No strangers to controversy, fashion brand Dolce & Gabbana has stirred up anger on social media in China ahead of a big-budget Shanghai event.
The brand recently deleted a series of videos from its Weibo account showing a Chinese model attempting to eat Italian foods with chopsticks while a male Chinese narrator mispronounces the brand name in the background. Still posted to the brand’s Instagram, the videos are flooded with thousands of comments criticizing them for being disrespectful and racist.
With founders known for incendiary statements and no investors to answer to, the brand has seen multiple scandals in the United States and Europe over the years. It also angered Chinese web users in April 2017 over a Beijing photo shoot that web users criticized for making the city look economically undeveloped. The backlash to the photos was so severe that the brand removed them from its Weibo account.
It bounced back from that scandal quickly, however, thanks to its enlistment of top Chinese celebrities as brand ambassadors. The brand received 41% of all Weibo engagement among fashion labels tracked in Gartner L2’s Digital IQ Index: Luxury China between May 2017 and April 2018 despite its photo shoot disaster.
This engagement was not coming from discussion of the controversy, which was drowned out by the popularity of the brand’s China brand ambassadors Wang Junkai of the boy band TFBoys and actress Dilraba Dilmurat. Both of them walked the runway at its Milan Fashion Week show, and posts mentioning these ambassadors generated 97% of the brand’s total Weibo engagement over the time period.
Dolce & Gabbana is not the first luxury brand to face online backlash this year. In April, Balenciaga had to issue a public apology on its Chinese social media accounts over a video that surfaced online, which claimed to show mistreatment of a Chinese third-party “daigou” seller at its Paris store Triple S sneaker launch. The brand went dark on Weibo for four months after it issued its apology.
In contrast, Dolce & Gabbana remains unapologetic for now and continues to drive hype for its upcoming Shanghai fashion event, which is being livestreamed on Weibo on November 21. While the offending videos have been deleted, the brand is promoting the show on social media featuring a range of celebrities including current brand ambassadors, top Chinese fashion bloggers, and newly minted pop stars from China’s hit “idol-making” TV shows Idol Producer and Produce 101, all of which are known to generate massive engagement.
It’s yet to be seen whether Chinese celebrities will help the brand dodge the wrath of China’s web users this time. Dolce & Gabbana is not the territory of Balenciaga yet: while the hashtag “boycott Balenciaga” received 36.7 million views and 26,000 comments on Weibo, the hashtag “Dolce & Gabbana get out of China” is at 946,000 views and only 288 comments so far, with “boycott Dolce & Gabbana” at only 215,000 reads. In the end, its China sales results will be the final judgement.
UDPATE (11/21): It looks like the brand isn’t going to dig its way out of this one: China’s Cultural and Tourism Department canceled Dolce & Gabbana’s show a few hours before it was supposed to air. The agencies for the brand’s celebrity ambassadors Wang Junkai and Dilraba Dilmurat have both terminated their contracts with Dolce & Gabbana, while other top Chinese celebrities have vowed to boycott the brand. The hashtag #DG show canceled# is now the number four trending topic on Weibo, while eight of the top 15 top trending hashtags are related to the controversy. Screenshots of anti-China comments from Stefano Gabbana’s Instagram username have also been posted online, and the brand has claimed on Instagram that his account was hacked.