Italian luxury fashion house Dolce & Gabbana (D&G or 杜嘉班纳 dùjiā bānnà) has called off a high-profile catwalk show in Shanghai after sparking a good deal of anger over a culturally insensitive ad and a string of messages from its co-founder Stefano Gabbana that many Chinese found extremely racist.
The controversy started on November 17 when the brand posted three promo videos on Weibo and Instagram, featuring a Chinese model who uses chopsticks to eat a pizza, a cannoli, and spaghetti. There is a male voice-over saying things like “Let us show you how to use this little tool that resembles a stick to eat our great Margherita pizza,” and of the cannoli, “Is it too big for you?”
Critics said that the ad campaign shows no respect to Chinese culture and perpetuates stereotypes about the look of Chinese women by choosing a model with squinting eyes and long black straight hair. “It boggles my mind that an Italian brand thinks it has the authority to teach me how to use chopsticks,” a Weibo user wrote (in Chinese).
Facing criticism on the Chinese internet, D&G took down the video on Weibo less than 24 hours after its upload, but as of this writing, the offending videos are still up on D&G’s Instagram account: 1, 2, 3.
The backlash against D&G intensified after Diet Prada, an Instagram account known for calling out questionable tactics in the fashion industry, shared what appeared to be a private conversation between Stefano Gabbana and the fashion writer Michaela Phuong.
Judging from the exchange, Stefano Gabbana thought it was a “stupid” decision for his office to delete the ad, because the video is actually a tribute to China. “If the Chinese feel offended by a girl who spells pizza or pasta with chopsticks means that those Chinese feel inferior…and then it’s a problem not ours!!!” he wrote, adding that he would describe China as a country of “????????????????????” in future interviews.
Gabbana added a comment: “China Ignorant Dirty Smelling Mafia.”
Infuriated by the insulting remarks, an Instagram user contacted D&G in an attempt to stop it from being “cheap.” In response, the person in charge of the brand’s Instagram account wrote, “Ni Hao stupid bye. Eat dogs bitch im block you.”
Two hours later, D&G published a statement on Instagram, saying that the dialogue was the result of malicious hacking.
“Our Instagram account has been hacked. So has the account of Stefano Gabbana,” it wrote. “We are very sorry for any distress caused by these unauthorized posts. We have nothing but respect for China and the people of China.”
Following the brand’s announcement, Stefano Gabbana also created a post denying that he made those derogatory comments about China.
This is the second time a D&G ad campaign has ended in controversy: Last year, a marketing campaign featuring images of China that many people felt made the country look backward sparked anger on the Chinese internet.
D&G had scheduled a fashion show in Shanghai on Wednesday. After the controversy erupted, it was canceled by the local authorities. Many Chinese celebrities also announced their withdrawal from the show. Some went further and terminated their collaborations with the brand. The management of Wáng Jùnkǎi 王俊凯, teen singer from the popular band TFboys, wrote (in Chinese) on Weibo, “The premise of our collaboration is equal exchanges, mutual respect, and appreciation of my cultural heritage. My country is above everything.”