Dolce & Gabbana Is Still Paying for 'Racist' Ad That Provoked Public Outrage in China
The ad was supposed to show that '#DGLovesChina' -- it failed in spectacular fashion
Bloomberg, BBC, npr and other reporting
From the red carpets of Hollywood award shows to the catwalks of Paris and Milan, where throngs of photographers chase Instagram-worthy shots of actors, pop stars, and style bloggers sporting the latest look, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Versace, and other luxury brands -- except the one missing Dolce & Gabbana label.
The iconic Italian brand is still struggling to overcome a backlash that erupted in November over a marketing video intended for the Chinese market. What’s followed is a boycott on the mainland that threatens to snuff out one of fashion’s biggest names, co-founded by Stefano Gabbana, who has offered a public apology.
The damage hasn’t been limited to China. At both the Golden Globes and the Oscars, where in previous years Sarah Jessica Parker, Scarlett Johansson, and other top talent stepped out in opulent Dolce & Gabbana gowns, no A-lister dared to risk alienating fans by donning the label. “They basically offended an entire country,” says Leaf Greener, a stylist and fashion consultant based in Shanghai and Paris. “Who wants to associate with that?”
In mid-November, Dolce & Gabbana, the Italian luxury fashion brand, launched three short videos on the Chinese social media network Weibo to promote its upcoming Shanghai runway extravaganza, dubbed "The Great Show," on Nov. 21.
The videos feature an Asian woman in a lavish Dolce & Gabbana dress attempting to eat pizza, spaghetti and cannoli. With Chinese folk music playing in the background, a Mandarin-speaking voiceover kicks in: "Welcome to the first episode of 'Eating with Chopsticks' by Dolce & Gabbana" — pronounced incorrectly on purpose in a way that mocks Chinese speech.
The male voice proceeds to mansplain how to "properly" eat the dishes. "Is it too big for you?" mocks the voiceover when the woman doesn't know what to do with the gigantic cannoli. "Let's use these small stick-like things to eat our great pizza margherita," he instructs in another video.
"That's explicit racism," one person commented on Weibo. "D&G's stereotyping China. [The videos] only show the brand's outdated view about China."
D&G removed the viral videos from Chinese social media within 24 hours of posting them.The drama was not over yet, though. An apology was also posted on D&G's official account, saying both accounts had been hacked and "we have nothing but respect for China and the people of China," — though Gabbana's history of offensive comments meant his excuse be viewed with skepticism.
Furthermore, it seemed the apologies came too late. That afternoon, D&G announced that the Nov. 21 show was canceled. Posts with the Weibo hashtag #DGTheGreatShowCancelled have been read 870 million times.
“The influencer economy is so powerful, and they are increasingly demanding that brands reflect their lifestyle and values,” says Elspeth Cheung, a brand valuation director at Kantar Millward Brown’s BrandZ unit. Cheung says young Chinese shoppers have become more and more proud of their country’s recent prosperity. “Brands need to make sure that their communication either supports or at least doesn’t go against the China dream,” she says.
In the scandal’s wake, social media comments have quipped that D&G now stands for “Dead and Gone.”