Dolce & Gabbana: The “Not So Great” Great Show

Marina He '20 and Charlotte Ko '20

Dolce & Gabbana: The “Not So Great” Great Show

Marina He & Charlotte Ko

     Dolce and Gabbana released a three-series advertisement promoting “The Great Show” that was going to be held in Shanghai late November, sparking backlash from viewers across the world, especially in China, for its racism and disrespect. Each advertisement features a Chinese woman trying and struggling to eat an extra-large Italian dish with chopsticks, accompanied by a provoking narration and stereotypical Chinese music. The videos have since been deleted from Dolce and Gabbana’s official instagram account. At first, Dolce and Gabbana claimed that their Instagram account, along with Stefano Gabbana’s Instagram account, were both hacked. They did not issue an apology immediately, but after severe backlash from viewers, both Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana issued apology statements on behalf of their company.

     Starting with a mispronunciation of the brand name, calling chopsticks “small stick-like things”, to commenting “this will make you feel like you’re in Italy. But no! You are in China!” These videos seemed to be mocking and belittling China rather than “appreciating” it, which Dolce and Gabbana claimed their intent was.

     There also appeared to be a mockery to the body shape of Chinese women as the narrator observed how the cannoli, featured in the third video released, was “still too large for the model to handle.” Rather than empowering the woman featured in the advertisements, she seemed to be more controlled by the condescending narration, laughing helplessly as she struggled to pick up the extra large foods in front of her. The lack of agency that the model has in these advertisements seems to further emphasize D&G’s belittling perspective of Chinese culture and identity.

     What further provoked a greater response from the general public were screenshots of direct messages exchanged between writer Michaela Phuong and Stefano Gabbana, in which Gabbana not only defended the advertisements, but also proceeded to write several derogatory and insulting, comments about China. Gabbana later posted the screenshots of the conversation on instagram with the words “Not Me” pasted in giant letters over the images, claiming his account had been hacked, yet this was not the first time that Stefano Gabbana has raised backlash from his comments. A similar incident occurred in Naples, when people expressed their dissatisfaction with the stereotypical portrayal of Neapolitans, but Gabbana responded with criticism rather than with an apology, so it seems possible that Gabbana did make these comments.

     The Chinese public responded with fury against the brand. Videos were uploaded of D&G products being defaced, some being used as cloths to mop the floor while others were burned. D&G products could no longer be found on large online retail stores, such as T-mall and Taobao while people pasted the words “Not Me” in D&G stores in Beijing and Shanghai. It seems that only once Gabbana realized the consequences of his actions that he hastily attempted to cover up his actions by claiming that his account had been hacked. However, there have been no further statements released by Dolce and Gabbana regarding their accounts being hacked even a month later. Instead, the only legal action it appears they have taken is to sue the woman who exposed the DMs that she exchanged with Stefano Gabbana.

     Celebrities and Chinese representatives of the brand who had intended to attend the Shanghai show announced that they were no longer attending the show after the incident, forcing D&G to cancel the show days before it. In response to the cancellation of the show, Dolce and Gabbana released a message, in which  they wrote, “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 for Dolce and Gabbana.” This seems incredibly ironic and confusing in light of the obvious lack of respect for China and Chinese culture showcased in the videos. Despite their proclaimed “love and passion for China,” they still allowed for the release of such an offensive and superficial advertisement to promote their show.

     Two days later, following the cancellation of the show, Dolce and Gabbana released an apology video on Weibo, the Chinese twitter-like platform, and on instagram. However, the apology seemed to be a half-hearted attempt to win the forgiveness of the Chinese. Throughout the video, both Domenico Dolce’s and Stefano Gabbana’s eyes go to the side of the screen consistently while talking, making their words seem insincere. They also suggested that they needed to be promoted throughout their apology. However, the video was deleted from the brand’s official weibo account, although it is still accessible through Instagram and is now available in Weibo again. Nonetheless, Dolce and Gabbana’s decision to remove this video shows the insincerity of their apology and reflects the idea that they are not truly acknowledging their mistakes.

     From the racist stereotypes of China and Chinese culture, to belittling and insulting China, and to the half-hearted apology, the lack of respect that Dolce and Gabbana have shown to China is something that many Chinese consumers will never see past.

     At first, when I heard that Dolce & Gabbana would be hosting a fashion show in Shanghai, I was excited to watch from my dorm at CA. As someone who lived and grew up in Shanghai, I was more than proud that my home was finally getting the recognition in the global stage as the new fashion capital. Last year, Victoria Secret opened their coveted VS Fashion Show in Shanghai, which included  high profile models from all over the world, and suddenly it felt like everyone was finally paying attention to my home. With almost a third of all luxury items and goods sold in the Chinese market, it only seemed natural that a company like Dolce & Gabbana would plan a show in Shanghai.

     Because my dad works in the fashion industry, I grew up immersed in the fashion culture. I always looked up to the models that walked the catwalk, not because they were all 5’9”, but because of the energy they exuded. I was drawn to the way they were dressed and the meticulous details designers put into each and every show. I applauded their creativity and ingenuity, but it felt like I could never truly be a part of it. It always seemed like the European features and styles mattered more, and that I would be forever chasing the Western beauty standards, that I would always be looking towards the beauty from the West as inspiration. It took me a lot of time to finally realize that high fashion does not solely exist in the Western world, and the Asian fashion industry was heating up. I started noticing how fashion differed in the East, and how we were being celebrated all over the world. It felt like we were creating our own scene, and our own trends that didn’t necessarily follow Western standards of what’s “in” that year. With style came brands and luxury items, and before long, it seemed like all the Western brands were catering to our needs, creating lines sold exclusively in Asia.

     When Dolce & Gabbana released those so-called promotional videos for their Great Show in Shanghai, at first, I did not know what to think. I felt betrayed and cheated by a brand that I had admired for so long. It did not feel like they were paying homage to Chinese culture; it felt like an attack — that we can wear their clothes and look fashionable, but we will always be unsophisticated and will never understand Western culture. Everything in the video felt wrong. The way in which they depicted the Chinese model as a docile girl listening and waiting for the instructions of a man to direct her is insulting. The way that the video decorated the set in the stereotypical Chinese vendor stall style to the sounds of the erhu, a traditional Chinese instrument, is reminiscent of romanticized Western ideals of a distorted old Shanghai, not truly depicting Shanghai as it is now: a bustling city filled with all types of people from different walks of life. In the video itself, the model is eating Italian food as if she’s never had food before. Shanghai is an international hub with a whole host of cultures and cuisines, and it’s not uncommon for people to enjoy pizzas, spaghetti, and cannolis in the city. WhenIn the instance where she is trying to eat the oversized cannoli, the modelshe attempts to use her chopsticks to clamp down on the cannoli, but giggles in confusion while the narrator makes fun of her by asking if the cannoli is “too big for her.”

     What makes these videos so hurtful for me is the realization that even though it seems like we are making progress as a society, these videos are a poignant reminder that we are still seen as the ignorant, uneducated, and inferior class to the West. That even though we are climbing our way up the economic ladder, we are still rejected based on antiquated ways of thinking. It is deeply unsettling that even after all the progress and strides we have supposedly made, racism is still bubbling below the surface. However, it gives me hope that people were willing to fight back, to fight against the stereotypes that might have been accepted half a century ago to create a new standard, and to hold these companies to them.