BEIJING – Dolce & Gabbana scrapped a Shanghai fashion show hours before its start, after promotional videos and social-media comments touched off a furor from Chinese who saw them as racist.
In statements posted on Chinese social media, Dolce & Gabbana said it rescheduled the Wednesday evening event due to reasons it didn’t specify. It apologized for causing offense, saying it respects China, and attributed some of the problem to hacked social-media accounts.
Unmentioned in the statements were the videos that drew vehement objections online and prompted dozens of celebrities to drop out of Wednesday’s event and call for boycotts. Movie star Zhang Ziyi announced her withdrawal.
A post on her official microblog said Zhang and her team “will not buy or use” any Dolce & Gabbana product starting Wednesday.
The short videos, titled “Eating with Chopsticks” and published last weekend on Dolce & Gabbana’s social-media accounts world-wide, depict a fashionably dressed Asian woman clumsily using chopsticks to eat Italian dishes like pizza and spaghetti.
A wave of criticism built in the past few days as Chinese took to the internet to accuse the fashion label of indulging in racist stereotypes. Anger rose further as screenshots circulated of an Instagram conversation in which label co-founder Stefano Gabbana purportedly makes derogatory comments about China – remarks that Gabbana denied making and that the company attributed to a hacked account.
In response to queries, the Milan-based fashion house provided a statement signed by its founders, Domenico Dolce and Gabbana, who described the canceled event as “something that we created especially with love and passion for China.”
“What happened today was very unfortunate not only for us, but also for all the people who worked day and night to bring this event to life,” Dolce and Gabbana said.
The videos, which promoted the Shanghai show, have been removed from Dolce & Gabbana’s Chinese-language Weibo microblog. As of Wednesday evening, they remained accessible on the label’s accounts on Instagram and Twitter, which are blocked in China.
An array of Western multinationals has stumbled in the China market over remarks or marketing campaigns that jangle patriotic and political sensitivities.
Mercedes-Benz drew a firestorm of criticism and then apologized for a social-media posting that quoted the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader reviled by Beijing as a separatist.
Companies from Marriott International to Delta Airlines have come under pressure for online listings that refer to Taiwan and Tibet as separate countries; both are claimed by Beijing, though the former isn’t controlled by it.
China’s online echo chamber is also perilous for Chinese celebrities, many of whom maintain active social media accounts to court fans and endorsements. Zhang’s endorsements include Cle de Peau Beaute, a makeup and skincare line from Japan’s Shiseido, and jewelry and watch company Buccellati Holding Italia, which is owned by a Chinese company. Her high-profile decamping from Wednesday’s fashion show won applause on Chinese social media. Her publicist didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Dolce & Gabbana ran into online trouble in China last year for advertisements showing well-dressed models on Beijing streets and tourist sites next to ordinary, often poorly dressed Chinese. The images were since removed from the label’s official Chinese microblog.
For fashion houses, the Chinese shopper is a customer to court. Chinese consumers, buying either at home or on trips abroad, accounted for nearly a third of world-wide spending on luxury goods last year, according to a Bain & Co. report.
Some 1,500 guests were invited to Dolce & Gabbana’s Shanghai event, dubbed “The Great Show” and staged at the Shanghai New International Expo Center. It was to feature 360 models and more than 40 celebrities on the catwalk, according to promotional material.
Some guests invited to the Shanghai show were told of its cancellation just hours before its scheduled start. Workers were dismantling the show stage on Wednesday afternoon, one guest said.
As the fury grew Wednesday, the ruling Communist Party’s youth wing said Dolce & Gabbana had “courted abuse” upon itself. “Foreign enterprises operating in China should also respect China and respect the Chinese people,” the Communist Youth League said in a microblog post, which received more than 225,000 likes within six hours.
Adding to the anger were the alleged remarks by Gabbana in the screenshots of the Instagram conversation.
In an Instagram post later Wednesday, Gabbana published a screenshot of the offending remarks with bold red text saying “Not Me.” He apologized and said his account was hacked, adding, “I love China and the Chinese culture.”
A company statement on Chinese social media issued a similar apology, saying “We have always loved and respected China and Chinese culture.” Dolce & Gabbana said the Instagram accounts belonging to the label and Gabbana had been hacked, and the company is pursuing “legal means” to resolve the matter.