Fashion designers banning publications from their shows is not merely a mythical practice of the past, nor is it a one-off act that occurs on a season-by-season basis. No, it was alive and well (maybe not well but alive) as of the Spring/Summer 2017 show season. Nicolas Ghesquiere (circa his Balenciaga creative directorship), Hedi Slimane, Giorgio Armani, Carolina Herrera, Oscar de la Renta, and Versace, among others, have been known to ban critics. Yet, the most well-known designers to employ this tactic are arguably the oft-controversial Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana.
In tweeting the New York Times’ review of Dolce & Gabbana’s latest collection, the publication’s Elizabeth Paton tweeted: “When @dolcegabbana ban the @nytimes from their show, but @vvfriedman reviews it anyway.” Turns out, the New York Times, one of the very few publications that still pens bona-fide runway show reviews, as opposed to Instagram-oriented coverage or descriptive rundowns sans any truly objective commentary, is still on the Italian brand’s blacklist following a less than glowing review during Cathy Horyn’s tenure for the paper some 9 years ago. Per WWD, they did not take too kindly to Horyn’s colleague Guy Trebay’s work either.
Despite the fact that Horyn exited the publication in 2014, her successor, Vanessa Friedman, who covered Dolce & Gabbana collections during her residence with the Financial Times, has yet to be extended an invitation from the brand. (Jo Ellison, Friedman’s successor at the Financial Times, on the other hand, is permitted to attend. It is worth noting that her takes on the designers’ collections have been without any criticism that the designers could find “unfair,” which seems to be their choice of verbiage in terms of banning writers). So, the grudge with the New York Times is still being held strongly in Gabbana and Dolce’s iron Italian fists, even though its sister publication, T Magazine, is welcomed to the brand’s shows. Note: No one said any of this tangled web of enduring interpersonal grudges makes any sense.
However, the New York Times is not alone. Dolce & Gabbana has banned a few others over the years. A spokeswoman for Style.com (now Vogue Runway) confirmed in September 2006 that its “team covering the shows in Europe — namely Sarah Mower, Tim Blanks, and Nicole Phelps — would not be attending the Dolce & Gabbana show” that season. Blanks, Mower, and Phelps’ oustings seem to have been little more than warning shots, though, as they have subsequently been welcomed back into the fold.
As for who is currently on the outs: Luisa Zargani of Women’s Wear Daily, another banned publication, reported last February, that Dolce & Gabbana added Vogue Italia to the list of magazines banned by the company from its shows. “While editor in chief Franca Sozzani had no comment on the issue, sources in Milan say Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana believe their clothes are not clearly visible in the pages of the magazine and have written off Vogue Italia.” Also on the list of those being blocked: Condé Nast’s W magazine and a few big name bloggers.
There is at least one caveat. Alexander Fury, the newly appointed Chief Fashion Correspondent for T Magazine, who told TFL: “The last [Dolce & Gabbana] collection I was invited to was the ‘Mama’ collection.” He further confirmed that he was banned during his tenure with the Independent. “I also was not invited while writing for Vogue Runway, and I'm not invited at T magazine either!” Writing for the Independent in September 2015, Fury noted: “I've never been positive about Scott's Moschino, and my Dolce and Gabbana reviews have been mixed (I did love last spring). I wouldn't say that my opinions in either case were unfair, though. But I wonder when designers became quite so opposed to critical discussion of their clothes. You don't get this so often in other realms, such as cinema or art.”
Now consider Dolce & Gabbana’s long-standing blacklist – including the banning of New York Times and W magazine writers – with the fact that the brand clearly values the publications’ audiences, as it advertises in both W and the New York Times. Dolce & Gabbana is also given editorial coverage, at least, in terms of W mag, as indicated by a June 2015 article, for instance, entitled, “Dress for the Italian Riviera: W’s senior digital editor is lusting after Dolce & Gabbana’s Portofino collection.” Such product placements tend to come about in connection with the goods of existing advertisers.
Frankly, such critic banning should could as little to no surprise, at least when it comes to Mr. Dolce and Mr. Gabbana, who are known not to play nicely when their brand and/or reputations are on the line. You may recall that in 2014 they threatened to pull all advertisements from all Condé Nast publications – reportedly worth $20 million at the time – when they got word that the conglomerate’s Vanity Fair publication was slated to run a feature on their tax evasion lawsuits. According to Page Six, “When Dolce and Gabbana got wind of [Vanity Fair’s] in-the-works piece, they called Vogue Editor-in Chief and Condé Nast artistic director Wintour to get it killed.” The article never came to light and the magazine has denied such controversy; suggesting that the article never came into fruition for other, unrelated reasons.
The publications that have been blacklisted by Dolce & Gabbana over the years seem to share a common element, they have produced what Dolce and Gabbana feel are “unfairly harsh” reviews of their collections. This means that, while some publications and individuals are banned, most are not, as few tend to cover collections in ways that set them up to be scorned by advertisers. Journalists holding their tongues – in lieu of questioning the appeal of spaghetti-printed dresses, for instance – and describing as opposed to critiquing, ensures that they will be in attendance next season.
Regardless, Dolce and Gabbana’s behavior of banning says more about them, their brand, and the current state of fashion than it does about the critics, journalists and publications that have been ousted.
