D&G under fire in China over controversial videos, co-founder's racist messages

Decorations are under demolition at show field of Dolce & Gabbana in Shanghai on November 22, 2018. Photo: Ecns.cn

Italian luxury brand Dolce & Gabbana (D&G) has come under scrutiny in China after controversial videos and offensive private Instagram messages, allegedly sent by co-founder Stefano Gabbana, went viral on social media.

In the footage, an East Asian model was seen struggling to eat Italian dishes like spaghetti and cannoli pastry with a pair of chopsticks.

The clips feature traditional Chinese music and a suggestive voiceover from a male narrator, who asks the actress: "Is it too big for you?"

The ad campaigns triggered a huge debate on Chinese social media on whether the brand intentionally mocked the country's chopstick culture.

The videos were originally posted this week on Weibo, a Twitter-like service, and were taken down after a widespread uproar. The clips were still posted on the company's official Instagram account.

The backlash intensified after screenshots of messages sent from co-founder Stefano Gabbana's Instagram account leaked on the platform, including a message exchange that said the videos were posted "by my will".

Another message complained of a "China Ignorant Dirty Smelling Mafia," according to a widely shared screenshot.

A number of high-profile Chinese celebrities announced that they would not attend the D&G's fashion show in Shanghai on Wednesday night, just hours before it was due to start.

Among them was actor Chen Kun, who arrived in Shanghai on Wednesday morning for the event.

Actress Dilireba, who was appointed D&G's ambassador in February, said on Weibo that she would not attend.

"I am proud of the best possible motherland. The motherland is above everything else!" she wrote.

Those sentiments were echoed by singer Wang Junkai, another D&G ambassador.

"The motherland is above everything. We are deeply proud and confident about Chinese culture and spiritual aesthetics. No doubt you are the best!" Wang said in a statement.

Actress Zhang Ziyi said on Weibo that the brand was "inviting humiliation".

Hashtags such as "D&G, get out of China" and "D&G insulting China" have garnered over 2 billion page views as of press time, with users calling for a boycott of the brand.

Both Gabbana and the brand have since posted messages saying that their Instagram accounts had been hacked. On his personal account, Gabbana superscribed the words "not me" over images of the alleged comments.

"Our dream was to bring to Shanghai a tribute event dedicated to China which tells our history and vision," Gabbana and co-founder Domenico Dolce said in an emailed statement earlier about the scandal.

"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."

China's e-commerce platforms, an important retail outlet for D&G products in the country, have moved D&G products from online.

A search for "Dolce & Gabbana" on Thursday morning resulted in zero results on Tmall, a business-to-consumer online retail site operated by Alibaba Group.

Online retail giant JD.com also removed D&G items from its self-owned shops.

The shopping sites did not immediately respond to a request for comment by sino-us.com.

"The company that only wants to make money in China but doesn't respect Chinese people is doomed to go broke," the People's Daily, a mouthpiece of the Communist Party, said on its official Weibo account.

At Thursday's press briefing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said, "This incident is not a diplomatic issue essentially and the Chinese side does not wish to escalate it into one."

"Instead of asking the foreign ministry spokesperson, it is better to ask the ordinary people in China to see how they view this issue," Geng added.

The D&G's troubles come at a time when global luxury brands are increasingly dependent on China to drive growth, according to the Business Insider. The country's consumers spent over $100 billion on high-end purchases last year - almost a third of the global total.

It is not the first time that the D&G has sparked controversy in China.

Last April, the brand posted a campaign on Weibo that showed impoverished people in run-down areas of Beijing pictured with Dolce & Gabbana models ahead of a catwalk show in the city.

The pictures were criticized for choosing outdated street views as a background instead of advanced modern areas such as the financial district in the city.

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