“Dolce & Gabbana is facing a major crisis in China where top e-commerce sites are dumping its products over accusations of racism,” CNN reported on Friday. “The backlash against the Italian luxury fashion brand began earlier this week after it launched video ads featuring a Chinese woman struggling to eat pizza and other Italian food with chopsticks” ahead of the brand’s scheduled runway show in Shanghai.
According to the New York Times, the brand "abruptly canceled the fashion show,” as the situation escalated when offensive comments that were sent from co-founder Stefano Gabbana's personal Instagram account began to surface online, including on the China-specific social media site, Weibo, as Western social media sites are blocked on the mainland. Other media outlets have suggested that it was the Chinese government, not D&G, that was responsible for the show’s cancellation.
In the wake of the cancelled show and still-mounting consumer fury, retailers, such an luxury e-commerce giant Yoox Net-a-Porter, and China-specific platforms, Alibaba and JD.com, have begun dropping the Italian design brand from their lists of stocked brands. Another Chinese retailer, Yangmatou, confirmed in a social media post Wednesday that it had removed 58,000 D&G products from its site. Lane Crawford, a Hong Kong-based retailer with several outlets in China, also revealed that is is putting a stop to the sale of D&G goods in stores and online after its customers started returning them.
Beyond the third-party backlash, the brand, which was founded in 1985 by designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, has gone into face-saving overdrive, asserting that Mr. Gabbana’s Instagram account – where the racist comments originated – was hacked and issuing multiple clarifications and public apologies. According to a statement put out by the brand this week, “Our Instagram account has been hacked. So has the account of Stefano Gabbana. Our legal office is urgently investigating. We are very sorry for any distress caused by these unauthorized posts. We have nothing but respect for China and the people of China.”
“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,” Mr. Gabbana wrote on his personal Instagram account.
Still yet, Dolce & Gabbana’s communications office has taken to threatening legal action against highly-followed social media users that have labeled its founders and the brand as a whole as racist. In cease and desist letters seen by TFL, Dolce & Gabbana’s reps have demanded that any and all “false information” be removed from a handful of users’ accounts in order to alleviate the need for legal action, presumably defamation-centric lawsuits. Of course, the brand’s ability to successfully make such defamation or false light claims in court (as opposed to merely threatening legal action) assumes that there is not any truth to the statements made, since truth is an absolute defense to assertions of defamation.
The entire fiasco “could prove an expensive blunder,” per Reuters. “Closely held Dolce & Gabbana is widely reported to have notched up $1.5 billion in revenue in the year to March 2017. If the proportion of Chinese sales approximates those of rivals, some $500 million could be at risk.” Ben Cavender, a senior analyst at China Market Research in Shanghai, told CNN, "In the eyes of Chinese consumers, it has already been done.” On the other hand, Luca Solca, luxury analyst at BNP Paribas, told Vogue, "It is very early to tell."