D&G has to learn from lack of style
- The Italian luxury firm has been accused of racism by Chinese and criticised for a culturally insensitive advertising campaign that has sparked a boycott of its products
The metaphor that the customer is king is tired and overused, yet still as accurate as the day it was first uttered. That is especially so in China, where consumers are increasingly driving the economy, picking winners and losers. The Italian luxury firm Dolce & Gabbana should have been knowledgeable about such matters, being global in reach and a darling among celebrities and young professionals. But its mainland market is now shaky after a storm of protest online over racism accusations against the fashion line’s co-founder, Stefano Gabbana, and an advertising campaign viewed by some as culturally insensitive.
Gabbana should have been aware of the power of Chinese consumers, who have a record of punishing companies, particularly foreign ones, that offend, with boycotts. His company is now suffering that same fate, with online platforms promptly removing its products and upscale Hong Kong store Lane Crawford following suit in its shops. A fashion show in Shanghai was cancelled when celebrities began pulling out in response to waves of outrage at screenshots posted online claiming to have been of private conversations with the designer. They followed promotional ads for the show featuring a Chinese woman awkwardly trying to eat Italian food with chopsticks.
The incident comes at a sensitive time for Beijing, tussling with the West over trade. But the foreign ministry was quick to distance itself, saying it was a matter for ordinary people to decide. The designer and his company blamed hackers for posting racist remarks on their Instagram accounts, a line widely viewed with scepticism; the firm is renowned for its controversial ads and Gabbana is famed for his online feuds with pop stars. The company gets into so many scraps that it even markets a T-shirt that reads, “#Boycott Dolce & Gabbana”.
Still, the firm cannot avoid the importance of China, which accounts for 33 per cent of the global luxury goods market. Just like Apple and The Gap after controversies in the past, it has been quick to apologise, with Gabbana contending in his post “I love China and the Chinese culture.” It is a lesson learned, hopefully not too late.