Even as some brands push to become more inclusive, racism is still pervasive in the fashion industry. In recent months alone, numerous high-end designers have been criticized for cultural appropriation and general insensitivity. And now, Dolce & Gabbana has canceled a fashion show in Shanghai after one of the brand’s ads sparked backlash for its use of ignorant stereotypes.
CNN Style reports that the brand shared a series of three videos on social media on November 18th to promote its Shanghai show, but quickly came under fire for its depiction of Chinese culture. The 40-second clips were presented as “episodes” in a series called “Eating with Chopsticks,” and they featured a Chinese model in a sequined red dress attempting to eat pizza, a cannoli, and spaghetti with chopsticks.
In the pizza ad, the seemingly befuddled model uses her chopsticks to stab a whole pizza; CNN notes that the narrator gives her condescending advice like “don’t attempt to use the chopsticks as knives.” In the spaghetti ad, she attempts to twirl the noodles around her utensils, and in the cannoli ad, she tries to pick up the whole dessert. All three ads are set to stereotypical “Chinese” music and use reductive visuals, like lanterns, that are overrepresented in white portrayals of Chinese culture. The company shared the clips on all of its social media profiles, including Weibo, a Chinese social media platform (though it was later removed).
According to Jing Daily, the phrase “Boycott Dolce” was mentioned more than 18,000 times on Weibo after the ad dropped. And CNN notes that as the controversy took hold, 25 models, including Dolce & Gabbana brand ambassador Karry Wang, pulled out of the show.
Amid the uproar, screenshots uploaded to Instagram appeared to depict the brand’s co-founder, Stefano Gabbana, making further racist comments, suggesting that Chinese people eat dogs and using the poop emoji to refer to the country of China. Gabbana later shared the screenshots to his own account with the words “not me” written over them, claiming he had been hacked. The brand’s official Instagram also shared a message supporting his account.
CNN notes that the company ultimately postponed its show on November 21st—just hours before its scheduled start time. The brand made the announcement on its official Weibo account. Later on the 21st, Dolce & Gabbana issued an apology via its Instagram account.
These Dolce & Gabbana ads are both stereotypical and condescending, and we hope the brand—and the industry at large—uses this as a major learning moment.