A boycott of luxury hotels owned by the Sultan of Brunei, who has in effect declared homosexuality punishable by death, is forcing an awkward schism between fashion royalty and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, aka Prince William and Kate Middleton.
Glossy magazine editors, womenswear retailers and super models are coming under increasing pressure to boycott hotels in the Dorchester Collection, owned by the Sultan's sovereign wealth investment agency.
It follows the Sultan's recent decision to impose Sharia law, which poses a threat not only to homosexuals, but also to women in Brunei, who could now be stoned for committing adultery or for becoming pregnant if they're not married.
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With the fashion world currently camped in London for the menswear collections, and moving on to Milan tomorrow, the American Human Rights Campaign (HRC) yesterday pumped up the pressure with an open letter urging more people to back the boycott.
“The simple truth is that profits from these hotels belong to a regime that could start stoning women and LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] people as soon as next year,” said the HRC. “It’s our hope that if you’re travelling to any of the fashion shows in Europe over the next two months, please send a message to the Sultan and take your business elsewhere.”
The boycott has been led by Stephen Fry, Sir Richard Branson and – perhaps more crucial to the fashion world - US Vogue editor Anna Wintour and Francois–Henri Pinault, chief executive of the Kering group, which includes such brands as Stella McCartney, Gucci and Alexander McQueen.
The first establishment to suffer is the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles. According to the Evening Standard, the hotel has lost $2 million in the past month due to cancelled bookings and events, including last week's Women in Film cocktail party thrown by the womenswear giant Max Mara. This had to be moved to the Chateau Marmont "after several invitees made it plain they would not cross the threshold".
In Europe, The Dorchester itself, on London's Park Lane, is not considered a fashion destination. But others in the Dorchester Collection definitely are – especially Le Meurice in Paris and the Hotel Principe di Savoia in Milan.
As the New York Times reports, Anna Wintour will not be staying at Le Meurice for haute couture week in July. "While I am sensitive to the potential impact that this issue may have on the wonderful staff at Le Meurice," she said, in a display of diplomacy that explains why she was a hot tip back in 2012 for the US embassy in Paris, "I cannot in all good conscience stay there, nor can Vogue's editors."
More immediate is the prospect of a boycott of the Hotel Principe di Savoia in Milan, where the menswear shows begin this week. As fashion blogger Charlie Porter told the Standard, "Il Principe is where everything happens… It's where everyone goes for a nightcap, to do deals, to get the gossip… In somewhere like LA there are so many other places to go but in Milan Il Principe is really the only place."
Porter added: "I really hope people take a moral stance, but it's going to be very interesting to see it it happens."
Indeed it is. Not least because among those ignoring the boycott are the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
William's father, Prince Charles, is an old friend of the Sultan's, whom he invited to his son's wedding. Both William and his brother Harry played polo last month at Cowdray Park, the West Sussex ground owned by the Dorchester Collection. More important, Kate did not feel the need to boycott her cousin Adam Middleton's wedding in the penthouse at the Dorchester.
The Daily Mail reported a source saying: "The wedding was a big boost for the hotel. It shows that the royals will not let the Brunei business keep them away."
Crispin Black argued in a recent column for The Week that it is time for Britain to cut its ties with the Sultan. "Let’s just remind ourselves about Sharia law," he wrote. "The following is considered criminal behaviour, punishable by fines, jail, chopping off of limbs, public whipping or death by stoning: absence from Friday prayers; becoming pregnant out of wedlock; converting to Christianity; refusal to wear a hijab; the use of the word ‘Allah’ by Christians; publicly eating or drinking during Ramadan; theft; homosexuality; and adultery."
Cindi Leive, editor of Glamour magazine, which is backing the ban on Dorchester Collection hotels, said: “This is about basic human rights. No hotel is nice enough for that.”
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