Boycotting D&G is simply like batting a fly off a rotten industry. Photo: Getty
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Boycott Dolce & Gabbana? Since when did we look to fashion for any kind of moral integrity?

To those boycotting Dolce & Gabbana: are we really looking to an industry that uses child labour, torments women and ignores ethnic minorities to lead the fight for moral justice?

In a way, I’ve been boycotting Dolce & Gabbana my whole life. That’s to say, I’ve been boycotting that particular label, which flogs coats for upwards of £2,000, in the same way that I’ve been boycotting yachts, leopards and Fabergé eggs.

So this week’s call to arms for The Gays to boycott D&G, over Mr Dolce and Mr Gabbana’s curiously conservative stance on IVF and same-sex parents, wasn’t a big ask (for me, at least). My knowledge of high fashion extends as far as quite fancying Cara Delevingne, so I doubt I’d even know a D&G dress if it flapped me in the face with its exquisite satin hem.

But, for the likes of Elton John, who happens to have two children born via a surrogate mother and isn’t exactly un-fashiony, this boycott is something to be taken seriously. Well, depending on whether or not you believe those photos of him toting a Dolce & Gabbana bag a day after he inspired the #boycottDolceAndGabbana Twitter trend were, as his publicist has said, Photoshopped.

But back to the D&G design duo themselves. In an interview with an Italian magazine, the pair slated same-sex couples who adopt and called IVF children “synthetic”. There’s nothing quite like gay-bashing gays. Especially ones who work in an industry that’s, in spite of all other ethical foibles, pretty damn gay friendly (to men, at least).

The designers’ comments were heinous; about that I have no doubt. Like it or not, famous LGBT people have something of a duty to support their community, and backing the rights of same-sex parents is a huge part of that. And I certainly wouldn’t blame anyone for wanting to jump straight on the #boycottDolceAndGabbana bandwagon. At the same time, it strikes me as odd that we look to brands for any kind of moral integrity in the first place.

Fashion designers are good at clothes. That’s their job. Making the world a better place for women and ethnic minorities? Not so much. From Tommy Hilfiger allegedly saying that he didn’t want black or Asian people to buy his clothes, to John Galliano’s infamous antisemitic rant in 2011, making a list entitled “stupid shit fashionistas have said” would be piss easy.

Let’s just step back and take a look at the fashion industry as a whole. You can barely buy a pair of knickers on the high street without being safe in the knowledge that they were toiled over by an eleven-year-old in some distant corner of the developing world. You can’t open a fashion magazine without having female models’ unattainable figures thrust down your pupils. Several labels have been accused of failing to hire models from ethnic minorities. Are we really looking to an industry that uses child labour, torments women and ignores people of colour to lead the fight for social justice?

I’m not sure what those boycotting Dolce & Gabbana aim to achieve. Sure, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana could release some utterly disingenuous press release saying that they had “over-firmly denied”, to use Grant Shapps’s peculiar phrasing, the rights of same-sex parents. And that by “We oppose gay adoptions. The only family is the traditional one”, they actually meant, “We are 100 per cent in favour of non-traditional families. Babies for everyone. Rainbows! Yay!” In which case, would it suddenly be OK to buy their clothes again? Would it not be more productive overall to use this whopper of a foot-in-mouth moment to open up a dialogue about why these guys are just a pair of thick, self-loathing dicks?

Well-off supporters of gay rights, by all means boycott Dolce & Gabbana. Just remember though that all you’re really doing is batting a fly off an industry that’s rotten to its core. 

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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Arsène Wenger: how can an intelligent manager preside over such a hollowed-out team?

The Arsenal manager faces a frustrating legacy.

Sport is obviously not all about winning, but it is about justified hope. That ­distinction has provided, until recently, a serious defence of Arsène Wenger’s Act II – the losing part. Arsenal haven’t won anything big for 13 years. But they have been close enough (and this is a personal view) to sustain the experience of investing emotionally in the story. Hope turning to disappointment is fine. It’s when the hope goes, that’s the problem.

