There is an ancient (OK, recent) wisdom carved into the Fashion Week Commandments, handed down from the mount: To woo the millennial, you must first use the millennial. “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” Gandhi once said (apocryphally, it seems; there is little evidence he actually did). “Be the change you wish to see at your cash register,” interpreted the fashion world.
In Milan, where Men’s Fashion Week just wrapped up after four days, the runways were amply stocked with millennials. They always are: Male models, for runway purposes, tend to hover in the teens and 20s. But designers continued the now well-worn trend of leaning on the socially famous and digitally omnipresent to add some juice to their presentations.
At Emporio Armani Saturday, the Canadian pop heartthrob Shawn Mendes (18, 22.7 million Instagram followers strong) did a spin on the catwalk after the show, goggling at his new EA Connected smartwatch, in whose campaign he will now appear. For its trouble, Armani was rewarded with legions of adoring girls holding court outside its Armani Hotel on Via Manzoni.
At Marcelo Burlon County of Milan later that evening, the SoundCloud-enabled rapper Lil Peep nearly blended into the tattooed lineup, though he announced himself with a request the following day: “Milan Italy I need kush,” Peep, 20, tweeted (to 135,000 followers). He later retweeted photos of himself on the runway.
“To be fair he does look like a model,” wrote one commenter on Reddit. “Raps like one too.”
That is the potential danger of courting an audience ready to share their opinions vocally and publicly. So discovered the kings of Milanese millennial-courting, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, whose show Saturday afternoon was well stocked with the young and the curious, the sons, daughters and relatives of the great and the good: Tyler Clinton (Bill Clinton’s nephew), Tuki Brando (Marlon’s grandson), Braison Cyrus (Miley’s brother), Stella and Sistine Stallone (Sylvester’s daughters). This is a very, very partial list. The show’s hashtag was not #DGMillennials for nothing.
Among the many was the American musician Raury, who had not been aware of the controversy surrounding Dolce & Gabbana and the label’s embrace of Melania Trump, who often wears it. In response to criticism for dressing the first lady, Dolce & Gabbana gleefully printed up a line of T-shirts inviting “haters” (as Gabbana put it) to “#Boycott Dolce & Gabbana.”
On the runway, Raury (21, 156,000 followers on Instagram) staged a boycott of his own, doffing his show outfit to reveal messages scrawled on his chest and raising his fist: “Protest,” “DG Give Me Freedom” and “I Am Not Your Scapegoat.” “They were making us represent something,” he explained to GQ in an interview shortly before leaving Milan. “These kids are about to co-sign this, and they don’t even know what it means.”
He had learned of the Melania Trump controversy and the boycott T-shirts the day before. The shirt, he said, “completely makes a mockery of what ‘boycotting’ is. Boycotting is the people’s voice.”
Social media, naturally, has been awash with the full spectrum of people’s voices, in favor of Raury’s gesture and opposed to it. (The activist DeRay Mckesson tweeted him an emoji of a fist.)
Dolce & Gabbana’s streak of controversy-baiting continues, which may be at least part of the point. (“All press is good press,” is another of the Fashion Week Commandments.) Cyrus, Braison’s sister, used the same post to congratulate her brother, who walked the show in a crown and elaborate hoodie, and to note that she disagreed with the label’s politics.
“Ignorant!!” @stefanogabbana wrote in a comment. “For your stupid comment, never more work with him” in another, and later reposted her post with the boycott hashtag.
Gabbana’s representative did not respond to a request for further comment, so there the matter rests for now, resounding in the chambers of Instagram, where the levels of discourse may vary widely.
“Dude look like the Burger King mascot,” wrote another commenter, by way of context.
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