November 11, 2018, the Italian luxury fashion band was planning on throwing a fashion show called “The Great Show” in the new fashion capital Shanghai. Tribute to China, posted on their official Instagram account on November 18, with the hashtag #DGlovesChina. However, the show was canceled right after the final rehearsal. It was supposed to be the biggest fashion show in Dolce&Gabbana’s 33-year brand history – 300-plus looks, 360 models, 1,400 guest-strong audience, including local celebrities and influencers. The one-hour ode to China collapsed into chaos after the brand’s controversial advertisement generated a huge social media firestorm.
(Here’s the original video)
The commercial campaign was separated into three parts and posted both on the brand’s Instagram and Weibo account with the purpose of promoting their big event in China. However, the videos became the initial spark of this chaos – an Asian model eating pizza, cannoli and spaghetti with a pair of chopsticks, with a weird-toned Chinese voiceover and a very stereotypical “Chinese” background music. The posts were interpreted as demeaning to Chinese and as inappropriate innuendoes. In the cannoli video, the male narrator asked the model in a garish tone “Is this too big for you?” In addition, the subtitle referred to chopstick as “a small stick tool” but Italian food as “great and tasty”. Some Chinese commenters thought the brand was arrogant about the nation’s cultural roots.
Michaela Tranova, a Vietnamese model posted her conversation with the brand’s designer as well as the founder Stefano Gabbana on Instagram. Soon after her posts were picked up by @dietPrada, an Instagram account that discusses the fashion industry’s dirty secrets. The account has more than 981k followers, including a decent amount of celebrity followers. The conversation soon went viral on social media.
From the screenshots, Diet Prada and Michaela Tranova posted, Stefano Gabbana called China “the country of s***” straight up. Soon after, people reposted those contents back on Weibo, the Chinese social media platform. Everyone was outraged by Dolce&Gabbana’s attitude. Approximately around 5pm, the Shanghainese Culture Affairs Bureau called off the show. In the meantime, Chinese flushed Stefano and D&G’s Instagram account with the comments like “Dead & Gone” or the emoji “💩”.
Dolce&Gabbana’s response to this huge crisis was quite disastrous and only worsened the situation.
Dolce&Gabbana’s prompt response to this incident was “Sorry our account was hacked”. Soon enough, the company’s attempt to solve the problem became another target of D&G. This is obviously a PR nightmare and beyond this point, what could the company do to solve the crisis? Victoria Secret’s model Estelle Chen accused Gabbana of being “a coward” for using the hacking excuse.
The bold red NOT ME from Stefano’s post picked up as a meme. The screen-grabs from Stefano have been made into phone covers immediately available on Taobao, the Chinese online shopping platform, for 37 yuan (approximately $5). On the show night, the Chinese model agents withdrew their models to show their “patriotism” to the country. All the Chinese celebrities invited to the show announced on Weibo that they wouldn’t attend any future Dolce&Gabbana events and wouldn’t wear anything from this brand further on.
An anonymous model told the story of Dolce&Gabbana’s cancelled Shanghai spectacle to Dazed.com. As the whole thing was becoming a full-blown social media crisis, the models were still rehearsing for the evening event. But after Diet Prada covered the story, they finally realized the show couldn’t be continued. “The Chinese models that remain are told they can walk if they want but risk their bookings from Chinese brands who’ll want to distance themselves from this as much as possible,” said the unnamed model, “A few of the girls are crying on the phone to their bookers, others are wondering what is worse; losing this show and their first shot at international recognition or being accused of being a traitor to the country that made them.” For the non-Chinese models their bookers told them they were not sure if they could be paid for the show and some of them woke up to find out they have been cancelled for other jobs in China, all brands seek to distance themselves from D&G entirely.
On the next day, the Chinese Foreign Ministry responded to Dolce&Gabbana’s alleged insult to China – but did not want to raise it to a diplomatic issue.
However, it didn’t cease the anger of Chinese people. Burning down and tearing down D&G clothes was trending on Weibo for a couple of days. Some clubs and high-end restaurants even prohibited customers dressed in D&G clothes.
Realizing how severe this problem was, the two founders of Dolce&Gabbana released an apologizing video on every social media platform on November 23.
Unfortunately, the crisis is still expanding and worsening. Boycotts to the brand are still on-going.
E-commerce company Yangmatou removed 58,000 D&G products from its website and declaring “the motherland is more important than anything else” on its social media. The damage done by the video and the racist statements made by D&G’s own founder were devastating. Net-a-Porter removed all D&G products from its Chines site. Lane Crawford, a Hong Kong-based fashion retailer, removed all the D&G stocks in stores and online, following similar moves online by Tmall, JD, Secco and NetEase Kaola.
“We believe that brands need to be aware of the cultural implications of their actions and understand the potential backlash when customers feel their values have been disrespected,” said in a statement of Lane Crawford.
Can Dolce&Gabbana bounce back from this crisis? Only time will tell…