Looking Back To See The Present

Or, is Dolce and Gabbana simply stuck—caught between then and now?

Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana open their spring/summer 2023 show with a model in underwear—white singlet and white Y-front briefs. This is possibly a new progressive; it is clearly not a new normal. Dolce & Gabbana could be refocusing their underwear business, or they could be encouraging men to go the Julia Fox way. Do not bother with inner or outer: if you like, just wear. Why be concerned with drawing lines and making distinctions? If women should not be ashamed of their bodies, regardless of what shape they’re in, or whether they are pregnant or not, men should not be too, since they have, presumably, less encumbrances to deal with. This is, of course, not the first time D&G has made singlets and briefs part of their presentation. But this is not an undergarment show. What were the opening two-piece other than lame—even futile— titillation?

Baring skin is happening so often on the runway (and off) these days that there is hardly anything fresh about the act. Even TikTok is peopled with those fellows willing to go topless, not just in their skivvies. What D&G could be prefacing with the first look is that there is more to the skin show to follow. And there is different-hued flesh peeking from tops that are holed, as if cloth moths had an overnight buffet. They are meticulously tatty so that the wearer could look insouciantly ragged—poor little rich boy. And in shredded pants, too—if Balenciaga can destroy sneakers, why can’t D&G do the same to their trousers? These are seriously ripped (destroyed might be a better word), as if to test the structural integrity of the fabric. One pair of jeans has at least ten slashes on each side of the front legs. It can’t be easy slipping into the jeans, but that’s not a consideration. Looking like a fashionable destitute takes considerable effort.

If the clothes seem somewhat rehashed (more lace shirts or religious icons?), that is because they are. The collection is titled Re-Edition, a look back at the brand’s output from 1991 to 2023 that has been prolific of the D&G hallmarks of tawdry—so desirable that there are those who had reportedly ask for them, many a time. It is doubtful that the tailoring, which, to be fair, they do well, is in such I-want-more demand. But a suit, for example, need not be brought back. D&G still offers them. To ‘update’ the selected looks of the past, they puncture the clothes and distress them (one SOTD follower calls the tatters “Sicilian street urchin revival”!) or have more holes by way of unlined openwork fabrics: lace, crochet, and open knits. To avoid the sum effect of looking like they correspond with the clothes of those without any means of subsistence, they pair some of them with proper clothes. The luxurious can go with the miserable.

Dolce & Gabanna would have been a stymied brand if not for the tremendous support of celebrities, such as Khloe Kardashian and the attendees of the nuptials of the former and Travis Barker. In fact, it was said that D&G “sponsored” the wedding. With considerable presence on the red carpet as well, the brand enjoys a visibility that have alluded many others offering just as flashy clothes. Banking on celebrity endorsement usually require tremendous product appeal, but D&G seems less reliant on the latter. To be certain, the brand is alluring to a very specific audience, for whom raucous has more merit than muted. That Dolce & Gabanna is loud is no visit to the past or present: They just are.

Screen shot (top): Dolce & Gabanna/YouTube. Photos: Dolce & Gabanna

A Branded Wedding

Kourtney Kardashian married Travis Barker in Italy, at a lavish, “sponsored” event. A win-win for the Kardashian family and the fashion house—Dolce and Gabbana

American bride and groom in Italy: Kourtney Kardashian and Travis Barker, outfitted by Dolce Gabbana. Photo: kourtneykardashian/Instagram

At the Balenciaga cruise 2023 show, staged on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange last Sunday morning, one supporter/model of the house was conspicuously not present: Kim Kardashian. The SKIMS founder was MIA because she was unable to attend; she was in Italy, specifically the resort town of Portofino, to witness sister Kourtney Kardashian tie the knot with fellow Californian, the Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker. According to media reports, the wedding was to be a weekend-long affair. As expected, the paparazzi attended too (including the fashion photographer Ellen Von Unwerth), ensuring that the Kardashian-Jenner clan in attendance was well shot. For a celebratory occasion, the family members, expectedly, were bedecked to the nines, and tens. Kim Kardashian was not in a semblance of a head-to-toe bodysuit; she was her usual Instagram-worthy self: Sexy. As more photos emerged with accompanying credits, it became obvious that the wedding turned out to be a resort-wide fashion show for a single brand: Dolce and Gabbana (D&G).

Soon, talk emerged that the bride and groom’s big day was “sponsored” by the Italian label, so were the outfits of the couple’s guests. According to an opus of an “exclusive” in the Daily Mail’s digital edition, MailOnline, Dolce and Gabbana and the couple agreed to “a deal set to give millions of pounds worth of free publicity to (the) controversy-hit luxury fashion house”. D&G was embroiled in a series of scandals pertaining to their opinions, as well as their marketing exercises that, in one case, angered an entire nation: China. It is not clear if the brand’s image has been totally salvaged, even when they are still the go-to label among attention-adoring film and pop stars, and revered by journalists such as Suzy Menkes. According to a report by CNN last June, “D&G is still struggling to win back China”, and their store count in the world’s most populous nation dropped to 47 from 58 (before the fallout). But things did pick up, modestly. In March, Dolce and Gabbana opened in Shanghai’s CITIC Pacific Plaza, giving the total in China a boost by one. Jing Daily shared that by the final quarter of this year, D&G would “open new men’s, women’s, and junior stores in fashionable Chengdo”, quoting the brand’s group communication and marketing officer Fedele Usai: “The company has always carefully paid attention to the potential and demand coming from emerging areas (of China).”

It is not clear if the brand’s image has been totally salvaged, even when they are still the go-to label among attention-adoring film and pop stars

It is conceivable that the brand still needs some help, and that the Kardashian-Jenners could be crucial to D&G’s protracted rehabilitation. A D&G-branded wedding for one of the world’s most recognisable family-brands could be the genius stroke in getting the visibility of the meretricious fashion raised, further. But a spokesperson for D&G denied that any sponsorship was offered, telling Business of Fashion that the former was merely “hosting this happy event”. MailOnline said that they “can reveal that the Italian fashion house has been closely involved in organising every aspect of the lavish wedding celebrations”. Apart from outfitting the attendees of the wedding, D&G reportedly had the couple stay in a mega-yacht—the Regina d’Italia, believed to be owned by Stefano Gabbana. The entire entourage was ferried to the wedding venues in Portofino—the L’Olivetta, a villa owned by Dolce & Gabbana and the 16th-century castle Castello Brown—in luxury speedboats by the Italian yacht builder Riva. Published photographs showed the vessels furnished with D&G accessories including cushions, throws, and towels in the house’s flashy animal prints or colourful clash of patterns (think: the D&G X Smeg home appliances). On land, a pop-up store, Galleria d’Arte, offered D&G merchandise for the wedding guests needing to buy a gift or memorabilia, as well as for tourists gathering to watch the Americans-marrying-in-Italy spectacle.