Defeat takes many forms. In both 2010 and 2011, Arsenal lost over two legs to Barcelona in the Champions League. Yet these were rich and rewarding sporting experiences. In the two London fixtures of those ties, Arsenal drew 2-2 and won 2-1 against the most dazzling team in the world. Those nights reinvigorated my pride in sport. The Emirates Stadium had the best show in town. Defeat, when it arrived in Barcelona, was softened by gratitude. We’d been entertained, more than entertained.

Arsenal’s 5-1 surrender to Bayern Munich on 15 February was very different. In this capitulation by instalments, the fascination was macabre rather than dramatic. Having long given up on discerning signs of life, we began the post-mortem mid-match. As we pored over the entrails, the curiosity lay in the extent of the malady that had brought down the body. The same question, over and over: how could such an intelligent, deep-thinking manager preside over a hollowed-out team? How could failings so obvious to outsiders, the absence of steel and resilience, evade the judgement of the boss?

There is a saying in rugby union that forwards (the hard men) determine who wins, and the backs (the glamour boys) decide by how much. Here is a footballing equivalent: midfielders define matches, attacking players adorn them and defenders get the blame. Yet Arsenal’s players as good as vacated the midfield. It is hard to judge how well Bayern’s playmakers performed because they were operating in a vacuum; it looked like a morale-boosting training-ground drill, free from the annoying presence of opponents.

I have always been suspicious of the ­default English critique which posits that mentally fragile teams can be turned around by licensed on-field violence – a good kicking, basically. Sporting “character” takes many forms; physical assertiveness is only one dimension.

Still, it remains baffling, Wenger’s blind spot. He indulges artistry, especially the mercurial Mesut Özil, beyond the point where it serves the player. Yet he won’t protect the magicians by surrounding them with effective but down-to-earth talents. It has become a diet of collapsing soufflés.

What held back Wenger from buying the linchpin midfielder he has lacked for many years? Money is only part of the explanation. All added up, Arsenal do spend: their collective wage bill is the fourth-highest in the League. But Wenger has always been reluctant to lavish cash on a single star player, let alone a steely one. Rather two nice players than one great one.

The power of habit has become debilitating. Like a wealthy but conservative shopper who keeps going back to the same clothes shop, Wenger habituates the same strata of the transfer market. When he can’t get what he needs, he’s happy to come back home with something he’s already got, ­usually an elegant midfielder, tidy passer, gets bounced in big games, prone to going missing. Another button-down blue shirt for a drawer that is well stuffed.

It is almost universally accepted that, as a business, Arsenal are England’s leading club. Where their rivals rely on bailouts from oligarchs or highly leveraged debt, Arsenal took tough choices early and now appear financially secure – helped by their manager’s ability to engineer qualification for the Champions League every season while avoiding excessive transfer costs. Does that count for anything?

After the financial crisis, I had a revealing conversation with the owner of a private bank that had sailed through the turmoil. Being cautious and Swiss, he explained, he had always kept more capital reserves than the norm. As a result, the bank had made less money in boom years. “If I’d been a normal chief executive, I’d have been fired by the board,” he said. Instead, when the economic winds turned, he was much better placed than more bullish rivals. As a competitive strategy, his winning hand was only laid bare by the arrival of harder times.

In football, however, the crash never came. We all wrote that football’s insane spending couldn’t go on but the pace has only quickened. Even the Premier League’s bosses confessed to being surprised by the last extravagant round of television deals – the cash that eventually flows into the hands of managers and then the pockets of players and their agents.

By refusing to splash out on the players he needed, whatever the cost, Wenger was hedged for a downturn that never arrived.

What an irony it would be if football’s bust comes after he has departed. Imagine the scenario. The oligarchs move on, finding fresh ways of achieving fame, respectability and the protection achieved by entering the English establishment. The clubs loaded with debt are forced to cut their spending. Arsenal, benefiting from their solid business model, sail into an outright lead, mopping up star talent and trophies all round.

It’s often said that Wenger – early to invest in data analytics and worldwide scouts; a pioneer of player fitness and lifestyle – was overtaken by imitators. There is a second dimension to the question of time and circumstance. He helped to create and build Arsenal’s off-field robustness, even though football’s crazy economics haven’t yet proved its underlying value.

If the wind turns, Arsène Wenger may face a frustrating legacy: yesterday’s man and yet twice ahead of his time. 

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit