FILE - In this Nov. 22, 2018, file photo, a computer screen shows the online platforms pulling Dolce & Gabbana products from their stores displayed on a computer screen in Beijing, China, Don’t mess with China - and its 770 million internet users. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)

FILE - In this Nov. 22, 2018, file photo, a computer screen shows the online platforms pulling Dolce & Gabbana products from their stores displayed on a computer screen in Beijing, China, Don’t mess with China - and its 770 million internet users. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)

Dolce&Gabbana fiasco shows importance, risks of China market

As retailers pulled their merchandise from shelves, co-founders Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana went on camera to apologize to the Chinese people.

Don’t mess with China and its growing cadre of powerful luxury consumers.

Dolce&Gabbana learned that lesson the hard way when it faced a boycott after Chinese expressed outrage over what were seen as culturally insensitive videos promoting a major runway show in Shanghai and subsequent posts of insulting comments in a private Instagram chat.

The company blamed hackers for the anti-Chinese insults, but the explanation felt flat to many and the damage was done. The Milan designers cancelled the Shanghai runway show, meant as a tribute to China, as their guest list of Asian celebrities quickly joined the protests.

Then, as retailers pulled their merchandise from shelves and powerful e-commerce sites deleted their wares, co-founders Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana went on camera — dwarfed against the larger backdrop of an ornate red wall-covering — to apologize to the Chinese people.

“We will never forget this experience, and it will definitely never happen again,” a solemn-looking Gabbana said in a video statement posted Friday on social media.

The apology video , and the sharp public backlash that demanded it, shows the importance of the Chinese market and the risks of operating in it. More broadly, it highlights the huge and still-growing influence of China, a country that cannot be ignored as it expands economically, militarily and diplomatically.

These trends are intertwined in frequent outbursts of nationalist sentiment among consumers who feel slighted by foreign brands or their governments. It’s not the first time a company has apologized, and it surely won’t be the last. Mercedes-Benz did so in February for featuring a quote by the Dalai Lama on its Instagram account.

For Dolce&Gabbana, it could be mark the end of its growth in China, a crucial market for global luxury brands that it has cultivated since opening its first store in 2005 and where it now has 44 boutiques.

“I think it is going to be impossible over the next couple of years for them to work in China,” said Cary Cooper, a professor of organizational psychology and health at Manchester University in England. “When you break this kind of cultural codes, then you are in trouble. The brand is now damaged in China, and I think it will be damaged in China until there is lost memory about it.”

London-based Brand Finance consultancy estimates that the scandal could wipe up to 20 per cent off the Dolce&Gabbana brand’s value of $937 million, which already places it out of the top 50 global apparel brands. They are 36th among all Italian brands, extending to sectors like automotive.

That could shake Dolce&Gabbana’s financial health. The privately held company does not release its individual sales figures. But Chinese consumers are responsible for a third of all luxury spending around the globe, according to a recent study by Bain consultancy. That will grow to 46 per cent of forecast sales of an estimated 365 billion euros ($412 billion) by 2025, fueled by millennials and the younger Generation Z set, who will make a growing percentage of their purchases online.

“Without China, the hinterland for growth, D&G will obviously be in a weak competitive position and in danger of being eliminated,” the Chinese business magazine New Fortune said in a social media post Sunday. “This is one of the major reasons why D&G finally lowered its head. They really cannot survive without the Chinese market.”

While Dolce&Gabbana has displayed a knack for social media engagement, inviting millennial influencers with millions of collective followers to sit in their front rows or walk in their shows, that engagement has been a double-edged sword. Pop idol Karry Wang, who has drawn hundreds of screaming Chinese fans to the designer’s Milan showroom for season runway shows, was one of the first to disavow the brand, saying he was ending his role as Asia-Pacific brand ambassador.

Dolce found himself on the defensive several years ago after Elton John lashed out for comments that suggested he did not support gay couples using surrogate mothers to have children. At the time, more than 67,000 tweets urged #boycottdolcegabbana, while Courtney Love vowed to burn her Dolce&Gabbana garb and Martina Navratilova pledged to trash her D&G shirts.

Gabbana, who has 1.6 million Instagram followers, faced a more contained backlash earlier this year when he responded to a collage of Selena Gomez photos on Instagram with the comment, “She’s really ugly.”

Celebrities took to social media Wednesday to blast Dolce&Gabbana and said they would boycott the show, which was cancelled. By Thursday, the company’s goods had disappeared from major e-commerce websites. The prevailing sentiment was captured by an airport duty-free shop that posted a photo of its shelves emptied of D&G products: “We have to show our stance. We are proud to be Chinese.”

The rapid escalation into a public relations disaster was fueled by social media. Individuals posted videos of themselves cutting up or burning their Dolce&Gabbana clothes, or picking them up with chopsticks and putting them in the trash. A parody of the offending Dolce&Gabbana videos, which featured a Chinese woman using chopsticks to eat pizza and an oversized cannoli, shows a white man trying to eat Chinese food with a fork and knife. At least three rap bands took up the cause with new songs.

“Companies that don’t respect us don’t deserve our respect,” Wang Zixin, team leader of CD Rev, a nationalist rap band, said by phone from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province. Its new song had been viewed more than 850,000 times on Weibo.

“We hope people will remember companies that have ever insulted China, and not forget about them when the fallout passes,” Wang said.

That sense of pride reflects a nationalism that has been encouraged by the government, often in disputes China has with other countries over other foreign products.

