D&G is still struggling to win back China

by | Oct 21, 2021 | Fashion | 0 comments

Three years after ad controversy, D&G is still struggling to win back China
Published 16th June 2021
Pedestrians walk past an Italian luxury fashion house Dolce & Gabbana store in Shanghai. (Photo by Alex Tai/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Credit: Alex Tai/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

Three years after ad controversy, D&G is still struggling to win back China

Chinese consumers have neither forgiven nor forgotten Dolce & Gabbana.
Almost three years after the luxury fashion brand was dragged into a race row over a series of controversial ads — and offensive private messages allegedly sent from co-founder Stefano Gabbana’s Instagram account in response — D&G appears to still be a label non grata on Chinese social media.
Over the weekend, Hong Kong pop singer Karen Mok came under fire on social media for wearing a D&G cloak in the music video for her new song, “A Woman for All Seasons.” The backlash was swift, with a hashtag about the incident viewed 490 million times on Chinese microblogging site Weibo as of Thursday.
Karen Mok wearing D&G in her music video “A Woman for All Seasons.”
Karen Mok wearing D&G in her music video “A Woman for All Seasons.” Credit: Karen Mok/Vevo/YouTube
Users criticized Mok for insulting China, with one calling her a “two-faced person who comes to the mainland to make money.” And while others defended the singer, her studio Mok-a-Bye-Baby-Workshop released a statement Monday saying that it “checks all partner brands” but had “neglected to conduct an in-depth investigation” on this occasion.
“We apologize and hope to be forgiven by the public,” the statement read. The music video has since been purged the from the studio’s official channels. “I am truly sorry for being reckless this time. I have no excuse. My team and myself are definitely in the wrong here,” Mok later told reporters.
Chinese model: Dolce & Gabbana ad campaign ‘almost ruined my career’
The backlash only added to D&G’s woes in mainland China, where a series of controversial promotional videos released in 2018 continue to affect the brand’s reputation. The ads, which were posted ahead of a Shanghai fashion show, depicted a Chinese model struggling to eat pizza, cannoli and pasta with chopsticks.
Set to a soundtrack of stereotypical Chinese music, the videos featured a patronizing Mandarin voiceover instructing her how to eat the Italian dishes. At the time, D&G apologized for the videos, and said they were “unauthorized” posts. But the ads were berated online by many social media users as racist and disrespectful of Chinese culture.
A still from Dolce & Gabbana’s 2018 advertisements, starring model Zuo Ye.
A still from Dolce & Gabbana’s 2018 advertisements, starring model Zuo Ye.
Matters worsened for the brand when screenshots of private messages on Instagram appeared to show D&G co-founder Stefano Gabbana responding to the ad controversy with a series of derogatory remarks about China and Chinese people. Alleged screenshots, which circulated on social media — and were posted to Instagram by fashion watchdog account Diet Prada — showed messages, allegedly sent from Gabbana’s account, describing China as “the country of…” before a string of excrement emojis.
At the time, D&G said that Gabbana’s — and the label’s — accounts had been “hacked.” The Italian designer denied sending the messages. The brand this week declined to comment on the incident or any other aspect of this story.
Deserted by ambassadors
The fallout from the 2018 incident was immediate. Social media users filmed themselves destroying D&G products and mentions of the brand surged by 2,512% on Weibo, according to a report by research firm Gartner. The brand’s Shanghai fashion show was canceled just days later, and its products were pulled from Chinese ecommerce sites. Gartner reported that D&G went completely dark on Weibo for over three months.
Dolce & Gabbana cancels China show amid ‘racist’ ad controversy
Chinese models and celebrities, including popstar Karry Wang, terminated their contracts with D&G en masse, while “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” actress Zhang Ziyi said via her studio that she would never buy or wear the brand again. Hong Kong actress Charmaine Sheh was later criticized online for simply liking one of the brand’s Instagram posts. Zuo Ye, the model who starred in D&G’s controversial 2018 videos, meanwhile said that her career had almost been ruined and that she, her family and her agent had “received lots of attacks and threats online.”
The brand has not signed a major mainland Chinese name since the incident. For a 2020 Chinese Valentines Day campaign, it used a combination of White and CGI models, dubbed “virtual idols.” And although hiring Chinese celebrity ambassadors and influencers could represent a way to regain trust in the country, it would be “career suicide,” according to Shaun Rein, founder and managing director of China Market Research Group.