Dolce & Gabbana: Lost in Translation

It’s not the first time Italian brand Dolce & Gabbana has shown how tone deaf and culturally insensitive they are, (there was that ad with the simulated rape and others like it) but this time Stefano and Domenico really had their ‘shit hit the fan’, with their wildly insulting and demeaning video campaign for their upcoming Shanghai show.

If you haven’t seen it, take a look below.

Earlier this week, the company released video clips that featured a Chinese model being taught to eat spaghetti, pizza and a cannoli with chopsticks, in advance of “THE GREAT SHOW” a planned extravaganza in Shanghai. Then Stefano Gabbana, company co-founder and designer, appears to have engaged in a bout of insulting name-calling (including suggesting that the Chinese eat dogs) with a critic on Instagram. Mr. Gabbana said his account was hacked. And gave birth to the “Not Me” meme.

The hacking excuse has had almost zero take up, partly due to Mr. Gabbana’s history of hitting back at any criticism of the brand on his Instagram feed.

Since the ‘caca’ hitting the fan, Dolce & Gabbana have released three statements, first saying its accounts had been hacked, then offering words of support for the people who worked on the canceled show and declarations of love for China. But it wasn’t until the end of the week that the founders officially apologised in a video in Mandarin (included at the end of this post). They seemed to have underestimated the importance of Chinese national identity while also overestimating their place in the wider fashion ecosystem.

A protest at a Dolce & Gabbana store in Shanghai on Wednesday. Credit: Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In the four days since the flare up, the brand has, in no short order:

Net-a-Porter, the luxury e-tailer headquartered in London and owned by Richemont, has removed all Dolce products from their Chinese website.

Lucky Blue Smith, a model/influencer with 3.2 million followers on Instagram who has become a millennial Dolce staple, posted a note on his account explaining his decision to skip the show that read in part, “We are all God’s children and we should all be treating EVERYONE, EVERY CULTURE with respect. I will be back to China soon — love you all so much.”

Then there was the formal apology (in Mandarin) with designers looking like naughty children brought before the principal’s office.

The lesson to be learnt here? Be careful about ill-considered direct online communication (Instagram feuds), the hazards of cultural arrogance, and how quickly an influential group of powerful Influencers can join under one banner and exact swift and powerful retribution.