- Kourtney Kardashian and Travis Barker's Italian wedding heavily featured Dolce & Gabbana.
- Wedding pros told Insider it was a "sponsored wedding," and a good opportunity for the brand.
- Mingling marketing and marriage is becoming more common despite mixed reviews, wedding pros say.
Kourtney Kardashian and Travis Barker tied the knot for the third time in less than two months on May 22, and it, unlike their other two celebrations, has wedding insiders and the public asking a big question: Was the big day sponsored?
The duo previously married in a Las Vegas wedding and courthouse nuptials in Santa Barbara, California, but this destination wedding felt more impactful in that it included their nearest and dearest. The couple invited their immediate families, respective children, and close friends to Portofino, Italy, for the ceremony, according to People.
Not long after their wedding pictures surfaced did speculation arise online: the event appears to lean heavily on outfits and decor by luxury Italian fashion house Dolce & Gabbana. With other designers going unmentioned, the digital consensus was that the wedding was sponsored by the brand.
Signs of a potential branded partnership obviously included the fashion: the bride wore a corseted, white, micro wedding dress while the groom opted for an all-black suit, both Dolce & Gabbana designs, according to Vogue. What's more, the entire Kardashian clan, from Kris Jenner to Kylie Jenner's 4-year-old daughter, Stormi Webster, donned Dolce & Gabbana for the big day.
It wasn't just clothes — the lavish wedding took place at Villa Olivetta, a home on Dolce & Gabbana's Portofino estate, Insider previously reported.
Despite appearing to be heavily involved in the entire spectacle, Dolce & Gabbana team refuted the label of sponsorship. In a statement provided to Business of Fashion, representatives for the brand described the involvement as such: they "hosted" the nuptials. Representatives for Dolce & Gabbana did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.
What no one disputes, though, is that the Dolce & Gabbana brand cashed in on Kardashian and Barker's wedding — and wedding industry pros are weighing in.
'Sponsored weddings' are nothing new, wedding industry pros say
She told Insider that she first came across the concept in 2004. She described it as a time when "social media wasn't the currency it is today," so sponsored weddings were primarily a function of celebrity weddings.
She said that since then, she's seen a massive boom in the popularity of sponsored weddings, with a considerable uptick in the past five years thanks to the rise of social media influencer culture.
"Couples assume they deserve free products and services because of their reach," she said. That goes for wedding line items like photography, decor, beverages, and, of course, clothes.
Ely cited examples including Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Nick Jonas, who she said "made headlines for sponsoring portions of their own wedding."
It made the news. The couple shared overt references to products such as Amazon's registry services and Elit Vodka in posts in the lead-up to their multi-day wedding in 2018. According to Vox at the time, these partnerships sparked public chatter around the couple's decision — and some "snark."
Ely called Paltrow's approach "clever." By sharing every last wedding detail through the long-standing wellness website, Paltrow not only advertised herself but also name-dropped the brands she worked with on the day.
But not every sponsored wedding is so obvious. Event planner Alison Laesser-Keck, founder of Alison Bryan Destinations, explained that while she's also seen more sponsored celebrity weddings in recent years, many couples are savvy about how they approach the brand partnerships. Some are done so subtly that the average person doesn't notice, she said.
"Some of the biggest weddings that have happened in the past couple of years, I, as a wedding planner, know were sponsored because of what it looks like," Laesser-Keck said.
While she declined to name names, she did provide some insight into how she determines whether a wedding is sponsored or not. "I can take one look at chairs at a ceremony and know if they got them for free or not," she said. "The reason is that no one with money and taste would ever choose those chairs, because they're outdated and cheap."
Having a sponsor means your wedding might lose 'personality,' Ely says
Why would a celebrity, especially one like Kardashian, whose income comes from a combination of high-earning pursuits like the family's television show, endorsement deals, and her lifestyle brand Poosh, want to sponsor their wedding? It could still come down to money.
"No money is ever enough money," Laesser-Keck said.
Typically, couples want to "offset the celebration's costs, while also potentially looking for ways to increase their own bottom line," Ely added.
With the potential financial reward of a sponsored wedding comes reputation risk, she noted. One of the biggest trends for weddings in general is how couples add personality and elements of their love story to the day. A sponsored wedding can undermine that, Ely said, noting it makes the day appear "more transactional."
"As soon as a wedding begins to feature sponsored elements, the quicker it has the potential to lose its personality," Ely said. "It can't help but take away from the sentiment and meaning of the day. Those seeking sponsorships may find they are limited in their choices, basing selections on what will be free versus what actually speaks to them as a couple."
For those living in the public eye, sponsored weddings can be smart marketing
However, sharp, marketing-focused celebrities can work it to their advantage. Julie Sabatino, the founder of wedding styling company The Stylish Bride, told Insider via email that Kourtney and Travis' wedding is the perfect example of how brands and celebrities can seamlessly promote one another. Whether you love it or hate it, Sabatino explained, people discuss it.
"The purpose for the brand is to increase awareness with a particular group of people, or to show a different perspective than what they traditionally have done," Sabatino said. "A high-profile partnership can do both and really get everyone talking."
Laesser-Keck labeled Kardashian and Barker's Dolce & Gabbana partnership a success because the couple's style aligned with that of the brand. It didn't lack personality.
"That was a smart marketing strategy on both sides," she said."Ultimately there's a difference between choosing to align with brands because you're making money and choosing to align because you believe in what the brand is."
If the couple loves Dolce & Gabbana as much as it looked like at their wedding, they would want to feel fabulous wearing their favorite designers, she explained.
Laesser-Keck said that celebrities engage in similar partnerships all the time, citing award ceremonies and red-carpet events. "I think about it like people going to the Met Gala or anytime there's any kind of stylist dressing a celebrity for the Oscars," she said.
Dolce & Gabbana gained valuable media attention with the wedding, pros say
One thing the wedding pros Insider spoke with agree on is that working with the Kardashians likely did more for Dolce & Gabbana's publicity than it did for the famous family.
Dolce & Gabbana's reputation took a massive hit in 2018, after it was accused of racism and mocking Chinese culture. The company and Gabbana later apologized and said that their social media accounts were hacked.
This came just three years after Domenico Dolce, co-founder of the brand, publicly apologized after his anti-gay marriage, anti-gay adoption, and anti-IVF remarks sparked fervent backlash from the public and high profile LGBTQ+ celebrities including Elton John, The Guardian reported.
"Companies in crisis, faced with controversial moments, typically seek ways to change the conversation about themselves," Ely said. "Aligning themselves with the Kardashians allows Dolce & Gabbana fresh headlines."
"When positioned correctly, the media impact value of such coverage can be considerable — in the millions even," she added.
Though the label's co-founder Stefano Gabbana once called the Kardashians "the most cheap people in the world," according to The Mirror, Laesser-Keck said it makes sense the company would take a turn.
"They are their original influencers," Laesser-Keck said of the Kardashians. "Why wouldn't someone want to be involved in that?"
Representatives for Travis Barker, Kourtney Kardashian, and Dolce & Gabbana did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.