Dolce and Gabbana’s Latest Controversy Reviewed

“What’s going on with Dolce and Gabbana?”  That seems to be a phrase repeatedly on our lips. What’s going on with Dolce and Gabbana this time may be the better question. The latest PR disaster for the brand had them cancelling their high profile catwalk in Shanghai, monikered The Great Show, after an advert for the show was met with anger as many Chinese perceived the advertisement as racist and demeaning. 

The Incident

The video featured a Chinese model attempting to eat foods such as pizza with chopsticks, a male narrator mocking her as she failed to do so. While D&G might say they were trying to have a fun blend of the Italian and Chinese cultures, both known for their cuisine, execution is often more important than intent. The narrator is condescending to the model as she fails, asking her such questions as “is it too huge for you?” Of course, there are many different ways as to why this is wrong. Chinese citizens saw it as a trivialization of their culture as well as promoting antiquated, sexist stereotypes.

still from now removed Dolce & Gabbana ad

You would think that that’s bad enough for an entire article, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. After the initial backlash, Stefano Gabbana took to Instagram to express his views. Now deleted, comments were posted from Gabbana’s personal as well as D&G’s official account ridiculing China and the Chinese resistance to the campaign online. Brand officials declared all of the comments the result of a hack, and not stemming from Stefano or any D&G team member. Whether or not that is the case is certainly up for debate, as it seems to be a nifty catch-all for anytime someone posts the wrong thing online. Regardless, DietPrada also released racist DMs sent from Stefano Gabbana’s account, where he equated China to — well — the poop emoji.

@dolcegabbana

Dolce & Gabbana’s History

Speaking of the poop emoji, this isn’t the first time the Italian house has stepped in it. Not eighteen months before, the brand faced backlash for a video shot in Beijing that painted the city as impoverished. Gabbana himself has caused controversy on more than one occasion with his online comments towards other brands and celebrities. He’s called singer Selena Gomez ugly and given Victoria Beckham the thumbs down emoji. Chrissy Teigen has spoken out against the brand and her refusal to wear D&G after the designers made cruel comments on babies born via IVF, a fertility treatment, which Teigen herself underwent to have her daughter Luna. When influencer Chiara Ferragni wore Dior couture on her wedding day, Gabbana commented “cheap.” Chiara’s one word reply after this incident? “Karma.”

Chiara Ferragni wears Dior on her wedding day. Courtesy Dior

Is this karma? Are the proverbial chickens coming home to roost for the brand? It’s hard to be sure. It’s been said time and time again that the internet has a short memory. That’s fair enough. With 24/7 access to global news, it’s easy to get swept up in the constant tailspin and forgive “lesser” evils. Particularly so when it gives us an excuse to buy something cute that would otherwise go against our morals. On the other hand, what goes on the internet stays (somewhere anyway) on the internet, ready to be revived at the next indiscretion.

Impact

Whether D&G will be forgiven for this latest snafu in the future is not certain, but they are certainly feeling the impact of their choices in the present. As we’ve written about before, China leads the world as the biggest consumers of luxury goods. Angering the people you should be courting is bad for business. After the initial backlash, Chinese models and influencers who were originally projected to attend the show dropped out and declared their boycott on the brand before the show was officially canceled. Immediately after, D&G had security posted at their stores in China for fear of backlash. 

Police and security posted outside D&G storefronts in China following incident courtesy WWD

But that isn’t where the real threat lies. Chinese e-commerce sites such as Alibaba and Net-a-Porter began to scrub Dolce and Gabbana products from their sites. Lane Crawford removed all the brands goods from the ten physical stores on top of their e-commerce site. This is no joke. In the latest global survey, China is predicted to account for 46% of the world’s luxury sales by the year 2025. If Dolce & Gabbana are scrubbed from the stores, and minds, of Chinese shoppers, that translates to a major plummet in sales.

The Future of D&G

So, how can the brand reform their image? They’re handling of this incident was clumsy, to say the least. After taking multiple days to take down the original offending video, and an impersonal written statement, Dolce and Gabbana themselves put out a personal video statement where they said they loved China. But we aren’t sure that’s enough. Will The two namesakes stay on? Or will a well-loved designer take over the brand to right the ship. Other brands have seen success with this in the past. Maybe a more efficient move is to make a break from the Gabbana, who seems to be the face of the brand’s social issues. Dolce estate is the majority owner of the company, so perhaps a buyout is the cleanest way to try and move on.

Dolce and Gabbana publish an apology video @dolcegabbana

Then again, roughly only two weeks later, the brand held its successful Alta Moda show in Milan. The Italian Renaissance-themed event was met with a standing ovation. Dolce & Gabbana were on home soil, which makes a difference, but it does pose important questions. How many people can a company isolate before they are met with irreversible consequences?

Dolce & Gabbana pay homage to the Italian Renaissance at their Alta Moda show in Milan. Courtesy Dolce & Gabbana

What are your thoughts? Is there a best mode of operations when it comes to resolving this conflict. And what can other brands take away from this incident in regards to cultural sensitivity? Let us know what you think in the comments!

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