “Shame on you for wagging your judgmental little fingers at IVF.” He added: “Your archaic thinking is out of step with the times, just like your fashions. I shall never wear Dolce and Gabbana ever again. #BoycottDolceGabbana.” John has two sons through IVF with his husband, David Furnish.
The hashtag quickly became a rallying cry on social media. Among others, Victoria Beckham, Courtney Love, the singer Ricky Martin, and the former tennis star Martina Navratilova condemned the fashion label on Twitter. Celebrities and civilians alike threatened to burn their Dolce & Gabbana apparel. Users posted pictures of their children conceived through artificial insemination.
Gabbana struck back against John on Instagram, calling him a fascist and posting “Je Suis D&G” in an echo of the “Je Suis Charlie” cry after the attack in January on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
On Monday, Dolce and Gabbana tried to stem the backlash. In a statement issued through the company Monday - the same one he posted on Instagram - Gabbana said: “We firmly believe in democracy and the fundamental principle of freedom of expression that upholds it. We talked about our way of seeing reality, but it was never our intention to judge other people’s choices.”
Dolce said in a separate statement: “I’m Sicilian and I grew up in a traditional family, made up of a mother, a father and children. I am very well aware of the fact that there are other types of families and they are as legitimate as the one I’ve known. But in my personal experience, family had a different configuration.”
It was unclear whether the outcry against the label would have any substantive effect, but the attention illustrates the potentially damaging impact of viral campaigns on a brand. Negative social media campaigns like the one started by John can blemish a brand’s image and set back a company’s efforts to spread positive awareness on sites like Twitter and Facebook.
Marketing experts said the comments from Dolce and Gabbana would be perceived as alienating, particularly to those in the fashion industry, which is generally more progressive on issues like gay marriage and same-sex families.
“It’s brain-dead to start making comments like this on behalf of a brand,” said Scott Galloway, a clinical professor of marketing at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “This isn’t shooting yourself in the foot, this is taking a machine gun and spraying bullets all over your feet.”
Still, it is likely that the brand will emerge, if not completely unscathed, then without serious damage, said Shenan Reed, president for digital in North America at MEC, a media agency network.
“I’d be shocked if it had any dramatic impact,” Reed said. - 2015 New York Times News Service