It seems clear that Dolce and Gabbana do not merely want to control the narrative in connection with their collections (and hold a grudge while they are at it, a largely symbolic-only tactic considering that the internet has made in-person presence at a runway show almost completely obsolete). The designers (and likely their PR teams, who opted not to comment; surprise, surprise) appear to see little value in objective reviews of the collections. They are opting instead to channel throes of young consumers, those who take in collections by way of Snapchat and the like, as opposed to print publications (ha!) or even desktop websites (it is all about mobile, baby). This season made that quite clear: Millennial initiatives take precedence over old school ones. While most millennials likely are not high fashion consumers now, they are the future.
“Dolce & Gabbana made a bid for the young ones in a more overt way. ‘Here come the millennials,’ the brand announced on its Instagram feed the day before the show, teasing a front row full of vloggers (Cameron Dallas, Luka Sabbat) and celeb kids (Sistine Stallone, Brandon Thomas Lee, Rafferty Law, Sofia Richie),” Booth Moore, who was in attendance, wrote for the Hollywood Reporter. The Wall Street Journal’s Christina Binkley tweeted: “Dolce & Gabbana invited GenZ icons to their show and none of us knew who the icons were.” Of the show’s finale, which saw models storm the runway in D&G t-shirts and skirt, she noted: “The tees will be affordable to GenZs, I assume.”
It would be lazy to assume that Dolce & Gabbana simply do not want critics to “unfairly” review their collections (although it is extremely clear that they do not want that). It would be similarly slothful to pretend that is the only thing at play here. No, there is arguably more to Dolce & Gabbana’s distaste for unspoken industry routines, and it seems to stem from the notion that the design duo feel they have outgrown – or are somehow above – the existing system.
Not only do Dolce and Gabbana ensure that critics are banned – sometimes for nearly 10 years – they threaten to pull advertising if they do not like the content at issue (a tactic that is not limited to the fashion industry. “Corporations are able to stop films being made simply by having deep pockets,” Andy Paterson, a British producer who worked on Tigers, a film about allegedly unethical practices in the marketing of Nestlé baby milk in Pakistan, told the Financial Times recently). They have acted out in other ways in the past that suggest there is simply more to this a dislike for harsh reviews. Roughly two years ago, for instance, they distanced themselves and their brand from the roster of the Camera Nazionale Della Moda Italiana, the non-profit organization dedicated to the development of Italian fashion. Among its members are other prominent Italian houses that include Fendi, Prada, Gucci, Roberto Cavalli, and Valentino. Dolce & Gabbana opted to stop paying dues to the organization; the brand’s strife reportedly stemmed from the designers feeling as though they simply were not benefitting from membership any longer.
With this in mind, they also are two of the only designers that fail to attend Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi's Milan Fashion Week kickoff lunch. As Vogue's Luke Leitch noted last month, "In fact, pretty much every fashion power player in Milan made it to this breaking-of-breadsticks to mark the opening of Spring 2017 Milan Fashion Week." Among the attendees: "Vogue Editor in Chief Anna Wintour and her Italian counterpart, Franca Sozzani; Prada’s Patrizio Bertelli; and Kering’s François-Henri Pinault. The new mayor of Milan, Giuseppe Sala, was there." In terms of the design crowd: Giorgio Armani, the newly solo at Valentino Pierpaolo Piccioli, Giambattista Valli, Tomas Maier, Alberta Ferretti, and Brunello Cucinelli.
Noticeably absent again this season: Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana. They, it seems, have outgrown the system.
Their decision to drop off the Camera Moda roster saw them scheduling their shows without consulting the Milan Fashion Week organizing body and thereby, causing scheduling mishaps, most notably with Roberto Cavalli a couple of years ago (the Italian version of Kanye West, it seems). Cavalli spoke out in September 2014, writing in a blog post: “Dolce & Gabbana are not members. They don't care about others and pursue their own interests as if they were the only fashion house in Italy.”
With this in mind, the duo’s island themed collection for Spring/Summer 2017 was quite fitting. Dolce and Gabbana are on an island of their own, and it is one that does not see them playing the game, so to speak. Maybe this is because Dolce & Gabbana is a private company, uninhibited by the need to play nice for shareholders; this is likely a large part of it. Maybe it is because they are two of the most established designers in all of Italian fashion that seemingly do not need anyone else; many a creative director is known for his diva-like mannerisms, after all. Maybe it is because their brand has made them each billionaires, putting them in a position to challenge authority (this was certainly ringing true when they threatened to close their Italian stores if the court did not overturn their guilty verdict for tax evasion). Still yet, maybe it is a combination of all three.
The bottom line here seems to be this: Mr. Dolce and Mr. Gabbana feel as though they have outgrown the system (and to be fair, as heads of one of the most profitable Italian houses, maybe they have). In their view, they are in a position to play by their own rules. There is certainly an argument in favor of paving your own path, especially in fashion, but at what point does such pioneering simply become self-destructive? And even if Dolce & Gabbana is already at a point of reckless bridge burning, do its founders - with their billion-dollar fortunes and multi-million dollar licensing deals - even care? That seems unlikely. In their world, all roads lead to Dolce & Gabbana.