At the prop-like altar, the bride wore a white mini-dress that was unambiguously corset-meets-negligee. It spoke volumes when the the dress was staggeringly shorter than the cathedral-length veil. All around and beyond, it was an orgy of Dolce & Gabbana frocks (including the matriarch Kris Jenner’s one alto moda fluff among other gaudy outfits worn throughout the celebration) and suits, including the children’s. Theme: Italian OTT. D&G’s willingness and eagerness to caparison the whole clan was consistent with the founders’ love of la famiglia and the brand’s repeated depictions of multi-generational families in their advertising. It was reported that this massive exercise was “a first for the luxury and marketing industry”. Those who follow influencers on social media would know that a sponsored wedding is not unusual, although by one brand for practically the whole shebang is less so. In a Dolce and Gabbana/Kardashian-Jenner tie-up, it is hard to discern who needed the publicity more, but there is, in our present day, no such thing as too much hoopla and attention to selves. The brand and the family needed each other, and therein we find the contrived, even crazy happy ending.

Star Awards (2022): Still Not Shining

Away from Changi Airport, is this year’s Star Awards a better, sleeker affair? Were we hoping for too much?

Ah jie Zoe Tay, in purple silk chiffon, floating down the Walk of Fame. Photo: The Celebrity Agency/Instagram

By Ray Zhang

The Star Awards 2022 is a very long show, if you take into consideration that ‘Backstage Live’ segment, screened three and half hours before the ceremony proper on MeWatch and YouTube. At more than seven hours duration in its entirety, it was long enough for me to be on a flight to Tokyo. Since last year, MediaCorp has decided that the annual show generates enough interest to warrant extra broadcast of not only the anywhere-is-a-red-carpet segment, Walk of Fame, but also a look at the stars getting ready, presumably from around or after noon. But while the award presentation, now back at the MediaCorp Theatre, veered dangerously towards dull, it was Backstage Live that was utterly unbearable to watch, even more so than last year’s. If any glamour was to be expected, as promised by Mediacorp, all was lost in the loud, grating, uninformative banter that dominated this painful prelude.

Juvenile and boisterous, in all its youth-grassroots glory, it was as if all the hosts—all six of them—cut their teeth at a qiyue getai (七月歌台 or the ‘song stage’ of the 7th lunar month, aka Hungry Ghost Festival). When asked by hosting partner Seow Sin Nee (萧歆霓) what he liked to watch at each Star Awards, apart from the main presentation, the 1.91-metre tall Herman Keh (郭坤耀) mentioned the “红地毯 (red carpet)” because of the stars’ attire, which he referred to as “制服 (zhifu or uniform)”! And he would go on to say that at least five times more, including referring to the Hugo Boss suit that he wore as zhifu, too. And, even when later, Priscelia Chan (曾诗梅) was curious about his word choice while being interviewed by the noisy duo, he did not appear to be aware of the embarrassing faux pas.

The new-gen Channel 8 hosts: (left) “uniform”-clad Herman Keh and (right) Seow Sin Nee with resident stylist Annie Chua (middle). Screen grab: Mediacorp/YouTube

I know not if Mr Keh was on script, but bumbling and blundering his way through his set was only part of the pain in watching this segment of MediaCorp’s biggest night. When the same pair presented one of the six debut My Pick awards (for Favourite Male Show Stealer, which Xu Bin won), Ms Seow was asked “哪一个是你的pick (who is your pick)?”. She replied, “it’s all my picks”! The appalling command of both Mandarin and English on a broadcast believed to be one of the most popular for Channel 8 (the main event of last year’s show at Changi Airport shockingly won the award for Best Entertainment Special!) is embarrassing, to say the least. Later, when Mr Keh won the Most Attention-Seeking New-Gen Host, he said, “感谢我爸爸妈妈把我养成这么高 (grateful to my parents for raising me until I am so tall)“. There is a difference between “古灵精怪 (weird or bizarre, as Mr Keh described himself)” and trite. Throw in their mission to find the “female star with the highest heel” and the “guy with the tallest hair”, I knew nothing begged further viewing.

The Walk of Fame at five o’clock brought me back to the show. After last year, the struts and poses this time returned to a real but somewhat short red carpet, although it was obvious that all the stars waited behind a backdrop to emerge. No one was seen coming out of a luxury car (sponsorship was hard to score this year?). As with her appearance on the Changi Airport Terminal Four driveway of the entrance to the departure hall in 2021, Zoe Tay had to walk alone. Wearing a silk chiffon dress by Gucci with a cape that floated behind her like a parachute (I’m not sure about the curiously chunky black platforms), she commanded the red carpet like a seasoned pro, lifting nary a pinch of her floor-length skirt to navigate the Walk of Fame, while other younger actresses lifted their distended skirts as if they were avoiding dog excrement. I had to remind myself that for most of the actresses, this was probably the only chance in the entire year when they could wear an evening gown, and possibly towering heels. And since they had to return the the borrowed dresses in saleable condition, they had to content with lifting while parading to avoid an embarrassing frock-ripping, if not nasty fall.

Best actress and actor favourites Chantalle Ng and Xu Bin. Photo: The Celebrity Agency/Instagram

On the red carpet, the most anticipated, I suppose, were the My Star Bride leads Chantalle Ng (黄暄婷) and Xu Bin (徐彬). Ms Ng is the daughter of old-timer Lin Meijiao (林梅娇, winner of the evening’s Best-Supporting Actress). She wore a red, sequinned Bottega Veneta gown, which appeared a tad too large for her and clearly too long. Frequently, she had to hold one side (or both) of the dress to help her walk less uncomfortably or so that her platform compers won’t cause her to trip. Contrasting her, colour-wise (or to express some National Day fervour?), was Mr Xu in an off-white Dolce & Gabbana suit that was tackily tacked with what could be earrings, bearing the letters ‘D’ and ‘G’, all over—yes, on the pants too, without which he would be too close to an albino peacock? Mr Xu had earlier, in the Backstage Live segment, said that when he saw the suit, he knew immediately that it was the one he wanted and had instructed his stylist to get it for him. I wish someone had told him he could pass of as a window display at Chomel.

In fact, the guys seemed to have tried harder this year. Many came in suits—some of a better fit than others, many curiously semi-casual, and few down-right not dressy. Elvin Ng (黄俊雄), in a Versace suit, was the first joke of the day: he went from kedai-kopi bandung to Fanta orange. Or, was it F&N? To be sure, I don’t know if Mediacorp ever stipulated a dress code or whether it was merely a given that attendees would don evening wear, but it was unlikely that black tie, as many had thought, was expected. Still, odd choices abound: Desmond Tan (陈泂江) in a cream, zips-for-darts Alexander McQueen coat, which he wore sans shirts a la Timothée Chalamet at the Oscars (I do not know why there persists this love of substituting outerwear for a blazer at an awards night), only that the American actor did not go shirtless under a coat; Dennis Chew (周崇庆) in a cartoonish white suit, with hand-drawn tracing of the perimeter of the outfit, designed by, gasp, Chen Hanwei (陈汉玮) and made by Q Menswear; or Nick Teo’s shaggy, kungfu-master, Yohji Yamamoto layers. And those in non-solids: Romeo Tan’s Etro suit with geometric patterns gleaned from carpets, Bryan Wong’s also-Etro blazer with Savannah print (feline included), and worse, Pierre Png’s too-small, too-day-yet- too-prom-night gingham jacket.

