Dead & Gone?

The past few years have been replete with controversy for Dolce & Gabbana. Remember, for example, when Stefano and Domenico stated that gay couples shouldn’t be allowed to adopt children, or that IVF and surrogacy (a.k.a. a "rented uterus") also went against nature. You’d think that Stefano would have some sense and save any lewd commentary until after The Great Show in Shanghai. Better yet, he should’ve kept his mouth shut altogether.

According to Vogue, the show was intended to be an hour-long tribute to Chinese culture, featuring over 300 looks and 140 performers. Around 1,400 guests were expected to attend. However, the drama on social media, where entropy reigns, inevitably forced the show to be cancelled.

It all started with a vapid ad. The video, featuring a Chinese lady trying and failing to eat Italian food with chopsticks, was posted on the brand's social media accounts, including the Chinese platform, Weibo. Beyond any incongruent play on cultural stereotypes, the ad is just plain stupid, subsequently spurring endless debates through the night.

Comments on social media started teeming, shaming the reckless representation of Chinese heritage. But it wasn’t so much the video that caused outrage. Screenshots sent by Stefano were forwarded to popular fashion watchdog, Diet Prada, which ultimately triggered many.

One message read, “It [the video] was deleted from Chinese social media because my office is stupid as the superiority of the Chinese.” Stefano then went on to write, “From now on all the interviews that I will do international I will say that the country of *poop emoji* is China …. and you are also quiet that we live very well without you. China Ignorant Dirty Smelling Mafia.”

Stefano has denied that he sent these messages, asserting that his personal account and the official Dolce & Gabbana account were both hacked.

People were quick to brush off his weak and shifty defence. The screenshots were shared tirelessly online, and there were calls for a potential boycott. In defence of their country, Chinese models and performers began to announce their departures from The Great Show, and soon enough, the whole thing tanked. Even Vogue China’s editor-in-chief, Angelica Cheung, wasn't having it, as she promptly flew back to Beijing.

In a lengthy post on Instagram, Victoria’s Secret model, Estelle Chen, noted, “You [Dolce & Gabbana] don’t love China, you love money," highlighting the brand’s popularity amongst Chinese buyers.

For many designers, China’s booming economy makes it an attractive market for retailing luxury goods. So when selling techniques serve as a reflection of misinformation and a vital lack of understanding, it’s detrimental not only to the consumer’s well-being but also to the brand’s international esteem. It is in itself a form of diplomacy.

Dolce & Gabbana may very well attest that their campaign was supposed to pay homage to China, using hashtags like #DGLovesChina and #DGTheGreatShow, but the response discredited any frivolous admiration. The Chinese audience felt the videos were mostly awkward and a mockery of their country. What has happened in this instance is an essential lesson for CEOs and business owners across the world. Cultural sensibility is critical when it comes down to maintaining any semblance of trust and integrity.

That said, the Chinese market, in particular, is a complex one given the extent of government control. The country doesn't shy away from nationalist ideologies, and its citizens are well aware of the compliance required when promoting national and cultural unity. While they aren’t compelled to do so, it’s somehow expected, intrinsically, for their own good.

The debacle concerning Dolce & Gabbana almost seems to manifest this consciousness, as demonstrated by the celebrities who opted out of the show.

It’ll be interesting to see how the brand may thrive in the wake of global disdain.