As any entrepreneur will tell you, risks are a requisite part of doing business. But collaborations between celebrities and major brands are rife with potential liabilities, as, in order for a partnership to succeed, each party must maintain its appeal to the purchasing public. So, what happens to a collab when a celebrity’s brand is not only comprised, but at the center of a crisis?
This is the conundrum now being faced by Dior, which had entered into a co-branding partnership with Travis Scott’s Cactus Jack label for the entirety of its Spring/Summer 2022 menswear collection, anticipated to debut in early 2022. Following the mass casualty event that took place at Scott’s Astroworld festival on Friday, November 5—which left 8 dead, several critically injured, and hundreds more with minor injuries after a crowd surge amid 50,000 concertgoers at Houston’s NRG Park—the luxury label is faced with a moral and marketing crisis, as well as a potential major financial loss.
“It is an apocalyptic marketing turn for that brand...when you double down on this icon to Gen Z that now has effectively detonated in your face,” said Eric Schiffer, chairman of Reputation Management Consultants, to Rolling Stone, which reported:
“We’re very concerned,” says a Dior staffer who asked for anonymity. (A company spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.) The Cactus Jack Dior line has almost certainly already been manufactured, experts said, and was likely set to be shipped to stores by early January. “In supply-chain terms, these goods have to be cut six months in advance,” says David Loranger, an assistant professor of fashion marketing and merchandising at Sacred Heart University, who had a long career in luxury retail. All of the promotional material is likely already completed as well, he added.
“If you’re going to put all your eggs in that basket, then you should be prepared to own whatever comes out of that,” Loranger added. “If you take a collab partner and put their name all over a collection all over your brand, then that’s a huge risk that you’re taking as a brand. So in a risk-management sense, it’s almost not smart for brands to give collab partners too much of a footprint.”
Dior is far from the first to deal with a highly problematic fave; as noted by RS, the brand still currently features accused domestic abuser Johnny Depp in advertisements for its Sauvage fragrance. In the realm of more accessible fashion, Gap didn’t even appear to flinch, let alone renege on its Yeezy collaboration, even as Kanye West became increasingly inflammatory amid his ill-fated 2020 presidential run. Both of these examples illustrate an increase of the already well-established pattern of marketing over basic morality, as the companies in question seemingly simply adjusted their value system to accommodate the talent in question.
That said, neither of the above instances included a mass casualty. Accordingly, several experts would advise Dior to pull the plug on the partnership. As brand strategist professor of marketing at NYU Stern School of Business Thomaï Serdari told RS: “This is about social responsibility and respect to the audience.”
As of Wednesday, Dior seemed to be at least subliminally leaning in that direction, as it pushed promotion of its Pre-Fall 2022 menswear collection (h/t WWD), ostensibly behaving as if Spring/Summer 2022 no longer exists. However, others suspect the fashion house may be in too deep to take the hit—and may therefore opt to risk the inevitable backlash.
“[D]o you really want to come out and promote a clothing line on Travis Scott in the next three months?” asked an unidentified music-marketing veteran (h/t RS). “You’re going to get [destroyed]...You’re gonna need crisis management; damage control.”
That same expert was among several suggesting that if brands with collabs with Scott—like Nike—can’t “shelve it or pump the brakes,” charitable contributions and product-linked donations to Astroworld victims should be offered to mitigate the fallout. It’s effectively a financial band-aid on a devastating tragedy—and a continuing message that commerce can somehow assuage unfathomable grief.
Scott’s brand partners have yet to issue statements on their plans for their partnerships with the rapper. But ironically, amid mounting lawsuits, it’s Scott’s legal team who is pushing back against “inconsistent messages” from Houston officials following the tragedy.
Travis Scott’s lawyer says there have been “inconsistent messages” sent by officials in the wake of the deadly tragedy at Astroworld Festival.
In a statement to PEOPLE on Wednesday, Scott’s attorney Edwin F. McPherson addressed what he says has been “finger-pointing” by city officials, “who have sent inconsistent messages and have backtracked from original statements” regarding Friday’s events.
“Houston Police Chief Troy Finner was quoted in the New York Times as saying ‘You cannot just close when you got 50,000 and over 50,000 individuals. We have to worry about rioting, riots, when you have a group that’s that young,’ “ McPherson continued. “Yet, just a short time later, Chief Finner states the responsibility to stop the show falls on Travis.”
During a press conference on Wednesday, Finner asserted that local officials did not have the power to end Scott’s performance, even after the situation in the crowd became dangerous. “The ultimate authority to end the show is with the production and the entertainer,” he said.
The police chief later added that he didn’t want to “point fingers” until the investigation was complete.