Update: D&G has this afternoon issued an apology. See "Dolce & Gabbana releases Weibo video apologising to 'every Chinese person in the world'"
Dolce & Gabbana continues to attract flack for racism in China following a two-stage debacle relating to its first fashion show in Shanghai, The Great Show, which has now been cancelled.
In the latest turn of events Andrew Keith, the president of Lane Crawford, a retail firm with stores selling designer goods in Hong Kong and China, says the group will drop D&G from all stores in China, online and in Hong Kong, taking effect at 1pm today. Lane Crawford is the latest retailer to take action, following others including Alibaba, JD and Yoox Net-a-Porter, who have all dropped the brand from their websites.
Experiential marketing agency APAX Group is reported to be one of the agencies who worked with D&G on the show. The agency specialises in live activations and fashion and 'premium' events, and is the strategic partner of Shanghai Fashion Week. Client names listed on their website do not include D&G but the agency has worked with a host of other luxury names including Dior, Giorgio Armani and Hermès. Dolce & Gabbana is listed as an APAX Group client on the LinkedIn page of the agency's senior project manager in Shanghai, Gobby Hui.
Terence Chu, who founded the agency in 2000 and is its CEO, has not yet confirmed his agency's involvement in D&G's show and promotional materials, but APAX Group shared this post promoting the upcoming fashion show on LinkedIn on November 17:
Campaign Asia-Pacific has also learned that public relations firm Ruder Finn was one of the agencies collaborating with D&G on the show, their first project for the brand. In an email Gao Ming, senior vice president and general manager luxury practice China at Ruder Finn apologised for not being in a position to comment, saying: "Our role is China media invitation and media logistics."
Crisis advisors weigh in
Ray Rudowski, crisis planning counsellor and founder of Epic Communications Ltd, who is based in Hong Kong and formerly worked as Edelman's regional director of crisis planning and training, said of D&G's dilemma: “There’s a higher expectation among all consumers today that brands will speak for them so when something like this occurs it’s incredibly hurtful and impossible to walk-back or rationalise."
Rudowski says the company's next move should be to say less, rather than more. "They’ve apologized. I think researching the impact on the brand and consumers is critical to understanding the longer-term damage. For now, the less said publicly the better, to avoid further enflaming the situation. Privately they must start to assess the state of current relationships with various influencers and work on rebuilding that trust that was lost.”
Other brands should note the lesson that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," Rudowski advises. “This is an incredibly sensitive time in the world so it’s vital for brands to get it right before going to market with any product, service or campaign."
- Flashback to 2012: Dolce & Gabbana's brand image tarnished by discrimination protests
"I think all brands need to take note and get to know their consumers in each market better through in-depth research and engagement to avoid the possibility of something like this.”
Chloe Reuter, founder and CEO of Reuter Communications, a luxury, digital and communications marketing agency headquartered in Shanghai, also told Campaign Asia-Pacific: "It is obvious that they did not have a crisis PR plan in place and they lost valuable time. In this “insta” world brands need to move fast. They should have taken responsibility immediately and apologized."
Commenting on what learnings other foreign luxury brands might take from the event, Reuter said: "Brands must be humble, ask questions and listen to their local teams".
Charting D&G's debacle
The first furore around D&G's work in China erupted on November 18 over an advert released on Weibo and Instagram, designed to promote the designer's fashion show, due to be held on November 21. In the post and other videos, now deleted, a female Asian model in a D&G dress struggles to eat Italian food with chopsticks until she's assisted by a male narrator making comments that were interpreted as lewd and racially offensive.
The chopsticks element prompted CCTV to react in a 'corrective' post with its own (public service) advertisement aired during last year's Spring Festival Gala. Match's creative partner Sun Tao, one of the agency minds behind the CCTV PSA, said equality and mutual respect must be ensured in the creative process of mixing ideas extracted from differing cultures. The copy contains ambiguity that can be interpreted differently, he pointed out.
D&G using chopsticks as a Chinese symbol to emulate the knife and fork (representing Italy or the West in general) is actually not problematic, but he made a personal suggestion. "Suppose we can use two models at the same time: one Italian and the other Chinese. Both are curious about the food from each other’s cultures, and we can let them enjoy each other's food together at the end. Perhaps, this is one way to avoid misunderstandings."
The post was still up on Dolce & Gabbana's Twitter account until today* (see below for a version with English subtitles).
Leaving this Eng subbed vid here for anyone who wants to know why this is so offensive and racist pic.twitter.com/eHdGG41XdE— c-drama tweets (@dramapotatoe) November 18, 2018
The campaign was labelled racist by Chinese social media, and was widely criticised. Designer Stefano Gabbana added fuel to the fire by getting into an exchange of insults in private messages on Instagram with another Instagram user who then posted the exchange in public, showing that Gabbana had referred to "China Ignorant Dirty Smelling Mafia" and said "[the advert] was deleted from social media because my office is stupid as the superiority of the Chinese", among other statements.
Dolce & Gabbana said the designer's account had been hacked, insisting in a post "We have nothing but respect for China and the people of China" but the damage was done. China’s Cultural and Tourism Department told D&G to cancel the event on November 21. D&G's China brand ambassador Dilraba Dilmurat, a 26-year old actress, withdrew from the show and posted on her Weibo account "Love you, our beloved motherland♥CN."
Singer-actor Wang Junkai, another of D&G's China ambassadors, has also announced that he is cutting ties with the brand in a statement posted by his studio on Weibo that read "The premise of cooperation lies on exchange on equal grounds and mutual respect, as well as respect for each other's culture and history. One's motherland is not to be infringed upon, and one's motherland stands above all."
*This story has been updated to include this new information: it previously read that the post was still up on Dolce & Gabbana's Twitter account.