A Full Timeline of the Crisis at Dolce & Gabbana
A play-by-play of the scandal rocking the Chinese market and the western press.
A Dolce & Gabbana store in China. Image via Getty.
Dolce & Gabbana Have a Lengthy History of Scandal and Repentance
A camp celebration of Italian culture and a runway jammed with models whose parents are movie stars are Dolce & Gabbana signatures; for the past few years, inflammatory and insensitive behavior is also on-brand for the luxury label started by Domenico Dolce and Steffano Gabbana in 1985. Even more troubling, this behavior is usually followed by a meek apology and a return to business as usual. In 2015, they said they oppose the right of gay couples to adopt (the designers are gay, adding to the public’s bewilderment). They said that in vitro fertilizations were “synthetic.” Over 10,000 people signed a petition asking Macy’s and Debenhams to stop carrying the brand; protestors called for a boycott; celebrities including Elton John spoke out against them. The designers launched the hashtag #BoycottEltonJohn, though a few months later, they gave an interview with CNN in which Stefano atoned: “We love gay couple. We are gay. We love gay couple. We love gay adoption. We love everything. It's just an express of my private point of view.” Dolce added: “I love the music of Elton John.”
In the spring of 2017, their scandal playbook was established enough that, when they were criticized after Melania Trump wore a $51,500 Dolce & Gabbana coat, they began selling “Boycott Dolce & Gabbana” T-shirts for $245.
And let’s not forget the “slave” sandals they sold in 2016; the protest the rapper Raury staged at their June 2017 menswear show in response to their flip use of the word “boycott” ; Gabbana’s suggestion that sexual harassment isn’t violence; or their ongoing bickering with Diet_Prada (as I discovered earlier this year, Stefano seems to have started an account trolling the fashion watchdog).
Six months ago: Dolce & Gabbana Begins Planning “The Great Show”
China is a massively significant market for luxury labels, with Bain & Company estimating in a report released earlier this month that Chinese customers are responsible for approximately 1/3 of all luxury apparel, accessories, and cosmetics sales. Luxury brands often cater to the Chinese market with specialized products and events; Dior Couture, for example, created their Spring 2018 collection, which was done in all black and white, in pink and red, the country’s best-selling colors. According to Vogue, China represents an estimated 30% of Dolce & Gabbana’s revenue; the brand had planned to celebrate this relationship in an hour-long runway spectacle, with a 1,400 celebrities and Instagrammers in attendance and over 300 runway looks. It was scheduled for November 21 and titled “The Great Show” (perhaps a strange and unsavory play on “The Great Wall”).
November 18: Dolce & Gabbana Releases the Racist Advertising Campaign
In anticipation of “The Great Show,” Dolce & Gabbana release a series of video advertisements in which a Chinese model was “instructed” on how to eat various Italian foods, such as pasta and cannoli, with chopsticks. In one segment, the model struggles and giggles with a cannolo as a voiceover says, “Is it too huge for you?” According to Jing Daily, “Many social media users in China labeled this video stereotypical, racist and disrespectful for Asian female upon its release.”
As for how the video was even approved of in the first place, Business of Fashion reports that “according to sources, members of Dolce & Gabbana’s local team in China warned the Milan-based company not to proceed with the marketing campaign that sparked the uproar but were overruled.”
“The anger has spread so quickly across the platform that Dolce & Gabbana deleted the post featuring the video less than 24 hours after its release,” reported Jing Daily. Some users had even suspected that the brand had intended to release an offensive advertisement. Within a day, “Boycott Dolce” had been discussed over 18,000 times” on Weibo.
November 19: Diet Prada Shares the Cannolo Video
The crisis doesn’t remain in China: fashion industry watchdogs Diet Prada pick up on the scandal and share the video on their feed with translations, stoking the outrage internationally.
Criticism mounts on Weibo, Instagram, and Twitter; speaking to journalists including a reporter from Vogue at a fitting that day, Domenico Dolce says, “I think it’s right today to come back to real creativity, without censure. There is too much censure, for this, for that…. We love to respect local cultures; it is important. We do a beautiful show in Mexico, then we do a show in Dubai…. And Dolce & Gabbana in this way grows, because we experience different places. But not just for money. This is my new religion. All my team is so nervous because we spent too much money on this—I don’t care! I want to die poor…. Money is much better used in life. When you die, finito.”
November 20: Stefano Gabbana Sends Horrifying Messages to the Brand’s Critics
Instagram users who called out the brand receive messages from Stefano Gabbana’s personal account loaded with racist and despicable language, including, among many other demented things, “China Ignorant Dirty Smelling Mafia.” Diet Prada shares several of these messages on their feed, and posts a story later that day reporting that modeling agents have started pulling their models from the show. Several actors and influencers also announce they are dropping out of the runway show or not attending.
November 21: The Show Is Cancelled
Gabbana and the brand claim the designer and the brand’s account were hacked the previous day; as I pointed out on Twitter, that seems not merely suspicious, but actually impossible, given that Gabbana’s account continued its typical robust posting schedule during the hours he claims the account was compromised. The Chinese Cultural and Tourism Department orders that Dolce & Gabbana cancel the show hours before it is scheduled to take place. The brand has still not issued a formal apology for the video campaign or the Instagram messages.
November 22: The Brand Faces a Sales Crisis in the Chinese Market
Business of Fashion, Jing Daily, the Financial Times, the New York Times, and others chronicle the impact on the Chinese market of the video, Gabbana’s Instagram comments, and the cancelled show. Chinese e-commerce sites have mostly stopped carrying the brand, with a spokesperson for Secoo Holding telling the Financial Times that “this is a racism issue…. Secoo cannot co-operate with such a company without integrity and morality.” A person briefed on the decision tells the FT that the Western e-commerce behemoth Yoox-Net-a-Porter has pulled all the brand’s products from its Chinese site. Several Chinese influencers post videos of themselves cutting, burning, or otherwise destroying Dolce & Gabbana goods.
November 23: Dolce & Gabbana Finally Issue an Apology
Finally, in a video that resembles like an Italian Baroque hostage video, with a cheap production value clashing with a garish red tapestry, the designers say they are sorry for the video, the Instagram messages, and their racism, and ask for forgiveness. The apology is tepidly received.