Formalwear interpreted: (from let) James Seah, Desmond Tan, and Teo Ze Tong. Photo: The Celebrity Agency/Instagram

There were other trends among the men—possibly what Herman Keh obliviously, gleefully, and toothily called zhifu—if you consider, like I did, their omnipresence. Most discernible were the dinner jackets with peaked lapels in black (sometimes part of it) to stand out from the main fabric. At least half a dozen of them embraced this small chromatic contrast. Even Desmond Tan could not resist the pull, when he changed into a different suit for the award presentation (he was a best actor nominee). Was it to show that the stars paid attention to details? Also, the persistence of sneakers peeking out from the hem of tailored trousers (many annoyingly not altered to the wearer’s height). Is this really considered cool, even on tuxedo-clad sexagenarian Zhu Houren (朱厚任)?

But what really caught my attention were their faces, which I usually do not scrutinise (nothing surgical intervention won’t hide). I should be more specific—this year, the eyebrows or the many stars who had theirs darken or drawn to augment the density. The unnaturalness really jumped at me. Those of Jeremy Chan (田铭耀, among those who wore a tuxedo jacket with contrast-black lapels), for one, were especially intense and oddly linear and light brown, as if they were shaded with a template; they were even thicker and denser than wife Jessica Liu’s (刘子绚), as if he was trying to impress her as Zayn Malik!

The long and lean: (left and right) Cynthia Koh, and Rebecca Lim. Photos: The Celebrity Agency/Instagram. And (centre)) Joanne Peh. Screengrab: Mediacorp/YouTube

The women, in contrast, seemed more measured in their attempts to make a massive impact. I consider this year a lull year. According to Mediacorp’s principal image stylist & costume designer Annie Chua, what she prepared for 23 of the stars revolved around “old Hollywood glamour” or, if you missed it the first time, “very glamorous old Hollywood glamour”. I wonder if the emphasis was on “old”. Quan Yifeng (权怡凤) wore a front-heavy, fussy, old-looking, black (and some white) strapless number: Ms Chua may not have realised that someone’s Hari Raya valances were missing. The opposite to that dated fussiness was Sheryl Ang’s (洪丽婷) yellow Sportmax crush of fabric. Was there not a single iron in the dressing rooms of Mediacorp? And what were the opera gloves about?

In the end, it was clean lines, as well as neatness that attracted me. Although many viewers consider the actresses who could stop traffic in their manner of dress of the past to be “boring” this year, I do think that they stood out for their unfussy turn out: Cynthia Koh (许美珍) in Moshino, Joanne Peh (白薇秀) in Ralph Lauren, and, most striking, Rebecca Lim (林慧玲) in Louis Vuitton. Sure, what they wore could be the epitome of modest fashion (at least from the front), but the dresses (including special guest, Taiwanese Pets Tseng’s [曾沛慈] red Rebecca Vallance dress, I should add) communicated a certain elan and class, both of which the Star Awards still lack, in spades.

Oscars 2022: Many Forgettable Dresses, One Memorable Moment

Gowns failed to impress after Will Smith seemingly pulled off a slap-first version of Kanye West at the 2009 VMAs

Will Smith took to the stage to slap Chris Rock for joking about wife Jada Pinkett-Smith. Screen grab: YouTube

Warning: this post contains language that some readers may find objectionable

“Love will make you do crazy things,” said Will Smith in his acceptance speech for the Best Actor award. And crazy it was when the King Richard lead earlier slapped Chris Rock on stage after Jada Pickett-Smith was teased by the comedian. Mr Rock had jabbed at her by comparing her to G.I. Jane, the eponym in the 1997 Ridley Scott film in which Demi Moore plays the soldier-character with a shaved head. “Jada, I love ya. G.I. Jane 2, can’t wait to see it,” Mr Rock teased. Ms Pickett-Smith’s barely discernible hair is the result of alopecia, an autoimmune condition, where the body attacks the cells of hair follicles, causing hair loss. At first, Mr Smith seemed to be laughing, but then his wife, decked in a Glenn Martens for Jean Paul Gaultier Couture gown, showed she disapproved the joke by rolling her eyes. The camera returned to Mr Rock and the next thing we saw was the actor marching up the stage and quickly smacking the presenter. It did not look scripted. Immediately, social media went berserk! “What just happened?” became the question of the hour.

But the on-stage slap was not enough. After swaggering back to his seat, Mr Smith shouted, “keep my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth!” Twice! (The telecast on channel 5 this morning was not censored.) The Academy Awards have its fair share of distasteful jokes, and nominated actors—and their companions—have always been free for all who host (should Jesse Plemmons have lunged at Amy Schumer for calling his wife Kirsten Dunst a “seat filler” and getting her to vacate her chair?). But is a bad gag good reason to attack the joker? At the risk of pointing to the unmentionable “angry Black man”, this was not the first time a Black ‘bro’ took to the stage to express deep unhappiness. Back in the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs), Kanye West leapt on stage during Taylor Swift’s acceptance of the Best Female Video award and said, “Yo Taylor, I’m really happy for you, I’ma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time! One of the best videos of all time!” Notice the repeat. Only now, Mr Smith had not confronted a White woman or a White man. He laid his hand on a Black guy, which could be “settled”, just as P Diddy said, when he appeared after Mr Rock: “Will and Chris, we’re gonna solve that like family…” On their official Twitter account, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences posted: “The Academy does not condone violence of any form.” And quickly re-focused on the aim of the show: “Tonight we are delighted to celebrate our 94th Academy Awards winners, who deserve this moment of recognition from their peers and movie lovers around the world.”

Will Smith, in Dolce & Gabbana and wife Jada Pinkett-Smith in Glenn Martens for Jean Paul Gaultier Couture gown. Photo WireImage

After the manly outburst, the show moved into surreal territory. While a (mere) heckler would likely be shown the door, Will Smith was allowed to stay and watch the show, and laugh, and go back up the same stage to receive the award for Best Actor, his first. He was met with a standing ovation (Prada-clad Lupita Nyong’o, who sat behind him and was at first shocked by the latter’s open-hand action, stood up to applaud excitedly)! Tearing (or acting?), he said sorry to practically everyone except the guy he smacked. “I want to apologize to the Academy. I want to apologize to all my fellow nominees. This is a beautiful moment and I’m not crying for winning an award. It’s not about winning an award for me. It’s about being able to shine a light on all of the people… Art imitates life. I look like the crazy father…” While he was crying, social media was calling out the slap for a joke as reactive and excessive. And, what if he didn’t win?! This was, however, not the first time Chris Rock targeted Jada Pinkett-Smith. During the 2016 presentation, he joked about her boycotting the award show due to what she saw as lack of diversity. “Jada’s gonna boycott the Oscars?” he joked, “Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited!”. But the current “attack”, some also said, “was low”. Very quickly, #UgliestOscarsMoment_Ever was trending.

Earlier, on the red carpet, the media described the Smiths to have had “wow(ed) the red carpet”—he in a fussy black three-piece suit (and a tie!) by Dolce & Gabbana and she in a green Glenn Martens for Jean Paul Gaultier Couture gown with a ponderous-looking train. Their comeliness gave no clue that something a lot less attractive would take place soon. But, the red carpet this year did seem like a foretaste of the lacklustre proceedings of a tightly-edited show, up to the slap. The looks easily fell into twos: conservative or sexy, pink or green, easy or trying. Those who opted for a more ‘conventional’, symmetrical choice brought back chic based on a definition we thought was lost. Those who took their style cues from Saweetie looked as slutty. Chloe Bailey’s LVDF dress (by the LA-based Austrian designer Lukas van der Fecht), for example, had a slit up her left leg that went straight to below her breast!

