Italian luxury brand Dolce & Gabbana has postponed a fashion show originally set to take place Wednesday in Shanghai after the company’s advertisements and co-founder were accused of racism on social media. The announcement comes just hours after dozens of celebrities said they would boycott the event and netizens criticized the brand over screenshots and promotional videos it shared on Instagram.
The controversy began on Sunday after Dolce & Gabbana posted three videos in a series titled “Eating With Chopsticks” to their official Instagram account. The videos feature a woman using chopsticks to eat pizza, cannoli, and spaghetti, which many in China found to be a distasteful portrayal of their culture. Several social media users also said that the narrator sounded like he was mocking the Chinese pronunciation of the brand’s name.
“The videos emphasize stereotypes … The Shanghai show is aimed at making money,” one user commented on microblogging platform Weibo. “DG’s designer is really awesome, but don’t come to China for profits,” wrote another, using an abbreviation to refer to the company.
The situation escalated further on Wednesday after Instagram user Michaela Phuong Thanh Tranova shared screenshots of her private messages on the platform with company co-founder Stefano Gabbana. In the images, the designer tells Tranova that the videos are a “tribute to China,” and says: “The whole world knows that the Chinese eat with chopsticks and that the Westerners with a fork and knife !!! Is this racism ??”
But screenshots from the latter part of the conversation show the designer writing “China Ignorant Dirty Smelling Mafia,” and using a string of poop emojis to describe the country. Tranova said that Gabbana blocked her on the platform after sending the messages.
Following an outcry over the posts from social media users, invitations to Dolce & Gabbana’s “The Great Show” were rejected by more than 30 Chinese celebrities, including singer Wang Junkai, actor Chen Kun, and internationally acclaimed actress Zhang Ziyi. “The motherland is above everything,” the talent agency representing Wang said in a statement on its Weibo account, adding that the member of the popular boy band TFBoys would not be attending the show.
Amid the allegations, the designer on Wednesday said that his Instagram account had been hacked and posted an image with the words “NOT ME” written across one of Tranova’s screenshots. The company similarly claimed to have been hacked in a statement posted on its official Instagram page. “We have nothing but respect for China and the people of China,” the statement read.
This is not the first time Dolce & Gabbana has come under fire in China for its ads. Last year, the brand was accused of stereotyping China in a photo shoot featuring models in haute couture beside informally dressed locals in Beijing. Balenciaga, another luxury brand, also faced accusations of discriminating against Chinese consumers after a scuffle at a high-end department store in Paris earlier this year.
China is a significant market for global luxury brands, with the number of affluent households in the country expected to rise in the coming years. Sales for luxury goods are now bouncing back after a slump; Chinese consumers currently account for almost one-third of the global luxury market, spending 500 million yuan ($72 million) annually, according to a 2017 report by consulting firm McKinsey. China was also the world’s top importer of luxury products in 2017.
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: Screenshots from Dolce & Gabbana’s promotional videos show a woman struggling to eat pasta, pizza, and cannoli with chopsticks.)