On Saturday, November 18, 2018, D&G released a post on China’s social media platform, “Weibo” to promote its upcoming runway show in Shanghai on November 21st.
Ad for Dolce & Gabbana – Courtesy of Elle magazine, July 2018
In that, and related videos, a young Asian model in a red sequin D&G dress appeared to have trouble eating Italian foods such as pizza, pasta and a cannoli with chopsticks. In the video featuring the cannoli a male narrator asks the model, “Is it too huge for you?” This was wrong-headed and tasteless to say the least.
THIS CAUSED AN UPROAR
Almost at once, this video was labeled racist and disrespectful. The anger spread so quickly that Dolce & Gabbana deleted the post less than 24 hours after its release. But that did not calm down the angry crowd. On Weibo, “Boycott Dolce” was discussed over 18,000 times. Some users asked that an apology be issued – in both Chinese and English.
WHY WAS IT VIEWED AS RACIST?
First: the look of the Asian model – tiny eyes and a childish smile – a typical Oriental type that is understood in Western culture. Second: the Chinese cultural symbols (like lanterns) in the background were outdated. Third: the subtitle described “chopsticks” as a “small stick” while the Italian food was “great and tasty” – this made many people feel the brand is arrogant about its cultural roots.
THIS WAS NOT D&G’S FIRST TIME
Unbelievably, this was the second time that Dolce & Gabbana got into trouble over how it presented China in an ad campaign. In April 2017 their “DG Loves China” campaign that featured Beijing showed only underdeveloped parts of the city and impoverished residents. It ignored the more modern scenes of skyscrapers and stylish citizens.
HOW DOES ALL THIS AFFECT D&G?
In her column of 12/1/18 in the Financial Times, Jo Ellison described D&G this way. “The designers have long prided themselves as being “outliers” who operate outside the laws of the luxury world. Moreover, they are privately owned and therefore free of corporate leadership. Gabbana, in particular, is a very ripe tomato, quick to weigh in on social media.”
BUT D&G SAID THEY “WERE SORRY”
No doubt they are very sorry indeed. The Greater Chinese market accounts for one-third of all luxury spending, and therefore a very sizeable slice of D&G’s $1.3 billion annual revenue. Ellison notes that, “the duo has cultivated a highly personal mode of business; to be a friend of Dolce & Gabbana is to be part of the “famiglia.”
“The designers’ openheartedness is an essential part of their brand DNA. But so is their tempestuousness. Gabbana can be quick to ire and will often contact me directly if he doesn’t like something he reads,” adds Ellison. (This statement really surprised me.)
Domenico Dolce and his colorful creations – Photo courtesy of Elle magazine, July 2018
HOW MUCH DAMAGE HAS BEEN DONE?
A number of major retailers in China have dropped the label, including Tmall, JD.com and Secoo – these are vital to foreign brands looking to make inroads into China. And, the damage isn’t restricted to China: Luisa Via Roma, a retailer based in Florence has already ditched the brand.
And what happened to the fashion show in Shanghai? It was cancelled after some of the runway models walked out.
“THINK GLOBAL, ACT LOCAL”
This is an astute piece of advice from St. Laurent CEO Francesca Bellettini when asked about global expansion and the best way for a brand to handle it. CLICK HERE TO SEE MORE ABOUT THE VIDEO.
GUCCI IN THE NEWS: In February 2019 Gucci presented images of a sweater ($890) that sparked intense backlash. The company issued an apology and confirmed that it had been removed “from our online store and all physical stores.”
This ad for Gucci appeared in Vanity Fair magazine in October 2018 – the sweater was called “racist” or “Haute Couture Blackface”
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