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Menacing or Marketing? D&G's Controversial Ad

The ad that caused the controversy: Fantasy Gang Rape?

The ad they seem to be running instead

Below article reprinted from MSN NBC By Susanna Schrobsdorff, Newsweek

March 6, 2007 - The fashion design duo behind Dolce & Gabbana announced today that they are pulling a controversial print advertisement from publications worldwide following protests in Spain, and, egads, their home turf of Italy. The photo features a blank looking young woman in a bathing suit and high heels being pinned down by a glossy shirtless man while four other men look on.

Is the image glorifying gang rape or tapping into a sexual fantasy?
That may still be up for debate in some quarters. But Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women says the ad indisputably promotes violence against women and has put it at the top of their Web site's page of offensive advertisements. Meanwhile, Stefano Gabbana says that he regrets the way the ad was perceived and insists that he and his partner Domenico Dolce were not intending to demean women. He adds that the image is artistic and was meant to "recall an erotic dream, a sexual game."

Provocative images have been a staple for D&G, whose other ads have featured sexy scenes including one of a nude man lying down while several other clothed men look on seductively. Another ad, which was pulled last year from British publications, featured women brandishing knives. The most recent controversy broke out last month when the Spanish government demanded that D&G's "fantasy rape" ads be withdrawn. The country was coping with a wave of crimes against women at the time and public outrage was high. The designers complied, but said that Spain was "behind the times." That claim got harder to maintain on Friday when 13 Italian senators also demanded that the photo be taken out of circulation. On Tuesday, Stefano Gabbana said that they did not mean to "cause controversy," and were pulling the ads. But when is an onslaught of attention ever bad for a company looking to stay on fashion's leading edge?

We asked Kim Gandy at NOW in Washington and Stefano Gabbana in Milan, Italy, about the ad and about that elusive line between sexy and exploitative. (Gabbana responded via e-mail.)

Above: Dolce & Gabbana



NEWSWEEK: Were you surprised at the criticism of your ads in Italy and Spain?
Stefano Gabbana: It was never our purpose to cause any controversy and instigate violence against women. From both human and emotional points of view, we certainly do not want to attack women, a sex for whom we have always declared our love, as the feminine market represents 60 percent of our worldwide sales. We are businessmen and the results that our company achieves demonstrate it.

How did you hope women would respond when they saw the ads?
In Italy, the image first came out Feb. 5, in the most famous and bestselling [Italian] newspaper ... at that time, there was no reaction. The effects did not arrive in Italy until after the poor Spanish reaction [to] the ad. We understand that in Spain there is a truly important social emergency as far as violence against women [is concerned], which is why we did not want to offend anyone, so we immediately withdrew the image from all Spanish press. We want to reaffirm that the image does not represent rape or violence, but if one had to give an interpretation of the picture, it could recall an erotic dream, a sexual game.
Women's groups say the ads promote violence against women. Is that an overreaction?
We respect other people's opinions, but we do not look at it in this way.

Can you talk about how you navigate the border between what's considered sexy and what's considered offensive?
Sexy and offensive are two concepts very far from each other. Sexy can become vulgar according to how the item is worn and interpreted. From our point of view, we like to enhance everything that is beautiful and sexy in a woman; but, never offending, demeaning or being vulgar. We have always been in love with women and our collections are dedicated to their beauty.
Has your agency ever shown you a campaign that you thought went too far?
We do not work with agencies; we personally develop the campaigns' concept with photographers and art directors. From our point of view, we do not feel that we've ever gone too far.

You've been in the business for 20 years and your advertisements have successfully pushed the envelope before. But a number of your campaigns this year have gotten some bad press. Is this the strongest, or most negative reaction you've ever gotten to your ads?
We are sorry that unfortunately other campaigns also weren't understood, but we want to reaffirm that we never had the intention of causing noise or controversy in any way.

