Was D&G really racist? What could they have done? A chat with the locals

by Mee Jong

China, eat dogs, Italian brand, racist, BURNS!

These are just a few keywords you will see if you googled “Dolce & Gabbana” at this moment. It was probably an underestimation of the power of social media or the overestimate of its own power that causes this drama. D&G seems to become one of many FAIL case study taught in fashion or PR classes. If you are wondering what caused the hate comments, dramas from the canceled show, drops in market share, and clips of products on fire, here’s a quick recap of what happened.

  • D&G created a campaign to tell the world it loves China.
  • A “great show” was planned to be held in China.
  • Three ads clips were posted on D&G’s Instagram, which is now deleted from the page.
  • The clips showcased a Chinese model learn how to eat Italian food with chopstick narrated by a man in Chinese.
  • Chinese audience didn’t like it and some commented that it was a racist mocking of Chinese stereotype.
  • Michaela Tranova messaged Stefano Gabbana and had an argument about the ads.
  • Then this conversation happened.
  • image from Diet Prada’s Instagram
  • Tranova tagged Diet Prada, whom then reposted it on Instragram.
  • A lot of Chinese went mad about it. People start to dig into how Stefano usually responses to racist comments.
  • D&G said the accounts were hacked and those weren’t real words from Stefano which make everything worse.
  • BAMB! Celebrities refused to participate in the shows, the show was cancelled, and a supposed-t0-be-apology-post was posted on D&G account mentioning it was “unfortunate” for people who worked days and nights to make the show happens.
  • Meanwhile, celebrities, models, and influencers started to post on their social media of how much they love China. #turncrisisintoopportunity
  • People burning D&G bags on social media, shops in China were closed and I just couldn’t help talking to some Chinese people about this scandal.

Was the campaign racist?

As I was travelling in China at the time, I decided to conduct some informal interview with the locals. The first thing I did was to watch the clips and see how I feel. Honestly speaking, as the third person, I can see how people got upset and how ignorant D&G seems. However, I need to talk to some real Chinese: someone who grew up in China,  who have lived abroad for over 20 years, who went to western countries for Fashion school, who are working in high-end fashion industries in China, and also who knows very little about D&G in general. (My interviewees preferred to be anonymous)

With the levels of a variety of my samples, no single Chinese I talked to said it was fine for D&G to shoot their ads this way. The softest and kindest comment was that D&G wasn’t racist but rather was lazy to do some research on China’s culture. Yes, it was the kindest one.

Were the Chinese overreacting?

I had to ask this question because there were arguments that people were getting too emotional about the clips and it wasn’t fair to D&G. The responses I received made me a more open-minded person. Being a Chinese himself, one of my interviewees said that it was not an overreaction of the audiences. As an audience, we should have “the right” to voice our concerns when something is bothering us. I totally agree with that justification. In total disregards of this drama, we shouldn’t ignore unhappy comments thinking that other people’s concerns are just an overreaction. What doesn’t seems bothering to us, might be so irritable to other that they need to leave a written comment online.

Do you believe a hacker typed that racist DM?

It doesn’t seem like people are buying this crisis management script. A former London-based fashion student and currently a member of a high-end fashion e-commerce team in China said that without any hard evidence, he couldn’t point fingers to Stefano for lying about being hacked. However, it’s really hard to believe base on how Stefano presented himself on social media.

What could have D&G done?

Should D&G have created the ads in an opposite way; having an Italian model learn from a Chinese model how to use chopsticks fashionably, the Chinese probably find it adorable and would swipe their credit cards on the brand’s designs.

Were they apologetic enough?

Surprisingly my respondents didn’t want more from D&G. Instead, they wanted to let the time heal this scar and wait for people to forget about their anger. “If they do more, it will look like they are trying too hard”. It makes sense though. When trying to imagine D&G set up some more apologetic conferences, big discount, or a “Dui Bu Qi” (means sorry in Chinese) campaign, it would actually look like they are being sarcastic. So I guess D&G really need to wait for forgiveness before relaunching its offline and online stores in China.

What do you think?

My purpose to write this article was to share some information I can gather other than screenshots of direct messaging or people’s comments on Instagram. Whether or not D&G was racist and if they have done the right thing to recover, it’s your judgment.

My question to you?

If it wasn’t China, would D&G apologize? If Chinese banning on the brand doesn’t affect its revenue by much, would D&G apologize? If it was a smaller country with smaller social media impact, would this become any headlines? I don’t have answers to these questions and I hope no one will need to answer. Because if there’s no discrimination in the first place, these questions won’t even be raised.

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