Diet Prada revealed Thursday it has been locked in a nearly two-year legal battle with Dolce & Gabbana, which has sued the popular Instagram account’s founders for defamation in Italian court.
In its lawsuit, the Italian luxury brand alleges it lost business and celebrity clients due to Diet Prada’s coverage of the label’s controversial #DGLovesChina marketing campaign in 2018. The campaign featured a Chinese woman eating pasta with chopsticks, imagery that many felt was a racist caricature.
Diet Prada was one of many social media accounts to criticise the campaign. It also published screenshots that appeared to show messages sent by Stefano Gabbana to an Instagram follower in which the co-founder made derogatory comments about Chinese people. The brand later said that both the label and Gabbana’s account were hacked; the brand’s founders released an apology video on Chinese social media platform Weibo and asked for forgiveness, and cancelled a planned Shanghai runway show.
The lawsuit, filed in a Milan civil court in early 2019, claims Diet Prada spread “false information,” engaged in “defamatory conduct against Mr. Stefano Gabbana” and “illicit publication of [Gabbana’s] private conversations,” according to a translated copy of the complaint viewed by BoF.
The brand names Diet Prada co-founders Tony Liu and Lindsey Schuyler in the lawsuit, and is seeking €3 million ($3.6 million) in damages, plus a further €1 million ($1.2 million) for Gabbana individually. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a March 1 filing, Diet Prada countered that it “has never started or pursued a hate campaign against today’s defendants but has continued to exercise its free press rights.”
”We aren’t planning on letting this lawsuit impact our activity on any platform, it’s business as usual,” Liu said in an email to BoF. “We feel more confident than ever about our values and will continue denouncing racism within the fashion industry.”
The lawsuit won’t be resolved anytime soon. Fordham Law School’s Fashion Law Institute is representing Liu and Schuyler on a pro-bono basis, alongside Italian law firm AMSL Avvocati. Fashion Law Institute founder Susan Scafidi said there is a procedural deadline in the case for evidentiary requests is March 21, followed by a hearing scheduled for May 18. Those dates are subject to change, however, given periodic Italian court closures due to the pandemic.
Media publishers regularly face legal threats from the subjects of their stories. In the US, they are typically shielded from libel cases so long as what they reported is factually correct. However, many other countries – including Italy – offer fewer protections.
Even if Dolce & Gabbana loses, it could have the effect of dampening the sometimes raucous commentary found on social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter. Many websites toned down their coverage of celebrities in 2016 after Gawker was ordered to pay tens of millions of dollars to Terry Bollea, better known as the wrestler Hulk Hogan, for invasion of privacy after the website posted a sex tape he appeared in. Gawker shut down soon after.
“The very fact that Diet Prada ... is forced to defend this lawsuit will mean a massive expenditure of time and certainly some money,” said fashion lawyer Douglas Hand, who is a founding partner at New York-based Hand Baldachin & Associates LLP. “In the case of independent and unfunded social media accounts, that threat is more real and that cost is, proportionately, much greater.”
On Thursday, Diet Prada created a GoFundMe page to help cover the legal costs associated with the suit. Within the first few hours, the page raised more than $9,000, including $2,000 from the fashion influencer Tina Craig.
“Law should not be used to shut down justice, in this case, social justice and the criticism of offensive race and gender stereotypes,” Scafidi wrote in an email. “I was also incredulous that a company would apologize loudly for its actions and then quietly file a lawsuit against its critics.”
Diet Prada appears not to have toned down its coverage of the fashion industry; recent targets include the retailer Anthropologie and the influencer Danielle Bernstein. “We’ve gotten some empty threats before, but never from a brand as big as Dolce & Gabbana,” Liu said.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated on Thursday, March 4 to include comments from Scafidi, Liu, Hand and information from the court filings.