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Luxury in China

China culture shock for D&G: a cautionary tale for all global brands eyeing Chinese market

  • I may have loved Dolce & Gabbana’s designs once, but I love my culture more
  • In a globalised luxury market, it’s the companies that navigate cultural nuances effortlessly that will survive
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 November, 2018, 6:01am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 November, 2018, 6:01am

As a 25-year-old graduate student at the Parsons School of Design in New York, needless to say, I love fashion. Growing up in a Chinese immigrant household, I wasn’t exactly encouraged to pursue the arts. “Don’t waste your time with that stuff,” my mother would nag. “Why can’t you pursue medicine or law?”

Looking back, I understand her worries. I’m second-generation American, and she wanted stability for me. But regardless of my family’s views, I was still enamoured with fashion. For me, the industry represented hope – an opportunity to pursue something outside my family’s expectations.

That’s why when I read Stefano Gabbana’s comments about Chinese people, I was stunned (“Dolce & Gabbana’s Shanghai show is cancelled amid accusations of racism in ‘Chinese chopsticks’ ad campaign”, November 21). I was shocked that the designer of a brand I once loved, one that I would religiously follow, had called my culture and community “ignorant dirty smelling mafia.” I was at a loss for words.

Within hours, international social media blew up with the issue moving from platforms like Instagram and Weibo to mainstream media like E! And CNN. Dolce & Gabbana experienced arguably its worst public relations nightmare ever.

Five more times Stefano Gabbana outraged the internet

The fashion giant quickly released a statement saying their accounts were hacked, saying they “have nothing but respect for China and the people of China.” Unfortunately for Gabbana, many, including myself, didn’t believe the lukewarm explanation.

Considering the designer has a track record of regularly insulting people via the media, the sloppy apology only confirmed my suspicions of racism.

Dolce & Gabbana founders beg Chinese people’s forgiveness

In recent years, China has proven to be a major engine for luxury fashion. Beijing’s Sanlitun for instance, a once quiet neighbourhood, is now a hotbed for luxury retail. Chinese influencers like Mr Bags sell out designer collaborations within minutes. And China has also been the host of several high-profile fashion events, like the Victoria’s Secret show in Shanghai.

Chinese consumers boycott Dolce & Gabbana after social media ‘provocation’

While many will no doubt want to cash in on this new market, brands need to learn how to respect their customers first. While I may be Chinese-American, born and raised in the States, I have strong ties to my parents’ culture. I lived in Beijing for seven years, grew up speaking Mandarin, and intentionally go by my Chinese name. I may have loved Dolce & Gabbana’s designs once, but I love my culture more.

Witnessing the brand scramble to recoup their reputation may be entertaining, but it reflects a bigger message: Chinese people are no longer blind luxury consumers who will purchase anything sloppily marketed towards them. In a globalised luxury market, it’s the companies that navigate cultural nuances effortlessly that will survive. Those who don’t – well, just look at what happened to Dolce & Gabbana.

Fei Lu, New York