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Dolce & Gabbana Sparks Cries of Racism with Controversial Ad Campaign

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Since rising to power, Chinese leader Xi Jinping has implemented strict anti-corruption policies that have influenced the sale of the luxury brands (i.e., those popularly used to bribe government officials). That being said, more and more high-end luxury brands are still attempting to expand their presence China, and increase their share of the largest consumer market on earth.

In fact, some brands might be trying a bit too hard, and somehow at the same time, not hard enough.

In April 2017, Italian high-fashion staple Dolce & Gabbana posted a photo collection of their “Dolce & Gabbana Loves China” campaign — in which super models posed with Chinese locals at various tourist attractions — on their official Weibo and WeChat accounts as a teaser for their upcoming fashion show in Beijing. The company promptly received backlash from Weibo users calling their depiction of China “backwards,” however, and deleted the posts from Chinese social media.

D&G’s April WeChat post was swiftly deleted

And now, history repeats itself. On November 18, four days prior to D&G’s Shanghai fashion event (“The Great Show”), a new three-video series called “起筷吃饭 Pick Up Chopsticks And Eat” was posted on the company’s official Weibo account. In the videos, a narrow-eyed model wearing a red dress and golden jewelry keeps confusingly giggling while trying to eat “the great traditional Margherita Pizza,” a cannoli and spaghetti by using “this kind of small stick-shaped tableware” — by which she means chopsticks.

 

Excuse me? In 2018, I can’t imagine a more stereotypical image of a Chinese woman from a Western perspective. The background music sounds like a celebration of Spring Festival from last century; the red lantern, round mirror, and whole outdated style remind me of Chinatown in the West.

And I’m definitely not the only one. Weibo user MANCHENGKUANGCAO viewed the ad as racist and sexist, singling out a moment in the second episode when the model can’t figure out how to pick up the huge cannoli with chopsticks, and the weird old-timey-film-like narrator asks: “Is it still too big for you?”

“I don’t like it. The whole idea of the video is mocking Asians. And it doesn’t feel like a commercial advertisement, which is supposed to promote a product, but rather a joke about Asian stereotypes and chopsticks,” says Lisa Qin, a literature PhD candidate.

Zhang Zhe, a 30-year-old HR professional, shared her feelings with RADII:

“Firstly, isn’t the model exactly the stereotype of us in Westerners’ eyes? Secondly, what is the point of using chopsticks to eat pizza? Are they meaning that chopsticks are not convenient? And I cannot tell what the point of the whole ad is. All in all, I don’t feel comfortable with it.”

Of course there are different angles from which one can view this very confusing fashion campaign. Xue Qiao, a young screenwriter, views it as an aesthetic experiment, telling RADII:

“It is very Western. I think they did it on purpose by de-familiarization, which means to see something familiar from an external viewing angle. The colors, the music and the narrator’s tone are all ‘the Orient in Westerners’ imagination,’ including her acting and the aesthetics. So I don’t feel uncomfortable, because all of the dimensions are in harmony.”

Xue might make some sense by giving an artist’s explanation. However, as a promotion with the hashtag #DGLovesChina, it failed. The videos have already been deleted, since Chinese netizens were immediate in expressing their outrage about “discriminating and insulting Chinese.” There still are some comments on Weibo asking for an official apology from D&G, some of which even @’d the Communist Youth League Central Committee’s Weibo account for support. Karry Wang, the leader of pop boy group TF BOYS and a spokesman for D&G, is also fielding mentions from his many fans.

“The Great Show” will take place in Shanghai today anyway. Afterwards, D&G’s survival in this “exotic” market will likely be a challenge.

[Editor’s note: Hoo boy, while editing this article, a series of alleged DM’s from D&G co-founder Stefano Gabbana, in which he espouses some shockingly racist attitudes, have come to light on Instagram. Naturally these DM’s, which include the phrase “China Ignorant Dirty Smelling Mafia,” found their way to Weibo almost immediately, and people are not happy:]

“I commented, ‘If you really love China then learn more about our culture.’ And this guy DM’ed me with, ‘Fuck you’..” – Wo You Ge Mi Mi Ya

Many users are tagging the Italian Embassy and government authorities in Shanghai:

[UPDATE Nov 21, 2018, 1:30pm]: Stefano Gabbana has just taken to Instagram to deny responsibility for the leaked DM’s, writing: “My Instagram account has been hacked. My legal office is working on this. I love China and the Chinese Culture. I’m so sorry for what happened.”

In any case — can’t imagine tonight’s event will go very well for Dolce & (especially) Gabbana, but we’ll update this post as the situation develops…

[UPDATE Nov 21, 2018, 4:00pm]: Lots of reports flying around on Chinese social media that D&G’s Shanghai show has now been cancelled. Also, that “Not Me” in red letters has predictably become a meme, with Chinese models across the industry jumping on the chance to portray themselves as outraged:dolce gabbana china racistOne more update, for now: D&G have issued a statement, though not exactly the sort of grovelling apology foreign brands usually go for in these kinds of situations:

dolce gabbana racist chinaUpdate, Friday 23 November: D&G’s founders have finally put out a proper apology. More on that, plus some of the fall-out (including a CD Rev diss track!) right here:

Chinese Retailers Remove Dolce & Gabbana Products as Dairy Queen is Sucked into Backlash

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Fan Shuhong
    Shuhong (aka Rita) is a language instructor, English/Chinese translator, writer, and proud bunny owner based in Beijing. She's previously worked in Washington D.C. and IUP at Tsinghua University. She loves Chinese language, Japanese arts, post-rock music and good English TV series. Instagram: rita_van