January 31, 2018

Fashion and controversy go together like peanut butter pants and a jelly jacket. (Which sounds like something Lady Gaga would wear to brunch.)

The controversies can be fashion related (short skirts vs. long skirts) or socially relevant (cultural appropriation vs. artistic freedom.) Often, designers make headlines for their antics outside the design studio.

To paraphrase Heidi Klum, in the fashion news, one day you’re in and the next day you’re out. When reviewing controversy in the fashion industry, it’s best to start with the most controversial fashion designers working today. Let’s dive in.

Ralph Lauren

Ralph Lauren

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Ralph Lauren is America’s rich uncle so it’s hard to think of him doing anything to shame the family. But, to Hillary Clinton supporters, Lauren’s decision to dress Melania Trump for the presidential inauguration was downright shameful.

Shortly after Donald Trump was elected President Trump, Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs and other famous designers refused to allow the future first lady—who was a former model—to wear their designs. Lauren, who had also supplied inaugural outfits for Hillary Clinton, Betty Ford and Nancy Reagan, felt differently.

The result was Melania Trump’s exquisite powder blue suit with matching gloves, she wore during the swearing in ceremony.

A #boycottralphlauren campaign burned brightly on Twitter but quickly faded.

At 78, Ralph Lauren became either a traitor or a badass, depending on your political affiliation.

Prabal Gurung

Prabal Gurung

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The Washington Post called Prabal Gurung “the most woke man in fashion” so it’s no wonder Gloria Steinem sat in the front row during his Spring 2018 runway show.

Gurung openly supports social justice through his words, actions and fashion. At the 2018 Golden Globes he designed black dresses for Issa Rae and Kerry Washington to help support the effort to end sexual harassment in the workplace.

Gurung is probably best known, however, for using plus-size and racially diverse models in his shows. He calls his fashion style “feminine feminism” and his outspokenness has ruffled fashionable feathers both inside and outside the fashion industry.

Kanye West

Kanye West Controversial Designer

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Kanye West eats controversy for breakfast…and lunch…and dinner…and fourth meal. In 2009, after West tried to confiscate Taylor Swift’s MTV Video Music Award, his name quickly became a verb. “You got Kanye-d!”

Both his music and his family life are a constant source of material for the tabloids so when he ventured into the world of fashion design everybody knew the transition wouldn’t be easy. Or should we say “yeezy?”

After a few disastrous fashion shows with fainting models and a no-show from the designer himself, West has done the unthinkable by refusing to show his YEEZY 6 line in Paris or New York.

Instead, he’s promoting YEEZY 6 online and his disintermediation campaign seems to be working.

Will West’s success inspire other designers to take a similar approach in breaking with fashion norms?

Well, other designers don’t have a wife (Kim Kardashian) who has over 100 million Twitter followers.

Donatella Versace

Donatella Versace

“My name is Versace…I don’t know how to do things quietly, that is just my blood and my family,” said a spokesman for the family of Donatella Versace back in 2016, when she featured a multi-racial family in one of her campaigns.

With the FX premiere of their new show The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, the Versaces, once again, are not doing things quietly.

The Versace family called the unauthorized biography of her brother Gianni Versace “a work of fiction.” They have been openly hostile to the shows’ creators.

Penelope Cruz will portray Donatella Versace. Versace herself says she will not watch the series.

When The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story premieres, Donatella Versace will be the subject of much scrutiny whether she wants the controversy or not.

Marc Jacobs

Marc Jacobs fashion designer

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In 2016, Marc Jacobs was accused of cultural appropriation when he sent his white female models walking down the runway wearing faux dreadlocks.

Instead of apologizing, Jacobs double downed by calling his critics “narrow minded.” Later he apologized for his lack of an apology.

The following year, during his Spring 2018 show, the same accusations were hurled Jacobs’ way after his models wore headscarves.

We can only assume Jacobs will be giving bonuses to models who are willing to shave their heads for his next collection.

There is No Such Things as Bad Publicity 

Or as the French say, succès de scandale.

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