Try as they may, fashion brands are not impervious to tone-deaf campaigns and marketing gaffes.
Even the most storied luxury fashion houses find themselves in the occasional PR nightmare and are left to precariously pick up the pieces. Occasionally, they are successful in digging themselves out of their self-created hole relatively unscathed, but seeing as it’s the age of social media, outcry from the general public can be constant and unrelenting. Here are some of the biggest brand fails of 2016:
Zara steals art, again
Fast-fashion retailers ripping off high-end designs and selling them at a fraction of the cost isn’t anything new. In May, Zara began selling a line of clothing called the “Streetwise Collection” that appeared to be modeled almost directly off of Kanye West’s Yeezy Season 2 line. Forever 21 was embroiled in similar controversy, thanks to a selection of garments that looked a bit too similar to Yeezy’s.
Stealing other people’s work is ruthless in any context, but it’s one thing to copy the designs of a multimillionaire performer and quite another to appropriate those of a fledgling artist. In July, several independent artists stepped forward to say that Zara had used their designs without consultation or compensation. The maelstrom began when graphic artist Tuesday Bassen shared a photo on her Twitter account of correspondence between Zara and her lawyer, refuting her claims of fraud. When the rest of the indie art community saw the news, an outpouring of social media posts transpired, both supporting Bassen and sharing similar incidents of stolen artwork.
Stolen designs compiled by ShopArtTheft.com, a website created after the Tuesday Bassen incident
Chanel stages an upscale fashion show… in Cuba
When the U.S. and Cuba mended relations and permitted travel between the two countries earlier this year, American tourists and retailers alike saw the new travel destination as an opportunity to explore. Among them was Chanel, which held an over-the-top fashion show in Havana in May for its 2017 resort collection, which was attended by a who’s who of the fashion industry, as well as several celebrities.
Many Americans and Cubans deemed the flashy event as exploitative and opportunistic. Not only does Cuba not have a single Chanel store within its boundaries, but the average income of the general populace is just $20. Social media users decried the spectacle as disrespectful, and claimed Chanel had taken advantage of Cuba by using its decaying 1960s aesthetic as a background or prop.
The April Fool’s joke that went awry
Aerie, the lingerie and activewear arm of American Eagle, has long been an outspoken proponent of body positivity. In 2014, it launched the AerieReal campaign, banning photo retouching across all marketing and ad campaigns.
So on April 1 of this year, fans of the brand were delighted to see a men’s campaign featuring male models of all shapes and sizes wearing Aerie boxers — that is, until the brand came out to say it was all just an April Fool’s joke. People were outraged that the company would praise and support women’s bodies, but make light of men’s. While Kevin Davis, a model that participated in the campaign, said the joke was supposed to be a play on the fact that the brand is traditionally catered to females, he said brands need to start featuring plus-size male models in a serious light. “The more voices that are heard, the more brands will respond,” he said.
Model Kevin Davis posing in the Aerie men’s April Fool’s Day campaign
Asos denies claims of worker abuse
Twitter lit up after the release of an expose on unfair treatment of employees at an Asos distribution center in South Yorkshire, England. A stated in the article by BuzzFeed News, workers reportedly were prohibited from taking bathroom and water breaks, and were fired for taking sick time. Asos denied the allegations and responded to complaints on Twitter, claiming the report was misleading. In a statement, they reaffirmed the sentiment: “There have been a number of allegations about the working conditions at our warehouse in Barnsley that are inaccurate, misleading or based on out-of-date information.”
Still, the Twitter storm begged to differ.
— Hannah Davis (@coquetin91) September 29, 2016
Michael Kors attempts to redefine ‘street style’
Part of the beauty of street style photography is that it is a candid, unfiltered look at what people are wearing on their comings and goings. The movement of capturing people on the go and celebrating their individual style was canonized by the late Bill Cunningham, the New York Times’ style photographer known for snapping photos at his outpost on 53rd Street.
However, Michael Kors sought to capitalize on this with a campaign centered on editorialized images of brand ambassadors wearing Michael Kors clothing. The posed imagery irked members of the fashion community for their inorganic nature, claiming that premeditated photos of models like Soo Joo Park are not, in fact, street style.
Images from the Michael Kors street style campaign