The crisis now looks set to impact its home European market as well – not just Greater China which accounts for about one third of its global sales. There have been boycott calls on social media from afar afield as Europe and Canada, customers have been returning D&G goods to department stores and one person even publicly burned his D&G collection.
The headline of a New York Times article sums up the Italian fashion brand’s predicament precisely: “The Crash and Burn of Dolce & Gabbana: Racism and arrogance about China has imperiled the brand.”
It told the story of Xiang Kai, a Shanghai-based director and writer, a one-time fan of the brand, who set fire to more than US$20,000 worth of Dolce & Gabbana products, and posted photos online.
“The purpose of burning my clothes is to awaken the Chinese people and the Chinese nation,” he said. “Some people say you’ve wasted a lot of money. I’m willing to waste this money for the nation’s dignity.”
The furore started with a series of ads described as pandering to racists stereotypes, featuring a young Chinese model being taught to eat spaghetti with chopsticks. You can see one of them below:
It may have seemed a mild transgression to many in the west but the ads drew swift response, not only from China but from Asians in other countries as well.
“I am Japanese. I am very angry with the behaviour of Asian contempt. I will support China.,” wrote one person commenting on the video above.
“Wow dolce [sic], you treat Chinese people with this type of racist image when they bring more than 33 per cent revenue to your company. I will never buy this brand again. Boycott from Canada,” wrote another.
The “arrogance” tag refers to subsequent comments on the Instagram account of co-founder Stefano Gabbana, who has since claimed that his account was hacked. Among racist comments posted were references to Chinese people eating dogs.
Few people believe that claim given his track record of attacking celebrities with tweets in the past. Victoria’s Secret model Estelle Chen accused Gabbana of being “a coward” for using the hacking excuse:
The Dolce & Gabbana China crisis carries a lesson for brands which will no doubt be referenced for years to come.
“Someday this still escalating debacle may form the body of a new industry fable, one with a moral about the dangers of ill-considered direct communication, the swift retribution of the crowd and the hazards of cultural arrogance,” observed New York Times writers Vanessa Friedman And Sui-Lee Wee. “But right now the story’s most striking revelation is what happens when a history of playground-bullying online meets the economic force of the fastest-growing, most important and very autocratic luxury market.”
The fallout was swift and serious last week – and far from mitigated by a video of Gabbana and his co-founder Domenico Dolce apologising to the Chinese people with duly solemn faces.
By the end of the weekend, the damage done by the pasta movies was devastating.
Richemont-owned Yoox Net-a-Porter had removed D&G products from its site. Hong Kong-headquartered Lane Crawford had removed the brand’s stock from sale at its stores, following similar moves online by Tmall, JD, Secoo and NetEase Kaola.
The Shanghai fashion event the videos were produced to promote was cancelled after celebrities announced they would boycott it. And the brand’s ambassadors in the region, Karry Wang and Dilraba Dilmurat, ended their contracts with the company, according to Bloomberg.
The New York Times reported Vogue China’s editor Angelica Cheung wrote an email, describing the D&G protest as “a wake-up call”.
“A 1.4 billion population is for sure a huge consumption power, but if you don’t get it right, hundreds of millions of people voicing their outrage on social media is a powerful force, hard to ignore.”