Dolce & Gabbana Finds Itself Out of Fashion in China

Thom Weidlich 11.29.18


Italian fashion designer Dolce & Gabbana has been whacked with a brand crisis in China, one that arose from its efforts to expand in that country. The tale is a cautionary one about cultural sensitivity amid globalism and about a tepid response that just didn’t cut it.

The problems started with a social-media ad campaign to promote the company’s Nov. 21 Shanghai fashion show dubbed “The Great Show.” The promotional campaign featured an Asian model trying to eat Italian food (pizza, cannoli, and spaghetti) with chopsticks. Critics labeled the effort “disrespectful and racist.”

Then, from co-founder Stefano Gabbana’s personal Instagram account, came offensive and racist comments about the situation, such as complaints about the “China Ignorant Dirty Smelling Mafia,” according to Time.

Chinese celebrities called for a boycott of Dolce & Gabbana and e-commerce sites removed its products. Several celebrities canceled their participation in the fashion show, according to CNBC, and Dolce & Gabbana eventually canceled it.

“This is a big brand crisis,” Tulin Erdem, a professor of marketing at NYU’s Stern business school, told CNN. “Sometimes brands do recover … but on a scale of 1-10, [this is] really high up.”

Company Response

So how did the company respond?

It removed the video ads and said its and its founders’ Instagram accounts had been hacked.

On Wed., Nov. 21, the day of the canceled show, Dolce & Gabbana posted an apology on its Twitter feed: “Our dream was to bring to Shanghai a tribute event dedicated to China which tells our history and vision,” it said. “It was not simply a fashion show, but something that we created especially with love and passion for China and all the people around the world who loves [sic] Dolce & Gabbana.”

Then on Fri., Nov. 23, it posted a video of founders Gabbana and Domenico Dolce (pictured) apologizing in Italian with Chinese subtitles.

“Our families have always taught us to respect the various cultures in all the world and this is why we want to ask for your forgiveness if we have made mistakes in interpreting yours,” Dolce says.

‘Sorry’ in Chinese

At the end, they say, in unison, “sorry” in Chinese (duibuqi).

The incident is obviously a big deal at the company. For at least a week after Nov. 21, it posted no promotions of its products on its Twitter feed — only apologies about the China situation.

Yet, many didn’t find the apologies sincere. “You don’t love China, you love money,” Chinese-French model Estelle Chen wrote on Instagram, according to CNN. Others reacted similarly.

Dolce & Gabbana is going to have to work hard to make up for this incident. The crisis shows that, even with global markets, one ignores local culture at one’s peril.

Photo Credit: Dolce & Gabbana via YouTube

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