The massive 500-Dolce & Gabbana fashion show planned to appear in Shanghai today (November 21) has been canceled.
The Italian luxury home has faced a counterattack in China over the past few days, starting with a series of advertisements posted to its social media accounts promoting the show. Users accuse trade ads on Chinese stereotypes, and the excitement only grew with Instagram's arguments apparently between Stefano Gabbana and other users which caused derogatory comments about China from the Gabbana account. (Both the Dolce & Gabbana company and Gabbana, the designer claimed his account was hacked and he was not responsible for the comment.)
In China, a number of celebrities scheduled to attend the event suddenly resigned, issued similar public statements to support China, and made this situation one of the biggest discussion topics on China's social media platform, Weibo, where controversial Dolce & Gabbana . ads are also posted. Diet Prada, the fashion industry supervisor's account on Instagram, later posted news that a Chinese agency had closed the event, while various sources reported that Chinese state media said the show was canceled.
Dolce & Gabbana has been promoting massively millions of dollars (paywall) in China, a very important market for luxury brands, accounting for about one third of all global luxury spending. This cancellation is definitely a big blow. What is less clear is whether the Chinese government has a role in triggering anger online, from celebrities or others.
Dolce & Gabbana published a post on Weibo saying the show will be rescheduled, according to the Business of Fashion (paywall). Reached to comment on whether it was Dolce & Gabbana or the Chinese authorities who decided to cancel the program today, the company did not directly discuss the matter, but said in a statement signed by Gabbana and Domenico Dolce that the show was intended as a tribute to China, to show Their "love and passion" for the country.
"What happened today is very unfortunate not only for us, but also for all those who work day and night to live up to this event," he added. "From the bottom of our hearts, we want to thank our friends and guests."
It all starts with Italian food and a pair of chopsticks
The advertisements that sparked all the controversy describe a Chinese woman using chopsticks to eat pizza, spaghetti, and large cannolo, sweet ricotta cake. He sometimes struggles awkwardly, and in the cannolo video, the narrator asks the actress who giggles in Chinese, "Is that too big for you?" Dolce & Gabbana labeled the series "Eating with Chopsticks," and marked each ad with # DGLovesChina and #DGTheGreatShow.
The reaction came quickly. On Instagram and on Weibo, people accuse ads of being outdated, insensitive, or in some cases, ordinary racists, and not respecting women. Dolce & Gabbana deleted advertisements on Weibo, even though they are still on Instagram in this article.
After that, the situation increased. On Instagram, an argument starts between Stefano Gabbana's verified Instagram account, @stefanogabbana, and @michaelatranova users about perceived racism from advertisements. At first, @stefanogabbana defended the ad, arguing that if people had problems with them, that was their problem. From there, @stefanogabbana began to say that Chinese people eat dogs, that it was not an idea to pull ads from Weibo, and use smelly emoji to describe how he would refer to China in future interviews. "Chinese Silly Mafia Smells," said one @stefanogabbana.
Gabbana posted a screenshot of the conversation with the words "NOT ME" displayed on it, and said in the caption that the account had been hacked. "I like Chinese and Chinese culture," he wrote. "I am very sorry for what happened."
Gabbana has a history of hitting on social media, and some in the fashion world are skeptical about claims that their Instagram account has been hacked. The official Dolce & Gabbana account says it has been hacked too, and it's being investigated.
The Prada Diet posts screenshots of arguments, and the story circulates on platforms such as WeChat and Weibo. "My own timeline is filled with this news at midday in Shanghai," Jing Zhang wrote in NowFashion. (@michaelatranova uploaded a post with a screenshot argument, but was eventually deleted by Instagram for violating the guidelines, according to a new post on the @ michaelatranova account. The screenshot is still available on the Prada Diet account in this article.)
Challenges in doing business in China
Chinese stars are scheduled to attend the luxurious Dolce & Gabbana show to quickly start retreating. Many issued pro-Chinese statements on platforms such as Weibo, which appeared to strengthen controversy. At one point, according to WWD (paywall), all 10 of the top search terms on Weibo were related to the scandal.
"Our mother's country is more important than anything," said Wang Junkai, a singer in the hit group TFBoys, as reported in the Guardian. "I love my mother's country," read the statement by actor Li Bingbing. "Respect is more important than anything," said another actor, Talu Wang.
Chinese celebrities are closely watched by the government, and are often the first to speak out in support of China and the government's viewpoint. They do not need to be directed to do it, but may understand that it is in their best interest if they want to continue working in that country. Earlier this year, film star Fan Bingbing disappeared for three months, only reappearing with a contemptible apology to the government and recognition of tax evasion.
Lately the Chinese government seems to have triggered nationalist sentiments, and perhaps this latest failure is another opportunity to do so. That proved to be able to trigger a stir on social media, although there is no clear evidence that this happened in this case. Of course comments posted on the Gabbana Instagram account (hacked or not) are enough to trigger genuine anger.
Whatever the case, the failure was not the first time Dolce & Gabbana provoked controversy in China. Building on this latest controversy, there is a call to boycott Dolce & Gabbana in China.
This situation highlights some of the challenges facing international brands as they try to market to Chinese buyers and do more business in the country. "Western brands that want to enter and develop in China must be aware of the sensitivity of Chinese culture," Angelica Cheung, editor-in-chief of Vogue China, told WWD (paywall). "Instead of dictating everything from the head office, they will benefit greatly from listening to the opinions and insights of their Chinese team."