Sales by Japanese automakers plunged in 2012 amid tensions between islands both countries claim in the East China Sea. The clash also illustrated the complexity of Chinese sentiment: Industry analysts said buyers didn’t want to be seen in Japanese auto showrooms but went ahead with planned purchases once tensions had passed.

More recently, several foreign companies ran afoul of Beijing’s insistence that they explicitly refer to Taiwan, a self-governing territory, as part of China. Many complied, showing how important the Chinese market has become.

Delta, American and other airlines agreed to refer to Taiwan as part of China, and Zara now says “Taiwan, China” on its website after regulators criticized the fashion brand for calling Taiwan a country. Marriott announced it “respects and supports” China’s sovereignty after it was ordered to shut its China website for a week.

Actor Richard Gere, a supporter of the Dalai Lama, has told The Hollywood Reporter that movie studios balk at hiring him for fear of an official or public backlash that might affect ticket sales in China.

It remains unclear whether the D&G mea culpa video will stop the backlash — or if it will have implications for Made-in-Italy at large. The scandal erupted as Italy’s high-end furniture and design companies were making an annual presentation in Shanghai and as Miu Miu, the Prada Group’s little sister line, showed its cruise line in Shanghai.

Italian designers have so far refrained from comment. Dolce & Gabbana has remained conspicuously outside of the Italian Fashion Chamber, which organizes fashion weeks and acts as a lobby for the fashion industry.

Brand Finance’s luxury expert, Alex Haigh, said the scale of the Chinese reaction risked contagion in other markets, but that the brand could get ahead of the scandal if it makes sincere change. “They have made a big storm for themselves,” he said. “They need to wait a few months, and potentially do something like Volkswagen, when it had the emission scandal and repositioned itself as a more environmentally friendly electric-vehicle-first brand. Sometimes these issues can be a focal point for change.”

Italian commentators mused whether the Dolce&Gabbana protests were truly spontaneous or if there was some level of government control behind them. The government has publicly said the spat had no diplomatic element and would not comment.

“Anywhere in the world, an entrepreneur can make a mistake, use inappropriate language. Usually it is the consumers and the market to decide the seriousness of the offence,” the Milan daily Corriere della Sera wrote in a commentary. “Only in China is one forced to produce a humiliating video with public self-criticism, like in the time of Mao’s revolution. Now China feels powerful and is applying re-education on a global scale.”

Related: Guo Pei’s B.C. show takes you into a world wrapped in luxury

Related: Holy haute couture: Divine designs grace carpet at Met Gala

___

Barry reported from Milan. AP journalists Joe McDonald and Dake Kang and researchers Henry Hou and Jiawei Chen contributed to this report.

Ken Moritsugu And Colleen Barry, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

High winds blow wet snow in Prince Rupert on Feb. 24. The region is expecting two to four cm of snow and winds up to 100 km per hour. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
High wind warnings for North Coast, up to 4 cm of snow expected

Wet snow makes driving conditions in Prince Rupert slippery

Pink shirt day was celebrated at Pineridge Elementary School by staff and students in a stand against bullying. Mr. Craig, a work-experience student from Charle Hays Secondary School is seen with students in front of the hearts for kindness board on Feb. 24. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Pineridge students stand against bullying

Prince Rupert students in the pink with kindness

A Prince Rupert neighbourhood on Feb. 23, showing various housing with an apartment building development in the background. Housing advocates in the city say affordable housing is scarce.(Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Prince Rupert Recruitment campaign creates housing availability debate

“There is a serious disconnect here, with the new recruitment campaign,” - Paul Lagace

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

The City of Prince Rupert has received $1 million in provincial funding to assist redevelopment of the waterfront and support the Prince Rupert Waterfront Airport Ferry Landing development project. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
City to receive part of $20 million for waterfront development

Funding will support the Prince Rupert airport ferry relocation project

Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.'s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
456 new COVID-19 cases in B.C., 2 deaths

Since January 2020, 78,278 have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in B.C.

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
Vaccinating essential workers before seniors in B.C. could save lives: experts

A new study says the switch could also save up to $230 million in provincial health-care costs

The late Michael Gregory, 57, is accused of sexually exploiting six junior high students between 1999 and 2005. (Pixabay)
Former Alberta teacher accused of sexually assaulting students found dead in B.C.

Mounties say Michael Gregory’s death has been deemed ‘non-suspicious’

According to a new poll, a majority of Canadians want to see illicit drugs decriminalized. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Majority of Canadians think it’s high time to decriminalize illicit drugs: poll

More than two-times the B.C. residents know someone who died from an overdose compared to rest of Canada

Photograph By @KAYLAXANDERSON
VIDEO: Lynx grabs lunch in Kamloops

A lynx surprises a group of ducks and picks one off for lunch

(Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. residents can reserve provincial camp sites starting March 8

B.C. residents get priority access to camping reservations in province

Two women were arrested in Nanaimo for refusing to wear masks and causing disturbance on a BC Ferries vessel. (File photo)
B.C. ferry passengers arrested and fined for disturbance, refusing to wear masks

Police said woman threatened their pensions in Feb. 21 incident aboard Nanaimo-bound boat

When his owner had knee surgery, Kevin, 2, was able to continue to go for walks thanks to volunteers from Elder Dog Canada. (Contributed photo)
B.C. woman has nothing but praise for Elder Dog Canada

National organization has a fleet of volunteer walkers ready, but needs more clients to serve

Most Read