Benetton has severed decades-old ties with creative director Olivier Toscani over insensitive remarks regarding the fatal 2018 Genoa bridge collapse.
The Italian company, known for its colourful knitwear and provocative advertising campaigns designed by Mr Toscani, said it could not continue the professional relationship.
The photographer had told RAI television earlier this week: “Who cares about a bridge collapse?”
He was responding to public criticism over a photograph of founding members of the “Sardines” political protest movement alongside key members of the Benetton family, which controls the company that maintained the bridge.
The president of the committee to remember the 43 people who died on August 14 2018 in the Morandi Bridge collapse called the remarks “inopportune and confused”.
“It could be that (Mr Toscani) travels by helicopter, and using a bridge is for commoners,” Egle Possetti said.
“Unfortunately, many Italians travel over bridges every day, and unfortunately some people will remain forever under ‘that bridge’, certainly not due to some stray lightning strike.
“Forty-three innocent deaths count little for him, but for us they were everything.”
Mr Toscani apologised in an interview with La Repubblica, saying: “I am sorry. More: I am ashamed to apologise. I am humanly destroyed and deeply pained.”
But the damage was done.
Benetton said in a statement that the group and its chairman Luciano Benetton “completely disassociates itself from Mr Toscani’s remarks and acknowledges the impossibility of continuing the professional relationship with its creative director”.
It added that “Luciano Benetton and the entire company renew their sincere closeness to the families of the victims and to all those who have been involved in this terrible tragedy”.
The Benetton family, as controlling stakeholder in the Autostrade company that maintained the Morandi Bridge, has been embattled ever since the accident as the government squabbles over whether to revoke its agreement to operate thousands of kilometres of Italian toll roads.
The photo showing the founders of the Sardines movement alongside the Benettons was widely criticised as a misstep by the less than three-month-old protest group.
Since its founding in November, the group has mobilised tens of thousands of people to protest against the growing popularity of right-wing leader Matteo Salvini.
The leaders said their appearance in the photo, at the Benetton cultural centre Fabrica, had been “naive”.