Louis Vuitton’s new Creative Director, Ghanan born Virgil Abloh prepared the debut of his first menswear collection with probably the longest and willingly complex teasing campaign in luxury fashion. With a mandate to bring an immediate boost to Louis Vuitton’s menswear, Abloh, himself a genius when it comes to branding especially for athleisure and positioning the blend between sportswear and casual to luxury bringing incredible profits for any of his profits and gathering an immense global following, some even call them Abloh worshipers.
I strongly believe that once he was actually faced with the huge budgets of Louis Vuitton (all this other projects / brands had a fraction of this) he found himself in the middle of a actual re-branding process of Louis Vuitton, not just Louis Vuitton Men. He debuted his teasing with seemingly a ‘mockery’ party of the LV logo-mania in a warehouse / garage style venue in New York whicn turned out to be the showroom of cult accessories brand Chrome Hearts which also benefited from a free-of-charge indirect awareness being associated with a brand the calibre of LV. The set up also featured an abundance of Baccarat vases and glasses (all social media tagged Baccarat) and an ‘artisanal’ makeshift table set in cardboard entirely covered with the LV monogram. The star of the evening could not have been better chosen – Martha Stewart.
The over half a million outdoor campaign worldwide with oversized statues and holograms followed and then culminated with the actual fashion show with was predominantly a tribute to Michael Jackson with overt and obvious references to the late singer’s style and music including the event invitations. But it was not until the second part of the actual advertising campaign (first LV Men’s ad campaign of this magnitude delivered and scheduled in 3 parts) that some of the media (mostly online because they get no ad revenues from LV) began to see that the references to Michael Jackson are predominant. Within 3 days, ironically but not surprisingly a UK Tv station aired the documentary reminding Michael Jackson’s repeated abuse of children, including sexually.
Our reaction, for instance, was very prompt, demanding much more than a simple email statement from Abloh and LV, however our call for ‘boycott’ was a about raising awareness not about inciting our readers to distribute a simple ‘Boycott LV’ or take to social media Here is our article.
With its army of staff all all levels including marketing and media, LV proceeded immediately to remove all references, including a very fast removal of photos from Google as well as a completely ‘starting from fresh’ on its very powerful social media channels seemingly pretending there was no teasing campaign, no fashion show almost entirely an ode to Michael Jackson and showing less and promoting less of LV Men’s, the only images being those of some children playing with LV items, probably a back up fourth campaign part. No boycott, no call of resignations, no debates and more importantly no celebrities daring to step in and say a word.
Then, there came Gucci’s turn with what seemed to be a major scandal called the ‘black face’ for featuring an offensive design which was overtly a discrimination, not only in its fashion show but also in social media imagery. Gucci’s reaction, unlike LV’s, was much faster and much more comprehensive. Also Gucci was more pragmatic understanding very sensibly it needs to put a price on its mistake. And indeed, Gucci pledged to spend 10 million in a series of initiatives, one of them being Gucci Change-makers and an entity to independently safeguard inclusivity and fight discrimination including a full time team on this organisation.
Prada did exactly the same in response to criticism that it used racist imagery in a series figurines, bag charms, and window displays last year. The Italian luxury label enlisted Selma and A Wrinkle in Time director Ava DuVernay to co-chair a new in-house group called the Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council, to “elevate voices of color within the company and the fashion industry at-large.” Alongside artist and activist Theaster Gates, DuVernay’s new duties will include helping to create internships for designers and students of color.
While obviously financial power and influence in different forms, including staggering figures across their social media with millions of followers, paid a crucial role in ‘shelving’ these scandals the solution has not been that simple for Dolce & Gabbana who has never managed to recover from the boycott that exploded after it showed an apparently ‘offending’ image of a Chinese woman eating noodles in the teasing to its Shanghai fashion show. The backlash from the public including major Asian (not just Chinese celebrities) was so virulent the duo had their show cancelled by the municipality and left China in less than two days. D&G sales plummeted and the boycott remains in place among many wholesalers (buyers) but Chinese customers not only in China but across the world. D&G chose the only option which was to go silent (the house was never known for being discreet and silent, the duo running the house as two dictators). There has never been an officially appointed CEO of the house and no-one even entitled to speak on behalf of the house.
While fashion depends on public exposure under any forms no matter the team behind, other luxury sectors, such as luxury hotels have a much more complex measurement of their success and that is, beyond their facilities, architecture, interior design (no matter how lavish or luxurious they are) hotels earn their reputation in a longer time span based on achieving and delivering consistent customer service. The people ‘behind’ are very visible and they interact with guests at many levels.
What makes it even more complex for luxury hotels, is that, while Gucci is now thriving because its Creative Director is delivering relevant and surprising designs being considered the most trendy at the opposite being another giant Ferragamo which despite its incredible craftsmanship and heritage has been losing ground very fast because of no longer finding a relevant positioning. The expectations of guests are much more complex and unlike fashion, the luxury hotel industry has a global boycotting machine accessible by any hotel guest whether a regular mortal or Royalty. The respective guest can take to Tripadvisor even during his or her stay (not necessarily after they check out) and post 4 lines concluding the hotel is terrible and giving it a specific score. That score is incredibly important because the ongoing scoring puts hotels in a ranking on Tripadvisor.
