Dolce & Gabbana was just hours away from welcoming guests to a huge fashion show in China. Now, amid accusations of racism, the event has been postponed, according to the luxury brand’s official Weibo account.
The fashion house has found itself embroiled in controversy over a series of videos released on social media. By the time the postponement was announced, a number of celebrity invitees had already said they would not be attending the show, which was due to take place in Shanghai Wednesday evening.
Three 40-second spots, aired on the Italian brand’s Instagram, Facebook and Twitter profiles, as well as its Weibo account in China, show an Asian model struggling to eat Italian food with chopsticks. The videos were created to promote “The Great Show,” which is billed by the fashion house as a “tribute to China.”
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欢迎收看Dolce & Gabbana “起筷吃饭” 第1弹。 今天我们将率先向大家展示， 如何用这种小棍子形状的餐具， 来吃意大利伟大的传统玛格丽特披萨。 Welcome to Episode 1 with Dolce&Gabbana’s “Eating with Chopsticks”. First up today is how to use this stick shaped cutlery to eat your GREAT traditional Pizza Margherita. #DGLovesChina #DGTheGreatShow
The first “episode,” published Sunday, features a model in a sequined red dress attempting to eat an entire pizza. She prods the pizza with chopsticks to the sound of stereotypical Chinese music, before a narrator offers seemingly patronizing advice such as “don’t attempt to use the chopsticks as knives” and “just use your chopsticks like pliers.”
In the second and third episodes, the same model attempts to eat a cannoli and a bowl of spaghetti. The narrator seems to mispronounce the brand’s name, with some interpreting this as mocking the way Chinese people say “Dolce & Gabbana.”
What was, perhaps, an innocent attempt to play on Chinese culture has infuriated some social media users. The topic was trending on Weibo hours before the show was due to start.
In a post being shared online, an account purporting to be University of California student Coco Qiu, describes the video series as “extremely racist” and created with the “intention to spark public attention, and perhaps rage, for the purpose of advertisement and profits.” The post describes the move as “both pitiful and disrespectful.”
Some segments of Chinese social media reacted in good humor to the controversy. A parody video, which shows a Caucasian man attempting to eat soup with a knife, has been widely circulated on Weibo.
A WeChat post shared by the company said that there would be “a shining runway, modern style and glamorous superstars.” But a number of celebrities announced that they would withdraw from the event.
An agent of singer Karry Wang, a Dolce & Gabbana “brand ambassador,” had confirmed that the star would not be attending the show. The modeling agency China Bentley also announced that 24 of its models were pulling out over the controversy.
Social media outcry was further exacerbated by a screen capture of racist comments alleged to have been made by D&G co-founder, Stefano Gabbana, in a direct message on Instagram. Both Gabbana and the luxury brand have since posted messages saying that their accounts had been hacked, with the Italian designer pasting the words “not me” over images of the alleged exchange.
“We are very sorry for any distress caused by these unauthorized posts,” the accompanying message reads. “We have nothing but respect for China and the people of China.”
The designers doubled down on this sentiment in an official statement provided to the press: “Our dream was to bring to Shanghai a tribute event dedicated to China which tells our history and vision. It was not simply a fashion show, but something that we created especially with love and passion for China and all the people around the world who loves Dolce & Gabbana,” the statement said.
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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, comments and direct messages. We have nothing but respect for China and the people of China. Dolce & Gabbana 的官方Intragram 账号和 Stefano Gabbana 的 Instagram 账号被盗，我们已经立即通过法律途径解决。我们为这些不实言论给中国和中国人民造成的影响和伤害道歉。我们对中国和中国文化始终一贯的热爱与尊重。
But for many, this explanation was not enough. In an Instagram post tagging both the brand and Gabbana directly, Chinese-French model Estelle Wong, who withdrew from the show, doubted the sincerity of the explanation and called the actions “disrespectful and racist.”
“You don’t love China, you love money,” she wrote. “China is rich yes but China is rich in its values, its culture and its people and they won’t spend a penny on a brand that does not respect that.”
Other models and staff from the event have responded by posting images of their event badges with “not me” written in red capital letters.