The Better Dressed

Clockwise from top left: Zoe Kravitz in Saint Laurent, Uma Thurman in Bottega Veneta, Cynthia Erivo in Louis Vuitton, Zendaya in Valentino, Timothée Chalamet in Louis Vuitton, Kodi Smit-McPhee in Bottega Veneta. Photos: Getty Images

The Worst Dressed

Clockwise from top left: Megan Thee Stallion in Gaurav Gupta, Penélope Cruz in Chanel, H.E.R. in Carolina Herrera, Kristen Stewart in Chanel, Maggie Gyllenhaal in Schiaparelli, Halle Bailey in Roberto Cavalli. Photos: Getty Images

In the camp of the better-dressed, there was a nod to a specific past: the shirt and skirt ensemble not normally associated with the Oscars red carpet, except for Sharon Stone’s Gap and Vera Wang respectively in 1998. Uma Thurman wore a nicely loose white shirt with a barely flared black skirt, both by Bottega Veneta. The slickest look of the night seemingly channeled her 1994 Pulp Fiction character Mia Wallace. Zendaya, who has embraced this red carpet season in more avant-garde looks, such as those by Rick Owens and Loewe, has opted, just like Ms Thurman, for a shirt (and sparkly and impeccably fitted skirt with a train), only hers was cropped and came with curved shirttails. Such simplicity finally negates the outdated belief that princess dresses stand out more on the red carpet and augment the wearer’s femininity. But, perhaps more memorable would be Timothée Chalamet, who, quite the opposite, went shirtless under his Louis Vuitton cropped tuxedo jacket—not from anything by the late Virgil Abloh, but by Nicolas Ghesquière for the women’s collection!

Those who tried harder just appeared to have, perhaps as evidence that they did experience the Oscars ritual of getting dolled/tarted up. This was, after all, the first mask-free Oscars since the start of the pandemic. Megan Thee Stallion, rather new to the show, looked like she fell into a craft class teaching the making of fabric flowers. Penélope Cruz, no newbie, was dressed by Chanel to look like a woman who went back to high school to be a belated prom queen. Maggie Gyllenhaal, who normally looks pleasing if not smashing, appeared to have worn a chest of drawers, or were the drawer knobs on the Schiaparelli dress unnecessarily evocative of furniture? And then Kristen Stewart appeared in something that could have come from that chest: shorts! Lady Gaga, expected to turn up in a showstopper of a gown, did not walk on the red carpet at all. When she emerged on stage (with Lisa Minnelli in a wheelchair), she was not stealing any scene, at least not in a curiously dated look of a shinny tux by Ralph Lauren. Without a nomination, did the house of Gucci abandon her? Next year, we probably won’t remember her tuxedo, but we would recall those worn by the two guys’, who let this troubled world be distracted from war and pandemic with the Oscars’ first on-stage, man-to-man slap.

Note: Mediacorp censored the expletive in the repeat telecast of the show this evening

Update (28 March 2022, 11pm): The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences issued a statement: “The academy condemns the actions of Mr. Smith at last night’s show. We have officially started a formal review around the incident and will explore further action and consequences in accordance with our bylaws, standards of conduct and California law.” Earlier , it was reported that Chris Rock would not be filing charges

Update (29 March 2022, 9.30am): Twenty four hours after The Slap, Will Smith posted an apology on Instagram, saying, “I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be”

Play It Loud

With Machine Gun Kelly behind the music, Dolce & Gabbana shows that you really can look deafening

Machine Gun Kelly performing on the runway

Bengdom has a new god. Make that gods: Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana. Okay, perhaps not so new. They have held court in the Mount Olympus of visual excess for many years now, and those who come to worship at the foot of the giddy elevation can’t get enough of D&G’s boundless flashiness. Their shows are designed to top the excesses of previous presentations, the more dazzling, the better, the more gaudy, the merrier. Marketing missteps of the past be damned. They do not care what their naysayers think or post (although they did sue Diet Prada for what the Instagrammers shared online in 2018 that the brand claimed to have led to losses in revenue and deal). Over-the-top is their strong, showy suit. Dolce & Gabbana make Philip Plein look like a very minor deity.

Their autumn/winter collection emanates the sartorial energy of the time the two designers first met—in 1982, in a Milan discotheque—were eventually romantically linked. This time, their show is headlined by Machine Gun Kelly (aka Colson Baker), the American rapper/singer/actor, now engaged to Megan Fox, who is, expectedly, seated in the front row. Like MGK’s music, an ardent blend of hip hop and rock (as expected, My Ex’s Best Friend is performed), D&G is the visual fanciness to MGK’s aural fierceness. MGK struts down the runway to open the show in a white suit (one of three outfit changes) with pointy studs that form the outline of the jacket. As the camera zooms in, we see the ear, nose, and lip jewellery. Hardware is imperative and prolific. He dramatically pauses as he walks back, and cues the beat—a ringmaster ringing in the circus of fashion. And then closing it.

If the garish digital graphics and unrelentless flashing of disco lights are not enough, the clothes would definitely make up for the shortfall. Together, they provide a truly woozy viewing experience. So busy, in fact, is the sum of the show parts (including MGK!) that it is hard to understand what is really coming together in the massive display of the 107 looks. It is amazing how much one male body can don or need. D&G certainly shows the myriad possibilities and, in turn, the absurdities. Perhaps, they are inspired by Chinese New Year hampers (FYI, there’s a silver tiger print coat!). The designing duo has made outdoing themselves an art, although Mr Gabbana told the press before the show in more euphemistic terms, “We’re challenging ourselves; we’re questioning everything we’ve been used to.” The questionable, too.

There is no denying the free-hand approach to the designs: anything goes, and everything gets in. So what you see are clothes that are so exaggerated that unless one lives an outsized existence requiring sartorial extremes, they may not even fit—literally—in a typical wardrobe. Some of the puffers are really so large, the models could be wearing family tents. And, graffiti prints so packed onto fabrics, they make walls scrawled with spray paint look clean. In fact, pattern and prints dominate, but none more trying than the tedious repetition of two letter—yes, ‘D’ and ‘G’. They make LV’s appearances seem infrequent and tame.

Screen grab: Dolce & Gabbana/YouTube. Photos: Dolce & Gabbana

The Underwear Collection

At Dolce and Gabbana, they are really on-trend

Missed the Victoria’s Secret fashion show? Watch Dolce and Gabbana. Not enough bras from this season’s fashion week so far, including New York? Watch Dolce & Gabbana. Need to know what to wear the bra with? Yes, watch Dolce & Gabbana. We know by now that the visible bra is big, but D&G makes sure you know how visible and how big. Out of the staggering 103 looks that appeared on the runway, 74 showed bras, either on their own, peeking between the vertical opening of tops, or under diaphanous blouses/shirts (not counting those with just the bra straps showing). That’s more than half or—to be exact—71.8 percent (nearly three quarts) of the collection. Some looks are unmistakably bra-and-pant sets, some as the only top you need, others are the bases on which sheer and more sheer must do their job: titillate.

