Dolce & Gabbana has never been a fashion house that shies away from controversy.
Stefano Gabbana has repeatedly voiced opinions on social media seemingly without regard for the brand. From insulting celebrities, openly opposing same-sex adoption and referring to IVF babies as “synthetic”, the brand had yet to polarize its allegiance of loyal fashion fiends.
That was until recently when Gabbana insulted one of the world’s largest luxury fashion consumers. The brand had planned an extravagant show in Shanghai, China dubbed, ‘The Great Show’. It was to have 300 runway looks, 140 performers and 1,400 industry insiders as an audience. The show was designed to cater and strengthen one the brands most significant markets. China represents 30% of the group’s revenue and the brand said that they had spared no expense in creating ‘The Great Show’.
What happened hours prior to ‘The Great Show’, not only cost the brand cancellation fees but will also have long-term effects on the reputation and sales of D&G.
Read below for the full timeline of events.
Tuesday 20th November: Tonedeaf Ad Campaign
In preparation of the highly anticipated show, Dolce & Gabbana released three teaser ads that played out on their social media channels. They were supposed to show two different cultures colliding but instead were called out for hugely missing the mark and appropriating Chinese stereotypes.
All three clips had the same concept, a model sits down to eat with chopsticks, only to find that they can’t pick up the Italian cuisine with them. The brand was automatically called out on social media for perpetuating stereotypes of Chinese women.
After a strong outpour of anger at the stereotypical and demeaning video, it was removed from the Chinese social media account Weibo.
Wednesday 21st November AM: Private Messages
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As @dolcegabbana prepares to mount their next runway show in Shanghai this coming evening (7:30PM) and the rest of Instagram fawns over what’s sure to be an overly lavish “love letter” to China, we’ll be wondering if we’ll see chopsticks as hair ornaments, take-out boxes as purses, or even kimonos misappropriated as Chinese costume. Time will tell. For now, we’ll let y’all simmer on this DM between Stefano and Dieter @michaelatranova (chronology is reversed in slides). Word has it that they’re still in the process of model casting (over 200 Asian girls scheduled)…wouldn’t let them walk the show if we were their agents lol. Also, curious what the Chinese government will think of their country being called shit basically…especially considering how strict they are on who to allow to enter the country on work visas based on a thorough social media background checks. • #DGTheGreatShow #DGlovesChina #runway #fashionshow #cancelled #racism #dolceandgabbana #altamoda #rtw #dgmillennials #stefanogabbana #shanghai #chinese #china #wtf #dumb #lame #asianmodel #asian #dietprada
On the Wednesday of the Dolce & Gabbana show, the fashion world woke to a series of leaked messages on notorious blog Diet Prada. Diet Prada boasts close to 1 million followers on Instagram and is known for calling out brands that copy other designs without crediting the original concept. They have continually advocated against Dolce & Gabbana and their various outspoken attacks.
The leaked messages were between Gabbana’s personal Instagram account and Michaela Phuong Thanh Tranova, who had approached Diet Prada with a screenshot of these messages. The interaction between the two was blatantly racist after Tranova questioned Gabbana about the stereotypical undertones in the recent ad campaign. Gabbana reacted with a slur of unwarranted stereotypes including saying Chinese people “eat dogs” and “China Ignorant Dirty Smelling Mafia”.
After the leak, the shocking messages started to trend throughout the day of the show. The hashtag #boycottdolce was dominating Weibo, China’s most popular social media site.
Wednesday 21st November PM: Cancelling the Show
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You saw it here first! What an interesting few hours spent wreaking havoc on @dolcegabbana ’s ill-fated #DGTheGreatShow while sitting on our couch juuling and eating gelato (not with chopsticks) lol. Thank you to @michaelatranova @helenatranova @anthxnyxo for sharing their DMs and to all the Chinese Dieters who furiously updated us with translations by the minute. For anyone that believes their account was actually hacked, see slide #2 of Stefano reposting the same DM on his stories before shit hit the fan. Oh the irony of him loving to cry “fake news” and promptly dishing it out himself via his and the brand IG account. Check our story highlight “#DGTheShitShow” for the full recap. • #DGTheGreatShow #DGlovesChina #runway #fashionshow #cancelled #racism #dolceandgabbana #altamoda #rtw #dgmillennials #stefanogabbana #shanghai #chinese #china #wtf #dumb #lame #asianmodel #asian #dietprada
According to WWD, popular actress Zhang Ziyi was one of the first stars to say she will no longer be attending the show posting on her Weibo account that, “Starting today, Miss Zhang and her team will not buy and use any D&G products.”
Within the hour singer Wang Junkai along with actors Li Bingbing, Chen Kun, Diliraba and girlband Rocket Girls 101 also joined in the protest. Chinese actor-singer Huang Xiaoming wrote on his official Weibo account, “the motherland is first.”
Estelle Chen, a model who walked in the recent Victoria’s Secret runway show, posted an Instagram message making her stance clear. “China is rich yes but China is rich in its values, its culture and its people and they won’t spend a penny on a brand that does not respect that,” Chen wrote.
China Bentley modelling agency revealed that 24 models they represent would now join the boycott after seeing screenshots of Stefano Gabbana’s interaction. It was also rumoured that a majority of models and backstage help were already at the venue before walking out.
Friday 23rd November: Brand Apology
After supposedly lengthy conversations with the brands PR team, D&G came out with an apology video the following days. The video is spoken in Italian with subtitles in Mandarin and shows Stefano sitting solemnly next to Domenico as they issue excuses for the racist and hurtful messages sent from one half of the design duo.
They posted three apology posts on Instagram the evening of the show but instead of owning their actions and heartfully apologizing for the damage caused, they blamed the entire mishap on a hacking incident. The excuse says that both the D&G account and Stefano’s personal account were hacked at the same time. An unlikely, yet not impossible explanation.
The Aftermath Faced by Dolce & Gabbana
Dolce & Gabbana has managed to avoid repercussions of their past racist, sexist and xenophobic comments. The duo’s sales were up last year even with the rise of conscious consumers realising their buying power in this social climate. But, angering one of the most powerful nations in the world has had instant consequences for the brand.
A series of large retailers in China and globally have stopped selling Dolce & Gabbana including JD.com, Tmall, Y-closet, Secoo and Net-a-Porter. Andrew Keith, president of luxury department store Lane Crawford, is quoted by the South China Morning Post as saying:
“With respect to our customers, we have made the decision to remove Dolce & Gabbana from all stores in China, online and in Hong Kong”.
Local news outlets have also reported that there has been an influx of D&G returns.
The anger from the Chinese public caused demonstrators to target the Dolce & Gabbana store in Shanghai, plastering the storefront with the alleged screenshots of Gabbana’s Instagram conversation. Chinese students in Italy also held a small protest in the flagship store of Dolce & Gabbana in Milan.
In a time where social media has the ability to make or break a brand or individual overnight, it is surprising that Gabbana had no regard for the implications his actions would have on his brand when sending these messages. Although history says that it is possible that Dolce & Gabbana may be given the benefit of the doubt and will once again bounce back from this.
However, it is certain that the after effects of these messages and tone-deaf ad campaign will continue to stir emotion and anger in China, but the long-term effects remain to be seen.