Dolce & Gabbana: Stick a Fork in It

Asian Shame, Race Matters: Candid Conversations on Race & Culture0 comments

The Italian luxury brand, Dolce and Gabbana, is facing a billion dollar backlash from China after Dolce & Gabbana posted video clips on Instagram mocking a Chinese woman seen struggling to eat pizza, spaghetti, and other Italian foods with her chopsticks.In addition to the culturally insensitive ad, the Instagram account also had five smiling poo emojis used to describe China as a pile of excrement.

Founders Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana denied posting the remarks stating their social media accounts were hacked.  But some media critics believe otherwise.  “My initial reaction was that this is 100 percent something Stefano would say,” said Timothy Parent, a creative consultant based in Shanghai. “I wasn’t initially offended by the ads, and no one really thinks that is the main issue. The main issue is calling the entire country a pile of shit and unfairly stereotyping and extrapolating.”

The founders created an online video apology where they stated, “We will never forget this experience and it will certainly never happen again. We will respect the Chinese culture in every way possible. From the bottom of our hearts, we ask for forgiveness,” Gabbana said. The video finished with the duo saying “Sorry” in Chinese.

The apology was met with scorn and derision.  “They’re bowing their precious heads to the renminbi (yuan) then,” one Weibo user commented on the apology post.  In addition, the Italian fashion house’s products disappeared from multiple Chinese e-commerce platforms, fashion shows featuring its brand were cancelled, and scores of Chinese are even burning their once beloved Dolce & Gabbana products.

The New York Times reported that Chinese writer Xiang Kai had joined a growing social media protest, proudly burning over $20,000 worth of Dolce garb.  As Kai said, “Some people say you’ve wasted a lot of money.  I’m willing to waste this money for the nation’s dignity.”

As a Chinese-American psychotherapist who specializes in multicultural issues, what strikes me with this ad campaign is two-fold.  First is the global issue of how Asians can still be mocked and made fun of by the mainstream in the 21st century.  The other is how Dolce & Gabbana’s marketing team had the gall to release these ads without giving test audiences or focus groups a chance to weigh in.  Any Asian person will tell you that mocking them in any manner is disrespectful and would have given the founders pause.

The ad campaign ironically was aimed to court more Chinese at their products and the fashion house even planned a social campaign dubbed #DGLovesChina, which was to culminate in an extravagant Shanghai fashion show featuring around 300 models.  What Dolce & Gabbana is learning is that China is not returning the love.

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