“I think that every designer in the world is following Diet Prada,” the beloved former Lanvin designer Alber Elbaz told me mid-New York Fashion Week in September. Since Tony Liu and Lindsey Schuyler created the Instagram account four years ago, Diet Prada has transformed into the industry’s biggest (and favorite) watchdog, thanks in part to shoutouts from the likes of Naomi Campbell. And yet the fashion establishment still hesitates to fully embrace Diet Prada. When I pressed Elbaz on his support of the account, he cautioned: “I think we’ll have to stop there.”
The hesitation is understandable. Diet Prada remains one of the few fashion observers with real clout to disobey one of its cardinal rules: calling out the industry power players that no one else dares touch. And, somehow, abandoning their anonymity at the end of 2017 only seems to have emboldened the pair, who have gotten increasingly involved in the drama themselves. Their ongoing feud with Dolce & Gabbana—which started selling knockoffs of Diet Prada merch for 12 times the price this past summer—for example, exploded into a full-scale scandal this past November, when the duo played a key role in Dolce & Gabbana’s blockbuster China show being canceled amid widespread accusations of racism.
But that, of course, wasn’t the only rollercoaster to take fashion for a ride in 2018. And since, as another controversial figure once put it, “those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it,” it’s worth taking a closer look back at this year’s scandals and drama before heading into 2019. (As well as, of course, revisiting fond memories like the girl who stole the Louis Vuitton show with a Juul.) Read on for a recap from the pros, here.
Now that 2018’s almost come to an end, who would you say surprised you the least in stirring up controversy? Probably Dolce & Gabbana—the chopsticks video and the resulting racist DMs from Stefano [Gabbana] that we published. They’ve been caught so many times doing this type of thing that it wasn’t surprising in the least, although the scope of the nastiness was much larger than the usual bigotry that Stefano has been known for.
Who surprised you the most? We were really surprised by Thom Browne and his decision to show basically bound and gagged women on the runway. The timing was really awful with the show happening just as the [Supreme Court Justice Brett] Kavanaugh hearings were wrapping up, but it just felt like a misstep after a landmark year of #metoo progress.
Also surprising was #HATGATE, when Simon Porte Jacquemus denounced our post [embedded below] as “fake news.” The Trumpian rhetoric was surprising coming from one of fashion’s bright young talents… especially considering that our post was just a recap of Vogue Mexico‘s clarification of the hat’s origins.
Who offended you the most this year? Stefano [Gabbana], without a doubt.
Do you think anyone came close to Stefano Gabbana in causing the most uproar? I think Stefano is going to be hard to beat for years to come in causing not just uproar, but fallout. His remarks literally cost him millions of dollars in a single day, with longterm effects still to be determined. People don’t seem to be forgetting this one, either—we’re still getting sent posts of any celebs, influencers, etc. that are still wearing Dolce, stores that are featuring them in the windows, etc.
What was your favorite niche drama of the year? The few fashion show cameos we featured spring to mind, like #vuittonvapegirl (a girl Juul-ing front row at Louis Vuitton):
There was also the IRL The Devil Wears Prada moment from Michael Kors’s SS19 livestream, where an unidentified assistant waited for Anna Wintour’s arrival in front of her empty seat with Starbucks in hand. Sure enough, she showed up moments later sipping that same Starbucks.
What do you think was the biggest drama in modeling? The New York Times‘ exposé on the male model sexual assault allegations against [photographers] Bruce Weber and Mario Testino.
What do you think was the biggest drama on the runway? It was the good kind of drama: Jane Birkin rising up in the middle of the Gucci SS19 show in a famous Parisian theater and singing a capella for two minutes.
What do you think was this year’s biggest drama surrounding design, or most egregious knockoff?
There’s so many, but one we won’t soon forget was when Emilia Wickstead threw shade at Meghan Markle for her Givenchy wedding dress… the fit and being similarly boatnecked to one of her designs. (Not to mention the wisps of hair she had a problem with.) [Wickstead told the Daily Mail: “I was like, ‘Hold the wisps back—it’s a royal wedding, for god’s sake,'” then later issued an apology stating that she did not think the dress was a copy.]
Are there any people or brands you think have managed to be uncontroversial/pure? Nobody’s perfect, but we’re liking the trend of brands that are managing to use feedback constructively to do better.
