If we’ve learned anything from years of poring over celebrity style, it’s that clothes often speak louder than words. It’s been said that Queen Elizabeth II uses fashion to send subtle messages about the political views she is obliged to verbally keep to herself, while it’s widely believed that FLOTUS Melania Trump uses her sartorial choices to express her views. (Ahem, remember when she wore that pink pussybow blouse in 2015 after her husband, then candidate Donald Trump, was caught saying he grabbed women “by the pussy”?) And speaking of U.S. politics, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the time Democratic women in Congress dressed in white, the colour worn by the suffragettes, during President Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address.
This idea of sending messages through the clothes you wear also translates to the red carpet. At last night’s Oscars, Natalie Portman made a statement with a Dior Haute Couture cape that had the names of female directors who were snubbed at the awards show embroidered on the lapel. So you can imagine our disappointment when we saw some of Hollywood’s biggest stars—including those of Asian descent such as Mindy Kaling and Keanu Reeves—wearing Dolce & Gabbana on the red carpet (and to the Vanity Fair Oscars party).
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Writer Evan Ross Katz compiled a full list of celebs wearing the brand at the Oscars:
Updated to include after-parties:
• Mindy Kaling
• Keanu Reeves
• Holland Taylor
• Dwyane Wade
• Gerard Butler
• Anthony Ramos
• Sofia Vergara
• Reese Witherspoon
• Yalitza Aparicio,
• Rachel Brosnahan
• Pedro Pascal
• Aaron Paul
• Andy Samberg
— Ξvan Ross Katz (@evanrosskatz) February 10, 2020
Remember: Dolce & Gabbana has a history of being racially insensitive (and flat-out racist)
The disappointment of celebrities wearing Dolce & Gabbana stems from the luxury brand’s controversial history of being racially insensitive and racist. Back in 2018, D&G was forced to abruptly cancel its special runway show in Shanghai after fashion watchdog Diet Prada posted screenshots of designer Stefano Gabbana allegedly making racist comments about Chinese people.
The Instagram exchange seemingly took place after someone called out Dolce & Gabbana for its racially insensitive campaign (called, ironically, “D&G Loves China”), which saw Chinese model Zuo Ye attempt to eat Italian food with chopsticks. Chinese folk music plays in the background while a Mandarin-speaking voiceover says, “Welcome to the first episode of ‘Eating with Chopsticks’ by Dolce & Gabbana,” which, as NPR notes, is purposely pronounced incorrectly in a way that mocks Chinese speech.
Following the backlash, both Gabbana and the brand apologized on their respective accounts, claiming the designer had been hacked. But to many, especially the Chinese community, the damage was done, with local celebrities calling for a boycott of the brand and Dolce & Gabbana products being pulled from Chinese e-commerce sites. In early 2019, it was reported that the brand’s sales in China were slowing down, a “sign the brand is still struggling to shake off the fallout from a controversial advertising campaign in the country.”
And the brand has also come under fire for other controversial opinions
Perhaps Dolce & Gabbana could have been forgiven for this (seriously big) misstep, but the fact is the “D&G Loves China” controversy wasn’t the first time the brand has come under fire for controversial opinions. Gabbana himself has a history of making racist, homophobic and sexist remarks. He called Selena Gomez ugly in an Instagram comment, claimed IVF children are “synthetic,” publicly and proudly supported Melania Trump (a stark contrast to the fashion industry’s “unusually quiet” approach to America’s current First Family) and later trolled critics by creating a #Boycott Dolce & Gabbana T-shirt and once told Reuters, “I don’t want a Japanese designer to design for Dolce & Gabbana.”
This complicated history makes the excuse of having been “hacked” seem, well, like an excuse. As Vanessa Friedman and Sui-Lee Wee wrote for The New York Times, “You can’t take on everyone from Selena Gomez to gay parents with bluster and venom and then claim you were hacked and expect to be believed.”
By choosing to wear Dolce & Gabbana, celebrities are sending out the message that they support a problematic brand…and that’s a problem
Interestingly enough, Dolce & Gabbana was noticeably absent from last year’s Oscars red carpet. So with all this controversy and, for the most part, what seems like a serious lack of remorse from Gabbana for his actions and opinions, why are celebrities now supporting the brand? Could Kaling, Reeves, Reese Witherspoon, Sofia Vergara et al. really be oblivious to the backlash that plagued Dolce & Gabbana less than two years ago? Are they so blinded by fashion that they’re choosing to ignore the brand’s problematic history? Or is #cancelculture just so prominent nowadays that brands and people can outlive the controversy they’ve created once the news cycle is up (see: the Kardashian-Jenner clan’s NUMEROUS bad decisions, including repeated cultural appropriation, and YouTuber James Charles’ multiple scandals—seriously, shouldn’t he be cancelled for good by now?).
— deep (@deepeepo) February 10, 2020
As Rachel Tashjian writes for Garage, there lies the “troubling truth” about #cancelculture: “When a luxury brand screws up, the harm it does is not to the people who are asked to buy the clothes, but the masses asked to buy into the dream. These are often young, smart, politically and socially engaged people, who are often queer, or non-white—the kids of people who may have grown up feeling like outsiders.”
Perhaps celebrities, though often loaned clothing to wear on the red carpet, are no longer buying into said “dream” because they’re living it. Our disappointment, then, is especially prominent towards the non-white individuals who are choosing to support the brand. Still, white celebrities should take on the role of ally when making sartorial choices. Because if fashion does send a message, the messages we’re getting from celebs in D&G is “We don’t care about this brand’s problematic history,” which only makes the brand’s unacceptable actions and behaviours, well, acceptable. And that, in itself, is perhaps the biggest problem of all.