Hacked account or not, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, in particular, have a history of hitting out with controversial words
The first of two: apology by Dolce & Gabbana posted on Instagram
Note: this post contains what some readers may consider offensive language
It was supposed to be a spectacle, but it quickly descended into a debacle. Italian brand Dolce & Gabbana has cancelled a headlining, 500-look, one-hour-long fashion show in a 20,000 square meters space in the Shanghai Expo World Museum that was supposed to open at 9 o’clock this evening (forty-five minutes before the scheduled start, they posted what is presumably a backstage clip on their FB page). This came after the online circulation of screen shots of a shared IG post in which Stefano Gabbana, in a chat with one Michaela Phuong (reported to be a fashion business student), was widely considered to have insulted an entire nation when he allegedly wrote, “the country of 💩💩💩💩💩 is China” (recalling Donald Trump’s comment on African countries) and “China Ignorant Dirty Smelling Mafia”.
Known as 杜嘉班纳 (dujiabanna) in China, the brand had earlier already upset Netizens after three 40-sec promotional videos were posted on Weibo (they are still on Dolce & Gabbana’s IG and FB page at the time of this posting) that showed a Chinese model, dressed like a tuhao (土豪 or uncouth rich), using chopsticks to eat Italian food—pizza, pasta, and cannolo—with difficulty. This bad light was compounded by a male Chinese narrator pronouncing the names of the two designers as “Dols and Gaberner” and calling chopsticks 小棍子形状的餐具 (xiao gunzi xingzhuang de canju). Little, stick-shaped eating implements! Admittedly, there’s nothing funny or charming about the videos, ironically hashtagged #DGLovesChina. Whether timed to provoke or generate interest, this came not long before what was to be the brand’s The Great Show.
DG on IG: screen grab of the first video of three that Dolce & Gabbana posted on their Instagram page
Dolce & Gabbana responded with an IG apology, considered by Weibo users to be insincere. Understandable since it sounded like it was written by a lawyer than someone banging on bigotry’s door. Why, we had thought, was there no in-person daoqian [apology] for something of this magnitude? Dolce & Gabbana explained that their IG account had been “hacked”. Convenient an excuse, no doubt. To be sure, the veracity of the alleged disparaging chat was not ascertained and Ms Phuong (if she exists) did not say if she knows the two Italian designers personally and explain why she was chatting with one of them that led to the offensive comments. If Dolce & Gabbana’s social media account was hacked so that the hacker could put the brand and its designers in bad light, does that mean that they have more haters than Dolce & Gabbana imagined?
Controversy involving words that should not have been said or sent is not new to Dolce & Gabbana. Increasingly, provocative proclamations put the brand and duo in the news rather than the flamboyant clothes. There was the 2015 spat with Elton John that resulted from the two calling IVF babies “synthetic”. And, in June, there was Mr Gabbana’s fan-enraging online remark about Selena Gomez: “she’s so ugly”. Last year, reacting to those who expressed their dismay at the two designers for enthusiastically willing to dress Melania Trump, the brand released, somewhat arrogantly we thought, a USD295 T-shirt emblazoned with #BOYCOTT DOLCE&GABBANA, which is still available in their online store.
A little too late: Dolce & Gabbana reaching out via IG the second time in a couple of hours
Culturally insensitive social media images, too, seem to be their forte. The present videos came after last year’s spring/summer images tagged “DG loves China” that Chinese Netizens thought belittled their homeland with a “stereotypical” depiction of a place that fashion stars such as Sun Feifei and Liu Wen call home. In the ads, models in flashy clothes and ridiculous head and eye wear pose with locals that appeared to be less privileged and sophisticated, and in settings that suggested third-tier cities instead of those such as Shanghai or Beijing (ironically the city in which the ads were shot), where the inhabitants are more likely to be Dolce & Gabbana customers.
Anger with the latest videos is understandable too. Dolce & Gabbana had picked a gangly model who, for most Chinese, is not mei (pretty) enough to front a major campaign targeted at them. As one former marketing head who had worked in China told SOTD, “the Chinese view beauty very differently from the West. What is beautiful to D&G may not be so to the Chinese. For that matter, what is clever to the Italians may not be clever to the Chinese.” To make matters worse, the model was made to handle chopsticks in a manner that the Chinese from young would have been told is never acceptable. If that wasn’t enough, the narrator asked suggestively, when she tried eating the unusually large tubular canollo (a sweet Sicilian pastry), 对你们来说这是太大了吗？(dui nimen laishuo zheshi taida le ma). Is this, to you, too big?
Actor Huang Xiaoming was not ambiguous about where his loyalty lies. Photo: Huang Xiaoming/Instagram
The outrage came fast and furious. Dolce & Gabbana first reacted by removing the videos from Weibo. Then came those remarks. It was just too late to reverse course. Public outcry was so serious and palpable that The Great Show, said to be the largest in the brand’s 33-year existence, had to be called off. The cancellation (as first reported), then postponement (later corrected, but no one is certain which is correct since Dolce & Gabbana have not responded to media queries) came when celebrities due to attend and models due to participate had pulled out unequivocally. Models and actors alike took to social media to express their disapproval and dismay, with many expressing clear support for the 祖国 (zuguo or motherland). The China actor Huang Xiaoming, also Tissot ambassador and London, Paris, and Milan Fashion Weeks regular, posted succinctly on his official IG account, “祖国第一！毫无疑问 (zuguo diyi! haowu yiwen).” Motherland first, no doubt.
Were the Chinese over-reacting? Or, crucially, were Dolce & Gabbana over-reaching? Did the Italians think their brand of Eastern exotica and taste-dubious visual and video communication would charm the Chinese? Did they really consider themselves so culturally superior that they could teach the Chinese how to 起筷吃饭 (qikuai chifan)? That in the land of chopsticks, the people had to be schooled on how to “lift a pair of chopsticks to have a meal”? Or, is the fashion design community of Italy so tone-deaf that they ignore the attention they have drawn to the delivering of messages that ignore racial, cultural, and religious sensitivities, such as those by compatriot Gucci?
Silent night: not a soul on the women’s floor at Dolce & Gabbana, ION Orchard. Photo: Dawn Koh
Earlier this evening, we dropped by at Dolce & Gabbana, ION Orchard to see for ourselves if the China fiasco had any impact on the consumption here. It had been hours since the indignation on Weibo, and it is not immoderate to assume that people here, apathetic as they can be, had an inkling of what happened and may be disconcerted enough to avoid the store if they were not inclined to say something in disapproval. On level one, a few men—tourists we assume since they spoke in a different language—were browsing. Upstairs, where the women’s wear and accessories are offered, it was as silent as a churchyard at sundown.
It isn’t clear yet what brand damage this fallout will cost Dolce & Gabbana or what losses will be incurred in the cancellation of the show (the last dispatch on the show that we read before we hit the sack: it was “cancelled by the Cultural Affairs Bureau of Shanghai”). According to reported estimates, the brand, in 2016, enjoyed 30% of total sales in the Asia Pacific region—China alone has Dolce & Gabbana stores in 25 cities. Boycott is now the rallying cry in dealing with the foolish, unthinking duo. Or could a higher road be an option? As one SOTD follower commented, “Aiya, they’re just a couple of angmo bengs; they don’t know any better.”
Photos (except where stated): Dolce & Gabbana/Instagram