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Dolce and Gabbana is an Italian fashion based business that primarily deals with items classified as a ‘luxury’ in the fashion industry. Dolce and Gabbana are infamously known for their controversial ad campaigns that have caused outbreaks of rage and discomfort by viewers of such advertisements. This paper analyses specific ads from this fashion conglomerate taking account shifts in advertising, media and consumption since the 1990s, and illustrates the use of stereotypes in advertisements, and why some campaigns are the subject of controversy.

Dolce and Gabbana are famed for their sexy fashion advertisements, however in 2014 the company may have taken things a little too far. Their ad, promoting D&G’s ready-to-wear collection for 2014 features a girl with a hazy expression surrounded by five men, one bearing down on her. The advert received much criticism from the press including Debonair Magazine who called it “a glorification of gang rape”. When questioned about the campaign, Stefano Gabbana stated the advert was intended to show “an erotic dream, a sexual game”. Despite the unclear nature of the ad, the controversy only went on to raise Dolce & Gabbana’s profile in the fashion industry.

Semiotics allows third-party members to analyze media texts, using Barthes’ tri-dimensional model. This model includes of the signifier, signified (collectively forming a ‘sign’), and the myth (Barthes, 2013). When viewed on a signifier level (most literal meaning), these ads represent males and females, who are partially nude and performing very abstract activities, with letters mentioned on the ad. On the signified level, the interpretation is much clearer, and it illustrates the fact that the image is actually an ‘advertisement’ for a company called ‘Dolce and Gabbana’, and it shows attractive & toned men and women in different stances of power relations (Refer to Appendix). The signified usually involves prior knowledge and understanding of media texts. Collectively, they form the ‘sign’. However, on the third and final level, the myth includes a much wider approach to semiotics. It is a “sum of signs” and a “global sign”, and in these ads, the myth is the objectification of gender, the use of the gaze to indicated power relations, and how consumer culture has evolved over the years in regards to fitness and beauty. (Barthes, 2013, p.3). Over the years, women have always been subjected to being the secondary character in media, especially within advertisements. The

constant depiction of women in the kitchen, and the heavy dependence of the man for help and support has been one of the key theme of advertisements since the industrial revolution. However, women were the primary targets by the fashion industry. Much to the point, where it expanded to other industries. Bordo (1993) argues that women’s beauty is subtly mentioned in advertisements involving food and medicines. The terms such as “dive in” were used by Haagen-Dazs while depicting a man in view with ice-cream, as portraying a woman would bring about issues revolving around diet and eating disorders. Using advertisements such as sugar free Jell-O and Virginia Slims for women, illustrate that being thin is beautiful, and women are not supposed to have a hearty appetite as men (Bordo, 1993). Advertisers hire models on the basis of their looks, and have a certain criteria to narrow down their selection process, which states that the female model must be atleast 5’9” in height, and have a dress size between 0-6 (Mears, 2009). Dolce and Gabanna deals with high end fashion, and thus aims towards having size 0 models for their advertisements, which is clearly indicated in both the ads (Refer to Appendix). The definition of beauty is constantly reminded to the general public by the fashion industry. The food industry and the fashion industry are very much related in today’s world, as fashion redefines beauty, which results in changes in diet and appetite for both male and females. However, the use sexuality in both industries to advertise products have prevailed as a primary marketing strategy to attract customers. The Dolce and Gabbana advertisements use sex as a tool to grab the viewer’s attention, with artistic representations of a particular setting on print. In the first advertisement, the setting indicates that the male and female are about to engage in coitus, followed by the rest of the men watching her. In the second advertisement, the reminiscent feel of BDSM, indicates a sexual scenario as well (Refer to Appendix). Previous advertisements; from the food industry also attract men and women using sexual innuendo. Bordo (1993) illustrates this using an example of Sugar Free Jell-O, where the tag line of the advertisement states, “I’m a girl who just can’t say no. I insist on dessert.” The specific use sugar free Jell-O is also intriguing, as it indicates the dietary restraints of a woman to look good according to the fashion industry, whilst the using sexual innuendo overshadows the controversial aspect of eating disorders in women such as anorexia (Bordo 1993). The objectification of women’s bodies is a central theme of such ads, and is used by industries for capitalist gains (Mears, 2009). Objectification of women is when a ‘women is literally reduced to her body parts and sexual behavior’ (Murrow, 2010, p.71). The first advertisement was released out in 2007 for the company’s spring collection. It was intended to attract customers using key terms such as