There is a bra for every look, every taste, every occasion: to go shopping in (with denim shirt and jeans), to attend class in college (under a ‘Jennifer Lopez’ T-shirt), to WFM (with a halter wrap-top), to go for a job interview (under a buttoned-up transparent floral shirt), to go on a date (with a panelled body-con dressed assembled by lacing), to impress a hookup (with a beaded gilet), to street walk (under a sheer corset dress or a fitted stretch-lace dress), to the disco when they eventually open (under a beaded tuxedo jacket and with fitted gold pants), to hang out with the BFFs (with a sheer leopard print dressed, slashed to the side and held together only at two points: the neck and hip), even to hang out with the boys (with camo fatigues). It is enough to think that D&G is starting a lingerie business.

The reference to the Victoria’s Secret show is not only because of D&G’s underwear on display (they include panties, bodysuits and other onesies), but also wing-like extensions in the form of butterfly-shaped sleeves—all five of them. Sure, these are nowhere near the scale of Victoria’s Secret’s angel wings (the heaviest apparently weighed around 27 kilograms), but the fantasy element is there and not lost. These are wearable wings; they won’t be turned away at a Michelin-starred restaurant, or Shake Shack. But it is not so clear if the predominantly bra-and-panty looks will be welcomed with opened arms, even in Met Gala’s home, New York City, let alone this conservative (we’re constantly reminded) island, also known as the Little Red Dot.

The D&G collection is reportedly based on the year 2000 (presumably the spring/summer season too), when the brand was considered to be at its peak, way before the 2018 fall out with Chinese consumers. Yes, a decade ago, they too were showing bras, teeny ones. But the undergarment did not have a starring role as they do now. They were all worn under something—many shirts, many sheer. The oversized diamanté buckles on skirts and pants were more the focal points. And the collection was a paltry 83 looks, 20 less than the present. Back then, the transparent tops over bejeweled bras, teamed with embroidered micro-mini-skirts might have been novel, but move that forward, add more tiny skirts, skinny pants, and military-style fatigues, and we are stomping new grounds? Or, are we really seeing the post-pandemic fashion so many women are waiting for?

Photos: Dolce & Gabbana

At Dolce & Gabbana, It’s The Festival Of Lights

Guys want extreme resplendence now?

We always wonder: Do Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana sell that much of their giddily gaudy clothes to be able to afford a show with 96 looks, just as many models, and a custom light installation to beat all Little India light-ups during Deepavali, till today? Their spring/summer IRL show—called DG Light Therapy—in Milan is so blindingly brilliant, you’ll only subject your eyes to it if you have no objection to retinal damage. “The aesthetics of the 2000s meets the traditional Italian art of luminarie, a symbol of joy and positivity,” went the D&G’s show description. Luminous! That’s putting it mildly. Even Dior’s resort 2021 collection, similarly staged against the background of glittering luminarie—also of southern Italy—pales in comparison. Dolce & Gabbana is more dazzling than Dior!!!

The only other name capable of such meretricious madness, we thought, is Phillip Plein, but even the master of kitsch is outdone by Mr Dolce and Mr Gabbana this time. Is this an extreme reaction to the fashion lull that has overwhelmed the clothes worn during these acutely less social times? D&G is not known for their whisper-quiet style. Garish is often the thrust of their output. To think their clothes would not be flashy is to imagine that one might find a pair of plain jeans in raw denim in their store. However loud we think D&G is, we didn’t ever ponder that fairy lights would one day be imagined on clothes (that, in itself, is new?). The proverbial Christmas tree! Is that not worse than being likened to a peacock? Must fashion now look like a spin-off of the Mardi Gras?

Maximal style has, of course, gained currency among certain fashionistas. For many adopters and followers, fashion isn’t fashion until it looks fashion—until it stares in your face. D&G isn’t only achieving the maximum with what’s decoratively possible on clothes, it is pushing the limits. And if the garments themselves are insufficient to hold all the ostentation, pile on the blink: accessorise. How much can a single body hold? How do these clothes make the wearer feel? Perhaps the wonder of D&G is that no matter how ‘normcore’ fashion goes, they can be counted for clothes that amplify the opposite, the other end. That’s their consistency: always nudging forward what would be, for many (even the well-informed), an anomalous judgment of taste. Sure, there are many who like fairy lights (nothing wrong with that), but how many actually desire looking like they are wearing coils of them, and it’s not the festive season, yet?

If you break every piece of the collection down, the clothes on their own—minus the surface treatments—are what you have likely seen (not necessarily bought) before. An oversized T-shirt is an oversized T-shirt, a shirt is the chemise they have mostly been, and the suits are just that. The one re-imagining is the purple blazer with red leg-O-mutton sleeves (to better accommodate bulging biceps?), but even that isn’t a jaw-dropper as we have seen them in womenswear (so well done by Viktor and Rolf). Despite their attention-grabbing styles, Dolce & Gabbana has not won back the attention of Asian consumers after their PR/marketing blunders of the past years. Recently, Hong Kong songstress Karen Mok (莫文蔚) was slammed by Chinese Netizens for wearing D&G in her music video of the re-issue of the Cantonese rap-track A Woman for All Seasons (妇女新知). Asia’s largest luxury market has not quite forgotten. It’d take more that fairy lights to put Dolce & Gabbana back in the spotlight.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Dolce & Gabbana

Pastime Paradise

There is something in Italy that makes boys want to dress up and swagger and give the impression of a carefree life. Dolce and Gabbana showed how it’s done. Economic gloom and social discontent—they’re another country

 

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Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana have never been shy of their love of the sun-soaked south of Italy, such as Mr Dolce’s birthplace Sicily. In the past ten years, Dolce and Gabbana’s style tended to embrace the heartiness and the gioia de vivere of the lower half of the boot-shaped country, where colours are more vivid and patterns more striking. Both men have taken the look to new heights by learning from the book of hyperbole. They have indeed expanded this into a lifestyle, too, as seen in their advertising campaigns and their window displays (long table filled with food!) Or, as one dictionary says of style, “a mode of living, as with respect to expense or display”

This ostentation is well and alive in the Dolce and Gabbana show for Milan Men’s Fashion Week. The second guests-in-attendance runway show of the city, it was staged at the Humanitas University (aka Hunimed), south of Milan. The choice of a medical school for a fashion show is rather odd, until we learned that the company has an ongoing CSR program with the institution and, this time, “every donation up to €1000 will be matched to support Scientific Research,” as the brand explained. That this is where serious, life-saving stuff is taught and studied amplified the frivolity of the presentation and the splashiness of the clothes, and, as a result, their garishness. Considering that both men started in the less exuberant house of Giorgio Correggiari, what Dolce and Gabbana were pursuing (and have been in at least the last ten years) is an aesthetical reversal.

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It is unthinkable that once (partially) freed from the restrictions as a result of pandemic containment affecting almost every country, men would want to jump into clothes that say, “I’m having so much fun”. The collection contain “elements inspired by the blues of the sea are combined with lightweight white fabrics. The looks pay homage to creativity, Italian design and the summery, unforgettable atmosphere of holidays in Sorrento (also in the south),” according to the show notes. There is that word again: “Holiday”. While domestic vacations might be possible (here, we can only do staycations!), global travels are still very much limited. But perhaps the idea is for people to dream and to yearn, and in so doing, wear Dolce & Gabbana.

