Sense and Cultural Sensitivity
Fallout from the controversy has been swift and harsh. Celebrities called for a boycott; Chinese e-commerce sites pulled D&G products from their virtual shelves; the brand canceled a major fashion show in Shanghai that the video ads were designed to promo
In November Italian luxury fashion house Dolce Gabbana posted a series of short video advertisements on social media. The first video featured a Chinese model in a sequined red dress trying to eat pizza, not without failing, with chopsticks. Stereotypical Chinese music plays in the background as she pokes at the pizza with chopsticks, a narrator chimes in patronizing fashion says that she shouldn’t attempt to use the chopsticks as knives, instead the chopsticks should be used as pliers.
In the follow-up videos the same model is seen trying to eat a cannoli and a bowl of spaghetti. At one point, the narrator appeares to mispronounce the brand’s name, which some interpret as a dig at the way Chinese people pronounce “Dolce & Gabbana”. The backlash came in swift on Chinese social media, with thousands of Weibo users complaining that the videos were racist and insulted Chinese culture.
The blunder was compounded when screenshots were circulated online of a private Instagram conversation, in which designer Stefano Gabbana makes a reference to “China Ignorant Dirty Smelling Mafia” and uses the smiling poo emoji to describe the country. The company blamed hackers for the insults, but there was no taker for the explanation and the damage already was done.
Fallout from the controversy has been swift and harsh. Celebrities called for a boycott; Chinese e-commerce sites pulled D&G products from their virtual shelves; the brand canceled a major fashion show in Shanghai that the video ads were designed to promote. Finally, its co-founders Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana went on camera to apologize to the Chinese people.
Gabbana is heard saying, “We will never forget this experience, and it will definitely never happen again.” “We have always been in love with China,” Dolce says. “We love your culture and we certainly have much to learn. That is why we are sorry if we made mistakes in the way we expressed ourselves.” Many see the sharp public backlash and the apology video as the importance of the Chinese market, and more broadly, it highlights the huge and still-growing influence of the Chinese market which spends over $7 billion each year on luxury goods, nearly one-third of the global market.
It’s not the first time the company has done this. Several years back, Dolce found himself on the defensive after Elton John lashed out for comments that suggested he did not support gay couples using surrogate mothers to have children. More than 67,000 tweets urged people to boycott the brand, while Courtney Love, Curt Cobain’s widow, vowed to burn her Dolce&gabbana garb and Martina Navratilova pledged to trash her D&G shirts. While Gabbana, who has 1.6 million Instagram followers, faced another backlash earlier this year when he responded to a collage of Selena Gomez photos on Instagram with the comment, She’s really ugly.