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- 18 Oct 2011
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Is Managing Reputation Becoming Unmanageable?


John Galliano at Dior, before anti-semitic remarks made in a Parisian bar, cost him his creative director title at the house

Justine Wilkie, associate at Taylor Wessing LLP, discusses the fashion industry’s recent string of reputational crises, and tells us why the brand’s response must be swift and decisive.

A brand’s reputation is critical to its success, no matter what industry it operates in. However, for luxury brands especially, reputation is key. Whether the brand is known for the flawless quality of its products, its impeccable service or the opulent experience it can offer to clients, to maintain an aura of prestige and exclusivity, it must consistently sustain an unimpeachable reputation. If it fails, it risks losing the brand’s goodwill, which may have taken many decades to establish.

The fashion industry in particular has recently fallen foul of a number of reputational crises, the most high-profile of which being the removal of John Galliano from his role as Creative Director of Dior following allegations of racist outbursts in a Parisian bar. Having been appointed in 1996, Galliano’s name was synonymous with Dior. His removal was relatively swift, but the negative press persisted until he was finally found guilty and sentenced in September of this year and continues now sporadically. It is impossible to quantify the damage done to Dior at this early stage, but it is yet to appoint Galliano’s successor.

 Once something has been posted on the Internet and then re-disseminated, it can be impossible to regain control 

Smaller incidents can also be damaging, particularly with the growth of social media. Recent examples include anti-fur campaigners flooding Coach’s Facebook page with graphic photographs of caged animals, Versace de-activating its Facebook page after activists posted messages demanding that it stop using sandblasting on its jeans (a technique which has been known to kill workers) and Topman withdrawing two t-shirts and apologising after customers took to Twitter and Facebook in protest that the t-shirts were sexist and compared women to dogs. Bad publicity spreads quickly on the Internet, and once news is out, it can be difficult to stop.

Given the importance of reputation to luxury brands, in the event of a crisis, the brand’s response must be swift and decisive. In certain circumstances the best approach might be to take no action at all, to avoid adding fuel to the fire. An overly aggressive approach can sometimes create additional negative publicity rather than deflect it.

However, allowing damaging allegations to spread can be disastrous – once something has been posted on the Internet and then re-disseminated, it can be impossible to regain control. Accordingly, a quick response can neutralise, or at least minimise, any negative publicity. Where inaccurate allegations are levelled at a brand, it will need to consider whether to seek corrections, apologies and undertakings from the publisher.

 Reputation management must be an on-going consideration for luxury brands and should be at heart of any business strategy 

Sometimes, an attack on the brand’s reputation will come from an anonymous attacker on the Internet – in those circumstances, steps should be taken to have the content removed expeditiously and, if appropriate, to obtain the identity of the attacker through legal channels.

It is not only crisis situations, which require a brand’s attention. Reputation management must be an on-going consideration for luxury brands and should be at heart of any business strategy. Whether it’s a PR strategy for maximising positive publicity or legal action in relation to inaccurate and damaging allegations, investing in protecting a brand’s reputation is money well spent. The success of a luxury brand depends greatly on the public image of the brand itself and its leading individuals, the protection of which a brand cannot afford to ignore.


Justine Wilkie is a member of international law firm Taylor Wessing’s Fashion & Luxury Brands team, whose clients include luxury brands such as Burberry, Dior, LVMH and Tiffany & Co. Justine works closely with PR advisors to protect both corporate and individual’s reputations.