One might expect these kinds of images to attract protests in America, which is considered a little more prudish about sex than Europe. Are you surprised at the complaints about the ads in your home country—a place which is not known to be repressed?
As we already said, the reaction blew up in Italy only after it did in Spain. When it came out in February nobody was appalled, the reaction arose after a while, following what had happened in Spain. We are shocked because we do not agree, but we respect other people's opinions and do pay attention to the frustrations the advertising has caused worldwide.

Will you pull the ads from Italian publications?
The image will not be used going forward worldwide. It will come out only in publications that we could not block, because of printing deadlines.


NEWSWEEK: Where is the line between an ad that is about a sexy fantasy and something that is offensive?

Kim Gandy: The line there is whether one considers rape to be a sexy fantasy. The Dolce & Gabbana ad was a stylized gang rape.

Were you surprised that the ad caused such a stir in Italy and Spain, but not when it ran in Esquire magazine here in the United States?
It surprises me a little bit because I thought almost anything could be in Italian and French ads to some extent. I guess this goes too far even for a society that has traditionally objectified women. It was interesting to me that the Italian senators who made this objection were both women and men and were from the ruling party and the minority party. It crossed gender and party lines.

Above: NOW's Kim Gandy says that modern girls are'bombarded with the message that women are there for sex and are available for sex at anytime'

Do ads like this successfully sell clothing to women?
I think they were trying to sell clothes to men with this one. The woman was wearing a kind of bathing suit, but presumably the men were wearing Dolce & Gabbana clothes. It was in Esquire [magazine] here in the States and the idea that even a stylized image of rape appeals to a broad readership of men is disturbing. Interestingly, in Italy it ran in some women's magazines, which may have been what generated the response there.

You've got a number of ads on your "Love Your Body" Web site that you've deemed offensive to women. Should they all be removed from circulation?
Some of those ads are just insulting and of course there's a difference between being insulting and portraying women as less than human—as people to be raped or assaulted. The bourbon ad that said "Your bourbon has a great body and fine character. I wish the same could be said for my girlfriend," is more insulting. I think that insulting various groups of people has become a lazy way of getting laughs or attention

Men are insulted a lot in ads too. Fathers and husbands are often portrayed as clueless. If everyone is being insulted can we pick out one ad or another for criticism?
The sexualization of girls is different. It has gotten extreme and that can't be good for our kids or our society. I don't want my two middle school daughters internalizing images which objectify women and I especially don't want their male friends internalizing them. They are bombarded with the message that women are there for sex and are available for sex at anytime. And as strong as parents try to be in educating our own kids and giving them good values, they get bombarded by messages from the outside for more hours per day than their parents have them.

Is advertising more demeaning to women today than it was 10 or 20 years ago?
Advertising is far more demeaning to women today than it was 20 years ago. In the 1970's and 1980's, we had a national project where you could send post cards to companies who used offensive advertising. It said that they were the recipient of a bad ad award. I'm sure if we looked back at some of the ads we were talking about then, they probably wouldn't even register as offensive now.

Dove has recently launched ads with nude older women as part of their "Real Beauty" campaign. Several big cosmetic companies are using older women like Christie Brinkley and Diane Keaton in their ads. Is there also concurrent trend toward ads that promote more realistic images of women?
In some ways yes. Thank goodness for the Dove campaign. Nike did something similar with the ads that show girls running and jumping and being athletic. And maybe cosmetic companies have finally figured out that women over 50 are using these products.

So the kind of nudity Dove is using is OK?
I'm not a great proponent of using naked women to sell products, but it's refreshing for a change at least to see a normal-looking woman who's not emaciated being used to sell products. The whole idea of airbrushing and elongating the necks and legs and enlarging eyes in advertisements is very dangerous. They are creating a standard of beauty that's impossible to reach. Even the models don't attain it. Yet this is what our daughters aspire to and what our sons are expecting. By these standards women and girls are always inadequate and they're always buying the next beauty treatment trying to catch up, trying to be something they can't ever be.
© 2007 Newsweek, Inc.

Double Standard?

Now what amazes me is the double standard here. Take a look at the two following Dolce & Gabbana ads that ran without any controversy. You're gonna tell me these don't imply gang rape as well?

So, what gives? You tell me....

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