Why is Dolce & Gabbana suing fashion watchdog Diet Prada? Defamation suit demands almost $5M in damages

The lawsuit argues that Diet Prada should be held responsible for lost revenue and other harm to Dolce & Gabbana and its co-founder Stefano Gabbana for their criticism of the 2018 #DGLovesChina campaign


                            Why is Dolce & Gabbana suing fashion watchdog Diet Prada? Defamation suit demands almost $5M in damages
Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce acknowledge the applause at the Dolce & Gabbana fashion show on January 11, 2020, in Milan, Italy (Getty Images)

Italian luxury fashion house Dolce & Gabbana seems unable to let go of a fashion watchdog website that called out its disastrous 2018 #DGLovesChina campaign and fashion show -- leading to massive public outrage. Diet Prada, an Instagram account that has become an industry watchdog, released a statement on Thursday, March 4, speaking about it. 

“With so much anti-Asian hate spreading in the U.S., it feels wrong to continue to remain silent about a lawsuit that threatens our freedom of speech,” Diet Prada, run by Tony Liu and Lindsey Schuyler, said. “We are a small company co-founded by a person of color, trying to speak out against racism in our own community.”

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What is the lawsuit?

As per the account, in early 2019, Dolce & Gabbana filed an action for defamation in a civil court in Italy, demanding that Diet Prada pay damages in the amount of €3 million ($3.59 million) to Dolce & Gabbana and €1 million ($1.20 million) to Stefano Gabbana.

The lawsuit argues that Diet Prada should be held responsible for lost revenue and other harm to Dolce & Gabbana and its co-founder Stefano Gabbana after “we criticized their 2018 advertising campaign on Weibo for its stereotypical and sexist depiction of a Chinese woman, and revealed anti-Asian remarks originating from Gabbana’s Instagram account.”

In the fall of 2018, Dolce & Gabbana released an advertisement that was reportedly bigoted toward Chinese people and received much flak for it. The brand was subsequently also called out for racist direct messages sent from the account of one of its founders, Stefano Gabbana -- the company then claimed that his account had been hacked. 

Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce attend "GQ Celebrates Jim Nelson's 10th Anniversary as Editor-in-Chief Party" on June 22, 2013, at Villa Necchi in Milan, Italy. (Getty Images)

Following that, prominent Chinese models and celebrities criticized the brand, ultimately compelling it to cancel a show in Shanghai. A week later, Dolce & Gabbana issued a public video apology featuring its founders. 

As per Diet Prada, the nonprofit Fashion Law Institute, based at Fordham Law School, is coordinating its defense through its pro bono clinic in collaboration with Italian law firm AMSL Avvocati, “which has graciously agreed to represent us at a reduced rate”. 

“Having cultivated Diet Prada as a platform where we can denounce racism, amplify stories from the larger BIPOC community, and hold the fashion industry to a higher ethical standard, has been one of the most rewarding experiences thus far and our only hope is to protect that,” the statement said. 

Tony Liu and Lindsey Schuyler of Diet Prada attend the Prada show during Milan Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2020/2021 on February 20, 2020, in Milan, Italy. (Getty Images)

Both Liu and Schuyler have reportedly filed a defense of their freedom of speech. It argues that Diet Prada was merely covering the news using a tone adapted to the medium of communicating on Instagram utilized by most of its user base -- including the designers in question: "Therefore, it is inevitable that, sometimes, the tone used is colorful and deliberately provocative, as has always been the one used by Stefano Gabbana himself."

Fashion Law Institute Founder Susan Scafidi, speaking to the press, said, "In the U.S., truth is an absolute defense to defamation. In Italy, truth is, of course, a key factor in a defense, but the law also takes into account things like tone and whether the statements are in the public interest.” 

Scafidi further said, "Arguably the lawsuit should have been filed in the U.S., where Tony and Lindsey reside, or in China, where Dolce & Gabbana had to cancel its show, but instead the plaintiffs engaged in forum shopping and perhaps hope for home-court advantage as well. Like the U.S., however, Italy protects freedom of speech, and the fight against racism is important to people everywhere."

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