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

Shoes & Accessories - - Contents -

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.

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