Why a boycott? Because, hotels have not much to do and Tripadvisor amost never takes down such an entirely negative comment, advocating that it may encourage more shy guests to speak out. What is even more outrageous is that after 3 or 4 entirely negative comments, a top luxury hotel can go from the second to the eighth rank over night and since Tripadvisor is part of a holding that also includes one of the world’s biggest travel e-commerce website can only sensibly take advantage. For years, hotels have been unsuccessfully trying to persuade Tripadvisor to implement a system of verifying whether the respective guest actually stayed at the hotel because, guess what, over 30% of reviews are fake and fabricated. Anyone can go only this instant create a Tripadvisor account in minutes and place a review of X hotel without ever even being to the city the hotel is.
But probably the most important two differences when it comes to scandal between luxury hotels and luxury fashion or other sectors are, first, that even if the hotel has let’s say half a million followers on social media, it cannot resort to it and start ‘complaining’ that x, y, z review is fake and secondly, that while fashion brands actually pay celebrities to attend their fashion shows for instance (beyond being part of their campaigns for instance), operationally, hotels cannot afford to pay such celebrities because of their much higher costs of operations.
The most they can do, is provide a discount or agree on a barter deal to provide free-of-charge accommodation in exchange for exposure by the respective celebrity on their social media channels. But would George Clooney be comfortable with media being made aware the two host hotels of its wedding provided free accommodation and meals in exchange for some ‘innocent’ photo-opps in a recognisable spot of the hotel.
What about nationalism or hatred? To my knowledge, the only major case of recent history was the immediate sacking of incredibly talented fashion designer John Galliano from Dior for making antisemitic allegations. The reaction of the house was immediate and it did not realise that John Galliano has actually created his own codes at Dior while maintaining the DNA. Since his abrupt dismissal, Dior has never been back to the spotlight not even at a fraction as it was during John Galliano who continuously generated that WOW factor, that courageous stance that haute couture is also about.
However, Galliano was never banned from Israel owned businesses and to my knowledge not even from Israel. He was never further ‘punished’ by Israel in any way. Should he choose to have coffee tomorrow in the newly reopened iconic Lutetia Hotel in Paris, will he be banned or denied entry? The hotel is overtly known for being Israel owned.
As for LV, are their staff or even Virgil Abloh ‘banned’ from attending children’s events or sanctioned by advertising supervisory authorities for the misuse of underage children in public advertising campaigns. Should Louis Vuitton run a campaign just to promote his Creative Director is African? Are Prada or Gucci employees or top management banned from black owned businesses for instance a luxury hotel owned by a black person? Do their initiatives to spend millions and set up diversity /inclusive organisations work as censorship bodies and supervise each and every product to make sure it will not have the smallest discrimination offences?
All of these questions only give way to insane answers – fashion is art and it is supposed to create trends and focus on quality and their positioning. Fashion is also about surprise and yet, about controversy – Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent or Balmain were all criticised in their times. As for what brands can and should do, is at a business level to ensure coherence Louis Vuitton for instance, should take a closer look at its business choice to run two completely different brands under the two Creative Directors (LV mens has nothing in common with LV women’s except the logo). D&G should continue to learn how to stay silent and employ some other REAL voices and appeal to top professional experienced luxury professionals to address issues emerging from a business decision.
Returning to hotels, instead of abusing their status, celebrities should take to Tripadvisor and invite others to ‘boycott’ hotels there. It is a huge platform with a global monopoly, with a much higher audience and traffic than their social media accounts or even CNN. The level of engagement is also ideal and followers of their boycotts can hide their identity and speak out. They can complain about the owners of the respective hotel and about the laws in the country of origin of the investor / owner.
Unfortunately, this will not bring down the likes of Dorchester Collection who have not only achieved the highest luxury hospitality standards but have also demonstrated, thanks to their continued investment in the best staff, that their service has been consistent for years. Also, their service is not discriminatory! A hotel guest at the Dorchester Collection will never be judged for the attire he or her wears at check in or be treated better if he stays in a suite and most importantly a non-celebrity guest will not be treated in a lesser way and given less attention that a celebrity. With this, they have gained the trust of their guests and patrons and this is the ultimate achievement.
There are very few luxury hotel chains there at the very top, globally, and Dorchester Collection is not only one of them but it is also recognised as a leader, a leader in service, innovation, human resources management. The guests of the RITZ in Paris would not make their decision to return or not to the hotel if suddenly some celebrity calls for a boycott of the hotel because it is owned by an Egyptian and Egypt as a country has a certain legislation as absurd as the logic will find that some people claim Chanel will die without Lagerfeld (Ritz Paris has the only Chanel Spa in the world).
Sadly all of this hatred brings more hatred and negativity directly targeting the people of the Dorchester Collection. They are the heart and sole of each hotel and find themselves in the shooting range for doing nothing but their best in their jobs.
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