For a collection presumably produced during lockdown (Italy has one of the severest in Europe), it is huge—a staggering 104 looks that took about 25 minutes to show. What was rather curious was the inclusion of denim styles not previously obvious of the brand. The patchworked jeans, especially, recalled the work of Junya Watanabe and those bloomer-like pants with contrast panels and straps, and boxy tops with more patchwork brought to mind the Japanese label Kapital, who are known for their denim couture, if there’s such a thing. The Southern Italian vibe was rather lost on us with those. Part of the predominantly blue collection then had less the whiff of the Gulf of Naples than the port town of Kojima.

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But what was striking of the collection were the profusion of prints. Dolce and Gabbana naturally love prints, the more the merrier, the more garish the gayer. They were in tops and bottoms—together, in three-piece ensembles, even in head wear. The prints came in geometrics, stripes, figures of myth, scenes of ancient cities, and sometimes a mix of either of them. Unrelenting was the onslaught, which felt more intense after a period of fashion detox. Dizzying were the pairings and the mixes, so much so that they could be as intrusive as blaring, discordant sounds. Indolence was the habit of slapping one of them prints on plackets, yokes, and cuffs and pass that off as design. You’d expect that at H&M, not D&G.

When we sat back to look at the massive collection in its entirety, one thing struck us. At the risk of social profiling (which is not the intention here), the clothes seems to target, at least in this part of the world, a unique tribe we identify as Bengs. And it would appear D&G caters to every type of Beng, from gay Bengs to gym Bengs to towkay Bengs! Consider this in a different light. Dolce and Gabbana, despite their cultural faux pas elsewhere, is inclusive. That can only be a good thing.

Screen grabs: Dolce and Gabbana/YouTube

This Is A Pair Of Sunglasses

For the creative type, it can be worn as a pendant

 

D&G shades fall 2019

We blame you not if you thought this is a monocle. Or, some other monocular optical instrument, perhaps from the 18th century. It could also be a folded pince-nez, if your imagination permits! This, however, has a more present-day appeal. It is, in fact, a pair of shades, and it comes from a label that had, in the past year, traipsed rather indelicately in the minefield of public opinion: Dolce & Gabbana.

The brand that Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana built happily tells us that this foldable sunglasses “starred” in the men’s show for this season back in February—a presentation that was homage to an elegance that Humphrey Bogart would be at home with. Or, what D&G calls “the charming atmosphere of the Forties”. And indeed this pair of sunglasses is surprisingly different from the more outrageous—sometimes downright wacky—eyewear that D&G had shown (admittedly mostly for women). This is very much in keeping with an age of men mindful of spiffy details.

Dolce & Gabbana Man AW 2019

The main appeal of the glasses is how smartly it folds into a compact device. A hinge at the temple allows it to collapse, with lenses folded, one behind the other (and the arms neatly tucked within too), forming a nifty shape that, with a cord or chain strung through the inverted V of the hinge, can be worn as a pedant or (mock) monocle around the neck, the way Karl Marx was known to wear his. The two lenses are secured by acetate frames, around which a perimeter of thin, ridged metal, designed to give the texture of grosgrain ribbons, lends it the refinement that eyewear (the monocle, particular) was once accorded, and, thus, considered a status symbol.

Named Fatto A Mano (or handmade in Italian), this pair of shades is priced to match its evocative moniker—just S$104 less than the 5.8-inch iPhone 11 Pro! Chances are, for some fortunate, gadget-and-eyewear-loving few, it doesn’t have to be one or the other.

Dolce & Gabbana foldable Fatto A Mano sunglasses, SGD1,545, is available at Sunglass Hut. Photos: (top) Jim Sim, (runway) Dolce & Gabbana

Why Can’t Western Brands Get Asia Right?

Versace, Coach, Givenchy, and Swarovski recently had to apologise for their missteps in Asia, joining an already shamed Dolce & Gabbana in a growing list of brands with a deplorable sense of cultural—and geographical—awareness

 

Versace T-shirt 2019The Versace T-shirt that riled mainland Chinese Netizens. Photo: Weibo

By Raiment Young

Many years ago, at a media event that I attended in Monte Carlo, I came face to face with the now-out-of-favour, former Vogue editor-at-large, companion to Diana Vreeland in her final years, André Leon Talley. Mr Talley was not a caftan-wearing man at the time, as he became, up till the 2017 release of The World According to André. Still, he was imposing in a dark suit, speaking in that loud, clear, and urgent voice of his, sounding exactly the way he sounded, years later, while observing—and commenting on—the stars at the Academy Awards for a TV audience. When I came before him that night on my way to the patio of the palatial grounds on which the soiree took place to enjoy the cooler outdoors, he looked down at me, smiled, and gleefully offered, “konbanwa”. I returned the greeting by saying, “Good evening, Mr Talley”.

If this was the present, and it happened not to me, but someone else—say, a ‘woke’ person, now one to be, offence could have been immediately taken. A scolding might have ensued or an online rebuke quickly posted. But this was then. I was used to Caucasians mistaking me for every nationality or race in this part of the world except Laotian. Or, Dayak. The Japanese, powerful consumers like the Chinese are today, were frequently travelling to Europe. I understood that it was easy to mistake me for someone from, say, Tokyo or Toyota since it was likely that the Asians many Europeans and Americans encountered then were nihonjins, just as many today are zhongguoren.

In my early travels to the US, Americans would frequently ask, upon learning that I am from Singapore, “are you from China?” So often was this question posed that it soon dawned on me that this was going to be a tiring cliché for as long as I was in a place where not that many people owned a passport. It was said to me then that most Americans, whether in the heartlands or hub cities, consider Asia as one homogeneous place. How they came to that conclusion I had no clue. Few knew Samarkan from Samarinda. If they heard of Singapore, even if in their mind we weren’t a sovereign state, we were lucky.

There are Chinese in Singapore, which is not in China?

 

“There are Chinese in Singapore, which is not in China?” Sometimes, I became lazy and just said, smilingly, “Yes, I am from China, 你这个笨蛋 (you fool) or bodoh (stupid)”, depending on my mood. This was, of course, way before Donald Trump met Kim Jong Un here last year and, as a consequence, shone a brighter spotlight on our island. (Interestingly, even then, the US State Department was mistaken: they made Singapore part of Malaysia.) This was also way before people heard of such expressions as cultural racism or racial profiling. But I think, back then, we were a lot less sensitive to the cluelessness (carelessness?) of others and we did not, even after repeated encounters, take the insensitivity seriously or personally; we were not easily riled up; we were less emotionally fragile, and we were more forgiving. And we had better things to do, such as see the country that we had come to see.

You’d imagine things would have changed now that the Internet is connecting the world. And Google has answers, frequently than not. But, more than a decade after my encounter with Mr Talley under a midnight-blue sky in Monte Carlo, there are Westerners and, indeed, Western brands that still can’t get Asia right. They can’t see the vastness of the continent and, hence, its plurality. Now that even once-less-visited countries such as Vietnam is on the verge of over-tourism, it is surprising and, frankly annoying, that there are those Westerners who think Hong Kong is a country. Does the city’s contingent at the Olympic Games mislead those outside Asia to think that the SAR is a sovereign state not connected to the mainland?

