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Dolce & Gabbana founders apologize for stereotype-filled Chinese marketing campaign

The fashion brand usually digs in after a scandal. But this time, they say, “It will certainly never happen again.”

Dolce & Gabbana Naked King Secret Show - Runway - Milan Men’s Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2019
Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana at Milan Men’s Fashion Week in June 2018.
Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

Dolce and Gabbana issued an unusual apology on Friday for a marketing campaign filled with stereotypes about Chinese people and for leaked messages from founder Stefano Gabbana. Both the campaign and the messages earned the company criticism and resulted in the cancellation of its Shanghai runway show (an event that reportedly cost millions of dollars).

In the stoic, seemingly rehearsed response, the founders say they have a “deep love” for China. Staring into the camera, Domenico Dolce, 60, says “Our family values teach us that we must respect different cultures in the world,” and Stefano Gabbana, 56, adds, “it will certainly never happen again.”

This backlash that prompted the apology spurred from a series of Instagram ads released this week in which a female Chinese model attempts to eat various Italian dishes with chopsticks. In one involving cannoli, the male narrator asks in Mandarin, “Is it too huge for you?” All three are set in a highly stereotypical-looking Chinese market stall and backed by soundtrack with an erhu, or Chinese violin.

Then when Instagram DMs that appeared to be from Gabbana were leaked, the outrage was further exacerbated. Diet Prada, the social media watchdogs of the fashion industry, posted screenshots of an exchange that appeared to be between Gabbana and model Michaela Tranova. During the conversation, Tranova challenges Gabbana on the ad campaign, and Gabbana retorts by insinuating that Tranova herself is racist for “eating dogs” and that “the country of [series of poop emojis] is China.” He then apparently messages, “China Ignorant Dirty Smelling Mafia.”

The hashtag #BoycottDolce was reportedly trending on the Chinese social media site Weibo, and many of the show’s models publicly announced they would not attend. According to another post by Diet Prada, Shanghai government officials canceled the event just hours before it was to take place.

Diet Prada posted an note on its Instagram account on Thursday, presumably written by founder Tony Liu, whose parents are Chinese immigrants. The note explained why the episode has been especially hurtful him, citing the hardship of growing up in a predominantly white community in upstate new York while his parents worked not “glamorous” jobs. He writes “racism was insidious to the point of normalization,” but the reason Dolce & Gabbana’s behavior is so important is because the racist ideologies he grew up around, are now being “propagated by two extremely powerful and highly public individuals.”

Despite the scandal’s strong backlash, Dolce & Gabbana’s apology is still surprising. In an industry in which racism and cultural appropriation is extraordinarily common, Dolce & Gabbana has made a name for itself as being one of the most unconcerned with offending others. As Business of Fashion notes, the list of appalling statements made by its two founders include referring to babies conceived by in vitro fertilization as “synthetic,” describing gladiator sandals as “slave sandals,” and calling Selena Gomez “ugly” and the Kardashians “the most cheap people in the world.” They also have opposed gay adoptions despite being openly gay and have been extremely vocal about their support for first lady Melania Trump. Rather predictably, they’ve also minimized the idea that sexual harassment is bad.

The apology is most likely due to how much is at stake. China is one of the fastest growing markets for luxury goods, with a rise in purchases by young millennial and generation z shoppers. Diet Prada hopes that leaking Gabbana’s messages is just the beginning and retailers will learn to respect the consumers they profit from going forward. Their post reads, “You are not bestowing them a’re taking their money.”

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