ROME—In what is surely a defensive step too far, the Italian designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana have responded to justifiable criticism of their comments on assisted fertility treatments and the definition of a family by calling Elton John a fascist and posing with a sign touting the free speech mantra “Je Suis D&G.” By offending a wide range of people, from same-sex couples to heterosexual couples with fertility problems, the two find themselves in the strangest of company, with those coming to their defense ranging from the Catholic Church to Italy’s far-right politicians.
The fiasco exploded on Sunday, when the highlights from an interview in Italian news weekly Panorama reached a fevered pitch. The far-ranging interview, which hit newsstands in Italy on Thursday but somehow took an eternity to make waves, was meant to give Dolce and Gabbana a platform for their recent mamma-centric designs and help resurrect their image after being cleared in a tax-dodging scandal.
But any hope of that backfired spectacularly when Dolce told the weekly that he was not convinced by “those I call children of chemicals, synthetic children.” He then went on to slam “wombs for rent, sperm chosen from a catalogue,” and then Gabbana warned that “psychiatrists are not ready to confront the effects of this experimentation.”
Gabbana also lamented the fact that Dolce never wanted to have children with him when they were a couple. “I would have a child right away,” he said.
Maybe we should have seen this mamma complex coming? D&G’s Winter 2016 collection features plenty of pregnant women with a campaign to get people to send pictures under the hashtag #dgfamily to show what family meant to their fan base. An apparently tearful Gabbana told Panorama they received hundreds of thousands of photos, and then he showed the interviewer a video of his own 84-year-old mother, Piera, on his iPhone. “I’m having dinner with her tonight,” he said. “I love her, she is the only woman in my life.”
The inspiration behind the family campaign, an apparent midlife crisis and moment of reflection on Dolce’s Sicilian roots, was the launching pad for what would be a presumably regrettable line of questioning in which he went on what certainly sounds like an anti-gay rights rampage. “We didn’t invent the family,” he said. “When you are born you have a father and a mother, or at least it should be that way.” He then added: “I am gay, I can’t have children. I believe we cannot have everything in life.”
In 2006, Gabbana was quoted by the Daily Mail saying he wanted children but then demanded the paper make a correction. “I am opposed to the idea of a child growing up with two gay parents,” he said at the time, according to Corriere Della Sera. “A child needs a mother and a father. I could not imagine my childhood without my mother. I also believe that it is cruel to take a baby away from its mother.”
The latest inflammatory comments, which prompted Sir Elton John, Ricky Martin, and Courtney Love, among others, to call for a D&G boycott and vow never to wear the label again, didn’t offend everyone. There was sporadic graffiti-based vandalism against D&G stores in Milan and Florence, and many Italian traditionalists recalled the 2013 fiasco in which pasta giant Barilla said it would never advertise using a gay family, sparking a similar backlash and boycott. As then, staunch Catholics who embrace the church’s teaching against assisted fertility and gay adoption applauded the comments, with several Italian and Spanish Catholic papers editorializing that Dolce and Gabbana were expressing what “the masses are afraid to say.”
Italy’s conservative politicians, who also tend to embrace Catholic teachings, chimed in. “I’m with Dolce and Gabbana,” said Roberto Formigoni, a senator from the New Center Right political party. “I applaud their courageous statement. This is freedom of speech.” He then went on to call Elton John a terrorist: “The campaign launched by Elton John is shameful and intolerable. Elton John is a Taliban, using the same tactics used by the Taliban against Charlie Hebdo.”
Another senator form the right, Carlo Giovanardi, echoed that sentiment. “The gay Taliban are trying to boycott Dolce and Gabbana just because they tell the truth,” he said. “I have always thought we should try to safeguard normal homosexuals instead of those who make homosexuality a trade.”
Forza Italia, the center-right party run by former prime minister Sivlio Berlusconi, who once famously said it was “better to love pretty girls than to be gay,” also spoke out against the pop star’s boycott. “Elton John is an intolerant person who wants to block anyone who thinks differently to him,” said Elwira Savino, a party spokeswoman. “The fatwa against Dolce and Gabbana is nothing short of hysterical.”
Reached for comment by The Daily Beast, the Dolce & Gabbana company said it deferred to the designers to defend their statements. Gabbana has taken to his Instagram account, which D&G headquarters confirmed was his, to defend the interview. “We firmly believe in democracy and the fundamental principle of freedom of expression that upholds it,” he posted. ““We talked about our way of seeing reality, but it was never our intention to judge other people’s choices. We do believe in freedom and love.”