The recent case of Versace and Coach producing similar T-shirts with near identical blunders bolster the believe that Western brands are still not looking at Asia closely and carefully enough. There are those who think that no matter what they produce, however tone deaf or fact blind, we Asians will snap them up as if they’re another cup of boba milk tea. But I do wonder: is it mere oversight to not know China’s hard-lined stance on its sovereignty and territorial rights? A provocation to garner maximum online reaction and, hence, to project newsy appeal? Or, is it sheer, inexcusable ignorance?

Coach tee 2019.jpgThe Coach T-shirt that, too, angered mainland Chinese Netizens. Photo: Weibo

I had thought that the Dolce & Gabbana faux pas less than a year ago was bad enough—so bad, in fact, that other brands would start to become mindful of what they will say, communicate, or project. But one brand’s mistake is not necessarily another’s learning curve or awakening. While many brand owners acknowledge that Asia is an important market, if not the most important (China alone accounts for a third of the world’s luxury sales), they would not tread cautiously. Or, preemptively. Popularity, as movie/pop stars could tell you, may inure you to apathy, but that’s never good enough a reason to believe you won’t traipse a cultural minefield.

It appears that just because a brand has found favour among a sizeable number of spending consumers in Asia, it can step away from cultural, territorial, or political sensitivity. It is ironic that while brands are hiring ‘diversity chiefs’ to make sure they don’t exclude the non-Caucasian in product development and communication, none thought to appoint someone with the knowledge or interest in knowing that, for example, Taiwan is not, and likely never will be, a country.

It has become more apparent to many that admirable creativity in the atelier does not necessarily commensurate with awareness in marketing. It is often said that brands should decentralise their marketing, but few do. Away from Asia, some of the brands have become  intellectually lazy and incurious. And willing to only state the obvious to underscore the brand’s global reach. In the case of the above T-shirts, I think it is superfluous to juxtapose—in the show-off list—the city in which the brand is available with the corresponding country to which the former belongs. It is strange that any marketeer would imagine that those who buy Versace or Coach need to be informed that Paris is in France. How many people would equate the City of Light with Lamar County, Texas?

Is D&G Now Too Toxic To Touch?

Even the “respected” fashion critic Suzy Menkes can’t escape the wrath of those who are bent on seeing the end of Dolce & Gabbana after she made clear where her “allegiance” lies

 

Suzy Menkes IG

The first thing we read on Instagram this morning was the above post. Suzy Menkes took us by surprise. Usually unapologetic in her stand (in 2007, she boldly declared that “Marc Jacobs disappoints with a freak show”), she issued an apology, presumably in response to the curious review of Dolce Gabbana’s Alta Moda/Sartoria, the private (but widely shared online) show for couture clients, held in Milan four days before. The black and white IG square looks like an obituary.

Are apologies the new ‘It’ act to follow discriminatory outbursts and indiscriminate commentaries? Like Dolce and Gabbana’s video apology after the storm they whipped, Ms Menkes’s textual version came days after her review blunder. That the online culture of say first, apologise later has influenced even a writer with over 50 years of experience, culminating at Condé Nast, where she is the “the independent eye of the international Vogues”, indicates perhaps that we are edging towards a new type of morality. It is hard, for now, to say what that might be.

For many people, Mr Gabbana’s outburst is for remembering, but for the culpable, it was rather the opposite. “China is yesterday,” he supposedly told Ms Menkes, “today is another day. It’s a new Rennaisance.” Ensconced in Milan, it’s easy for Mr Gabbana to forget about what happened in China. But many people want D&G reduced to dust. Then Suzy Menkes came cheerily along.

Suzy Menkes @ D&G Alta Moda IG picSuzy Menkes, looking the part of the grande dame (of fashion criticism) that many consider her to be

We first read what Ms Menkes wrote on Vogue.com yesterday, and was amused by the position she took when the Dolce and Gabbana fiasco in China of three weeks ago has not really died down. She did not appear to concur with a large swath of the online fashion community that the two designers had screwed up, especially Stefano Gabbana, whose Instagram account she called “prolific”. We don’t know about you, Kim Kardashian, to us, is prolific, Stefano Gabbana borders on the profane. It astonished us that Ms Menkes would not even say that the man’s IG excesses were “controversial”, or “provocative” when, in fact, a nation was provoked.

One reader of SOTD told us that the online reaction to Ms Menkes’s review, as well as the surfeit of IG posts on D&G within a day—21 in all—was “Diet_Prada trying to kill her in their anti-DG obsession. They are very vindictive now.” By the time, we checked Diet_Prada’s IG posts/stories, the supposed attack was gone. Apparently, Diet_Panda had said that Ms Menkes is a journalist who isn’t doing her job. Did she not tread carefully, we wondered? “She did,” our follower said. “But obviously not enough for the Nazi-hunters Diet_Police!”

Entitled “A Day of Atonement” on vogue.co.uk and simply “Atonement” on her own suzymenkesvogue.com, the article stood out, in light of D&G’s troubles, for her rather unwavering support of the designers and apparent refusal to walk into the room of disdain. What had Dolce and Gabbana to atone for, she did not say. Calling the duo “chastened” twice, Ms Menkes was, as our commentator said, showing her “allegiance”—to two people she probably considers friends. Or, “family”, like “the alliance of moneyed people, many of whom enjoy the D&G events (as she did) because they become part of this family of the super-rich”, as she described the attendees.

Suzy Menkes @ D&GSuzy Menkes enjoying herself at Dolce & Gabbana Alta Moda in Milan

Nothing amiss there. Friends can still be friends even when their beliefs are not shared. But when she started to ask “what went wrong in China”, she, replying to her own question, said that she found it “hard to make any judgment about a show that never took place.” What went wrong in China led to the cancellation of the show. Even that she would not acknowledge, except to say, provocatively, that “the criticism over a marketing campaign… branded racist, where I would see it as insensitive and stupid.”

That remark, to many Netizens, was exemplar of insensitivity and stupidity. One commentator on her IG post even called her “a privileged white woman”. Ms Menkes seemed to have spurred that charge when, in the third paragraph of the review, she referred to China as “the Far East”, a popular blanket term during the 16th to 18th centuries that referred to lands beyond India. Perhaps we should be relieved that she did not call the world’s most populous country Cathay! As SOTD contributor Raiment Young said, “alongside ‘Editor, International Vogue’, maybe she should have added: Subject, British Empire”.

The apology Ms Menkes posted on IG was strangely rather similar to Dolce and Gabbana’s. Instead of apologising for the displeasure and unhappiness she has caused, even unthinkingly or unintentionally, she chose to say, “I am deeply sorry if words I have written have been interpreted…” White privilege? Do tell us.