“an erotic dream” and a “sexual game”, however it was met with backlash by several viewers, as it involved a man holding down a woman by her wrists, as other men watched. The other men were partially un-dressed, and the woman had a dazed look on her face (Refer to Appendix). It indicated a “gang rape” scenario, and was met by negative feedback by the media (Nickalls, 2013). Murrow brings about a connection between pornography and the thought process of its male viewers, but stating that exposure to pornography, leads to viewers trying to link the pornographic expectation to real life expectations, and begin to view women as objects rather than people (Murrow, 2010). The advertisement was labelled as “Dream”, and was meant to illustrate a fantasy, but was interpreted as a “rape scene”, and thus enraged several communities in the public and online sphere, such as the National Organization of Women. It was similar to an advertisement by Calvin Klein, which depicted a rape scene, and was banned by the Australian Standards Bureau (Rifon, 2014). The criticism for such advertisements generally revolved around the sexual violence portrayed towards women. The objectification of gender is not only restricted to women, but also towards men. An advertisement campaign from the same company in 2007, showed the opposite. The second advertisement involved the men being completely nude and protecting themselves by bending and hunching over, while the women watch over them. This advertisement as mentioned earlier, was met with mixed responses as it portrayed men being dominated by women, which was reminiscent of BD/SM (Bondage Domination) (Refer to Appendix). The designers’ response specified that they were attempting to empower women, and highlight the aspects of a dominant female character, i.e. the modern woman (Greaves & Mercado, 2011). The objectification of men, was seen in prior advertising campaigns, and around iconic characters such as the ‘Marlboro Man’, where the company; Phillip Morris, was not selling cigarettes, but rather the idea of the ultimate man, who is independent, royal, and rebellious (Twitchell, 2000). Similarly, in Dolce and Gabbana’s ad, the idea of female dominance is being sold, by objectifying men. Research has shown that due to this constant objectification, men and women objectify others in the real life. The “erotic male” was the key definition of masculinity, and this is evident when the physical appearance of male model is concentrated upon, while his face is hidden from the light (Morse, 2007, p.21). The size of men has increased over time, making them more muscular, leading to “reverse anorexia” and excessive bodybuilding (Reichert, 2014, p.116). The men in the advertisement are muscular, and are completely nude. Dolce and Gabanna and other fashion companies try to link the idea of fashion with objectivity. It’s an “age-old advertising technique” and

clearly shows that if a viewer purchases and wears the product in the ad, they will dominate the other gender (Reichert, 2014, p.116). These use of the gaze helps establish power relations in these advertisements. The photograph is primary tool used to establish difference, thus the use of binary oppositions have been used to organize meaning. Binary oppositions organize the world and its representations, and are usually encoded with “values and concepts of power, superiority, and worth”. There is always a category of norm and the other in a binary opposition (Sturken & Cartwright, 2009). The use of an example such as man/woman as a binary opposition, throughout history, the norm has been the man having power over the woman. As mentioned above, in early advertisements the woman was dependent on the man. However, in today’s day and age, that concept has changed due to feminists and the fight for equal rights.

Dolce and Gabbana have had a fair share of advertisements dealing with stereotyping and deviating from the norm. The first advertisement shows gender stereotyping, where the male is dominant, holding the woman down, while the rest of the men stare at her. The use of the male gaze, indicate power relations in favor of the men. They are looking down at the woman, and the woman is dazed and confused. The men are in control of what is happening, and the woman is helpless. This scene mimics a “gang rape” scenario, and was met with great controversy that this advertisement was pulled from several publications (Greaves & Mercado, 2011). On the contrary, the second advertisement uses gaze, but steers away from the gender stereotype. It hands the power to the women, as they look down on the completely naked men, and establish their dominance (Refer to Appendix). The advertisement was meant to empower women, and to abolish the stereotype of males being dominant.


In conclusion, it is evident that advertisements still use gender stereotypes to sell their products, and do so with the use of the gaze and objectification. The advertisements have changed over the years, but still rely on the use of women being reminded of what is regarded as beautiful, the use of a sexual theme to appeal to the masses, and to attempt to sell an idea along with a product. Whether it is to advertise sugar free products, cigarettes, or high-end fashion, advertisers still repeat their techniques to appeal to the masses.


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