In early 2019, the brand filed an action for defamation in civil court in Italy, accusing industry watchdog account Diet Prada of costing them revenue and other opportunities through their reporting on the incident. The suit demands damages to the tune of a staggering €3 million for Dolce & Gabbana and another €1 million for Stefano Gabbana himself. On Monday, Tony Liu and Lindsey Schuyler, the duo behind the account, filed a defense of their freedom of speech, according to a press release shared with Fashionista.
Liu and Schuyler each issued a statement about the suit. Liu noted his upbringing as an Asian-American, with its accompanying pain of being othered through stereotypes, which have led to racism and violence, saying: "Growing up as a queer person of color in a predominantly white town, I’ve often found myself intimidated and at a loss for words when confronted with racism and bigotry. Having cultivated Diet Prada as a platform where stereotypes are laid bare and stories from the larger BIPOC community are brought to the fore, is one of the things I’m most proud of."
Schuyler mentioned her discomfort not only as an ally to the Asian community, but as a woman who was offended by the misogynistic tone of Dolce & Gabbana's messaging. "Discrediting and denouncing the press, charges of 'fake news,' and a general threatening attitude towards journalists are a breeding ground for danger and a slippery slope toward extremism," she said. "Now is the time for public figures and brands to respond to public opinion and media critiques with progressive action, not lawsuits."
Liu and Schuyler are being represented pro bono by The Fashion Law Institute, which has partnered with Italian law firm AMSL Avvocati on the case. In the release, Fashion Law Institute Founder Susan Scafidi accused the brand of engaging in "forum shopping" by filing the suit in Italy, noting that there are key differences in how each legal system approaches freedom of speech issues.
"In the U.S., truth is an absolute defense to defamation. In Italy, truth is of course a key factor in a defense, but the law also takes into account things like tone and whether the statements are in the public interest," Scafidi explains to Fashionista. "Arguably the lawsuit should have been filed in the U.S., where Tony and Lindsey reside, or in China, where Dolce & Gabbana had to cancel its show, but instead the plaintiffs engaged in forum shopping and perhaps hope for home court advantage as well. Like the U.S., however, Italy protects freedom of speech, and the fight against racism is important to people everywhere."
The defense makes claims that, due to Dolce & Gabbana's international structure — in which it operates different subsidiaries across the world — neither the Italian company nor the designers themselves have a right to claim damages. Explaining that the inciting event took place in China, and that Diet Prada's readership is located primarily in the United States and other anglophone countries, they dispute the right for the company to sue them in Italy at all.
"Therefore, the present plaintiffs do not have active standing which must, if anything, be recognized by Dolce & Gabbana U.S.A. Inc., Dolce & Gabbana Hong Kong and Dolce & Gabbana Shanghai. Today's actors could at most complain of indirect damage not susceptible to judicial protection," the filing reads.
Furthermore, the defense argues, even if the brand had a right to file suit in Italy, Diet Prada was merely covering the news using a tone adapted to the medium of communicating on Instagram utilized by most of its user base — including the designers in question: "Therefore, it is inevitable that, sometimes, the tone used is colorful and deliberately provocative, as has always been the one used by Stefano Gabbana himself."
(Gabbana's social media presence is cited earlier in the claim as well. Posting the screenshots of his exchanges with critics, the defense writes, cannot be covered by authorial protection "both due to the absolute lack of originality and due to the certain lack of confidentiality deriving from the chosen medium.")
In the original suit, according to the defense claim, Dolce & Gabbana argues that, through its constant posts about the brand, Diet Prada cost the company valuable celebrity partnerships with people like Kim Kardashian, Katy Perry and Cardi B, and that Diet Prada engaged in "media bullying" by posting negatively about stories written by Suzy Menkes and Vanessa Friedman.
In its claim, Diet Prada maintains that the brand and its designers did that themselves: "What was stated by the counterpart only confirms that many celebrities once sympathizers with the Dolce & Gabbana brand have considered it morally correct to distance themselves from positions that they believed they did not share and with which they did not want to be associated — in this specific case statements by the fashion house perceived as racist that were only denied with statements that appeared to many to be a mere facade," it reads.
Such heavy financial damages are perhaps intended to at least intimidate, if not silence, Diet Prada and its LLC, THEDIETSODA, an independently-run company with few revenue streams. It's a tactic most recently leveled against Gawker by Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel, who ultimately succeeded in tanking the site through funding an expensive lawsuit on behalf of Hulk Hogan, which bankrupted and permanently closed Gawker. But Diet Prada doesn't intend to stop pursuing its mission of exposing fashion's bad actors any time soon.
"For two years, I've stayed silent and carried the burden of this lawsuit on my shoulders," Liu's statement read. "During this time, the world was forced to reckon with the systemic racism in the U.S. that led to the murder of George Floyd and countless other Black lives, as well as the xenophobia that further fueled Trump's anti-Asian rhetoric in the age of COVID-19. In the outpouring of support for these communities being targeted, we all continue to see the power of solidarity and speaking truth to power."
"Diet Prada will continue to be a platform to elevate these crucial issues," he added.
Fashionista has reached out to Dolce & Gabbana for comment and will continue to update this post with any developments.