Photos: suzymenkesvogue/Instagram

The Daring Duo And The Gaffes A People’s Republic Won’t Forgive

Hacked account or not, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, in particular, have a history of hitting out with controversial words

 

D&G IG P1The first of two: apology by Dolce & Gabbana posted on Instagram

Note: this post contains what some readers may consider offensive language

It was supposed to be a spectacle, but it quickly descended into a debacle. Italian brand Dolce & Gabbana has cancelled a headlining, 500-look, one-hour-long fashion show in a 20,000 square meters space in the Shanghai Expo World Museum that was supposed to open at 9 o’clock this evening (forty-five minutes before the scheduled start, they posted what is presumably a backstage clip on their FB page). This came after the online circulation of screen shots of a shared IG post in which Stefano Gabbana, in a chat with one Michaela Phuong (reported to be a fashion business student), was widely considered to have insulted an entire nation when he allegedly wrote, “the country of 💩💩💩💩💩 is China” (recalling Donald Trump’s comment on African countries) and “China Ignorant Dirty Smelling Mafia”.

Known as 杜嘉班纳 (dujiabanna) in China, the brand had earlier already upset Netizens after three 40-sec promotional videos were posted on Weibo (they are still on Dolce & Gabbana’s IG and FB page at the time of this posting) that showed a Chinese model, dressed like a tuhao (土豪 or uncouth rich), using chopsticks to eat Italian food—pizza, pasta, and cannolo—with difficulty. This bad light was compounded by a male Chinese narrator pronouncing the names of the two designers as “Dols and Gaberner” and calling chopsticks 小棍子形状的餐具 (xiao gunzi xingzhuang de canju). Little, stick-shaped eating implements! Admittedly, there’s nothing funny or charming about the videos, ironically hashtagged #DGLovesChina. Whether timed to provoke or generate interest, this came not long before what was to be the brand’s The Great Show.

DG on IGDG on IG: screen grab of the first video of three that Dolce & Gabbana posted on their Instagram page

Dolce & Gabbana responded with an IG apology, considered by Weibo users to be insincere. Understandable since it sounded like it was written by a lawyer than someone banging on bigotry’s door. Why, we had thought, was there no in-person daoqian [apology] for something of this magnitude? Dolce & Gabbana explained that their IG account had been “hacked”. Convenient an excuse, no doubt. To be sure, the veracity of the alleged disparaging chat was not ascertained and Ms Phuong (if she exists) did not say if she knows the two Italian designers personally and explain why she was chatting with one of them that led to the offensive comments. If Dolce & Gabbana’s social media account was hacked so that the hacker could put the brand and its designers in bad light, does that mean that they have more haters than Dolce & Gabbana imagined?

Controversy involving words that should not have been said or sent is not new to Dolce & Gabbana. Increasingly, provocative proclamations put the brand and duo in the news rather than the flamboyant clothes. There was the 2015 spat with Elton John that resulted from the two calling IVF babies “synthetic”. And, in June, there was Mr Gabbana’s fan-enraging online remark about Selena Gomez: “she’s so ugly”. Last year, reacting to those who expressed their dismay at the two designers for enthusiastically willing to dress Melania Trump, the brand released, somewhat arrogantly we thought, a USD295 T-shirt emblazoned with #BOYCOTT DOLCE&GABBANA, which is still available in their online store.

D&G IG P2A little too late: Dolce & Gabbana reaching out via IG the second time in a couple of hours

Culturally insensitive social media images, too, seem to be their forte. The present videos came after last year’s spring/summer images tagged “DG loves China” that Chinese Netizens thought belittled their homeland with a “stereotypical” depiction of a place that fashion stars such as Sun Feifei and Liu Wen call home. In the ads, models in flashy clothes and ridiculous head and eye wear pose with locals that appeared to be less privileged and sophisticated, and in settings that suggested third-tier cities instead of those such as Shanghai or Beijing (ironically the city in which the ads were shot), where the inhabitants are more likely to be Dolce & Gabbana customers.

Anger with the latest videos is understandable too. Dolce & Gabbana had picked a gangly model who, for most Chinese, is not mei (pretty) enough to front a major campaign targeted at them. As one former marketing head who had worked in China told SOTD, “the Chinese view beauty very differently from the West. What is beautiful to D&G may not be so to the Chinese. For that matter, what is clever to the Italians may not be clever to the Chinese.” To make matters worse, the model was made to handle chopsticks in a manner that the Chinese from young would have been told is never acceptable. If that wasn’t enough, the narrator asked suggestively, when she tried eating the unusually large tubular canollo (a sweet Sicilian pastry), 对你们来说这是太大了吗?(dui nimen laishuo zheshi taida le ma). Is this, to you, too big?

Huang Xiaoming IGActor Huang Xiaoming was not ambiguous about where his loyalty lies. Photo: Huang Xiaoming/Instagram

The outrage came fast and furious. Dolce & Gabbana first reacted by removing the videos from Weibo. Then came those remarks. It was just too late to reverse course. Public outcry was so serious and palpable that The Great Show, said to be the largest in the brand’s 33-year existence, had to be called off. The cancellation (as first reported), then postponement (later corrected, but no one is certain which is correct since Dolce & Gabbana have not responded to media queries) came when celebrities due to attend and models due to participate had pulled out unequivocally. Models and actors alike took to social media to express their disapproval and dismay, with many expressing clear support for the 祖国 (zuguo or motherland). The China actor Huang Xiaoming, also Tissot ambassador and London, Paris, and Milan Fashion Weeks regular, posted succinctly on his official IG account, “祖国第一!毫无疑问 (zuguo diyi! haowu yiwen).” Motherland first, no doubt.

Were the Chinese over-reacting? Or, crucially, were Dolce & Gabbana over-reaching? Did the Italians think their brand of Eastern exotica and taste-dubious visual and video communication would charm the Chinese? Did they really consider themselves so culturally superior that they could teach the Chinese how to 起筷吃饭 (qikuai chifan)? That in the land of chopsticks, the people had to be schooled on how to “lift a pair of chopsticks to have a meal”? Or, is the fashion design community of Italy so tone-deaf that they ignore the attention they have drawn to the delivering of messages that ignore racial, cultural, and religious sensitivities, such as those by compatriot Gucci?

Dolce & Gabbana @ IONSilent night: not a soul on the women’s floor at Dolce & Gabbana, ION Orchard. Photo: Dawn Koh

Earlier this evening, we dropped by at Dolce & Gabbana, ION Orchard to see for ourselves if the China fiasco had any impact on the consumption here. It had been hours since the indignation on Weibo, and it is not immoderate to assume that people here, apathetic as they can be, had an inkling of what happened and may be disconcerted enough to avoid the store if they were not inclined to say something in disapproval. On level one, a few men—tourists we assume since they spoke in a different language—were browsing. Upstairs, where the women’s wear and accessories are offered, it was as silent as a churchyard at sundown.

It isn’t clear yet what brand damage this fallout will cost Dolce & Gabbana or what losses will be incurred in the cancellation of the show (the last dispatch on the show that we read before we hit the sack: it was “cancelled by the Cultural Affairs Bureau of Shanghai”). According to reported estimates, the brand, in 2016, enjoyed 30% of total sales in the Asia Pacific region—China alone has Dolce & Gabbana stores in 25 cities. Boycott is now the rallying cry in dealing with the foolish, unthinking duo. Or could a higher road be an option? As one SOTD follower commented, “Aiya, they’re just a couple of angmo bengs; they don’t know any better.”

Photos (except where stated): Dolce & Gabbana/Instagram