Are there any that you think are immune to controversy? No. At least, we would have thought so, but then we saw what happened with Prada and the blackface tchotchkes.
[In response to the outrage, Prada quickly issued an apology and pulled the $550 tchotchkes from circulation, then announced that it would be forming an advisory council “to guide our efforts on diversity, inclusion and culture.”]
Who do you think won 2018? Dieters lol.
Who do you think will be taken down in 2019? And who’s on the cusp, who we should keep an eye on in the new year? We really hope someone is looking seriously into the accusations [of sending inappropriate messages to a minor] against Gosha Rubchinskiy, and that people keep paying attention to the pending lawsuits against Bruce Weber.
Is there anything in particular that you think fashion will change in 2019—or that you hope it will? I hope the fashion industry continues to focus on inclusivity, but also grows to understand that it’s a way to build a strong business and community—not just a trend.
A Brief History of Fashion’s Most NSFW, Controversial Ad Campaigns
For their first large-scale campaign, the designers behind Eckhaus Latta enlisted a diverse group of 30-something couples to not only wear their spring 2017 collection, but have real sex in front of the camera for the photographer Heji Shin, who had produced a similar series of images for a German sex education book for teenagers.
In 1971, a nude (and largely hairless) Yves Saint Laurent posed nude for Jeanloup Sieff to debut his first-ever perfume for his namesake label, Pour Homme.
Other than her controversially “heroin chic” ads for Calvin Klein, a topless, 17-year-old Kate Moss also starred in this 1992 campaign for the brand with Mark Wahlberg—one that made her so uncomfortable, she later said it prompted a nervous breakdown.
Rumor has it that Wonderbra’s billboards of Eva Herzigova caused traffic build-ups and car crashes when they went up in 1994.
It didn’t take long for controversy to erupt after Steven Meisel and Calvin Klein cast a crew of apparently underage models, including Kate Moss, for a 1995 Calvin Klein campaign; eventually, CK responded to the outcry over the ad with another ad, a full page in the New York Times announcing it was pulling the original advertisement.
This infamous 2000 campaign from Yves Saint Laurent, featuring a nude Sophie Dahl, drew 948 complaints to the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority, making it the eighth most complained about advertisement in recorded history.
Yves Saint Laurent again pared things down for one of his perfume ads in 2002, this time swapping out the designer’s likeness for a chiseled model to go full frontal.
Tom Ford and Carine Roitfeld both solidified their reputations as provocateurs when the designer and stylist drove down the fact that they were working for Gucci by shaving a “G” into a model’s pubic hair for this 2003 campaign shot by Mario Testino.
American Apparel, whose founder Dov Charney has faced a litany of sexual harassment lawsuits, began its run of controversial ads depicting highly sexualized and barely clothed women—an approach that was highly successful in creating conversation, but hardly saved the brand from bankruptcy—with this 2006 campaign.
The concept of “sex sells” barely gets more explicit than in Terry Richardson’s 2007 campaign for Tom Ford’s men’s fragrance, an ad that was banned in Italy.
“Stupid is as stupid done” is how some critics responded to Diesel’s 2010 “Be Stupid” campaign, which featured images of models flashing security cameras, among other suggestive poses. Some felt the images were needlessly sensationalistic while others described them as youthful and rebellious.
Dakota Fanning’s 2011 campaign for Marc Jacobs’ Lola campaign was banned in England after the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority deemed it too “sexually provocative” for the then 17-year-old actress, who was photographed by Juergen Teller.
Thanks to a little Photoshop, Barack Obama and Hugo Chavez were just several of the world leaders found making out in a 2011 campaign by United Colors of Benneton, which has a long history of provoking with their ads.
The model Anna Ewers has long been one of Alexander Wang’s muses, but the pair ended up in hot water with this 2014 campaign, in which Ewers is only just barely wearing Wang’s clothes.
This 2007 campaign by Dolce & Gabbana’s came to be known as the “gang rape advert” not only then, when several magazines refused to run it, but when it resurfaced online in 2015.
The U.K.’s Advertising Standards Agency also banned this 2015 Miu Miu campaign, shot by Steven Meisel, for being “irresponsible” in sexualizing an apparently underage (but actually 22-year-old) Mia Goth.
Calvin Klein courted controversy again last year with a campaign that featured a model photographed from under her dress, but the acclaimed British female photographer Harley Weir, whose work has long been interested in youth culture and sexuality, defended the campaign.