FILE - In this Nov. 22, 2018, file photo, a computer screen shows the online platforms pulling Dolce & Gabbana products from their stores displayed on a computer screen in Beijing, China, Don’t mess with China - and its 770 million internet users. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)

FILE - In this Nov. 22, 2018, file photo, a computer screen shows the online platforms pulling Dolce & Gabbana products from their stores displayed on a computer screen in Beijing, China, Don’t mess with China - and its 770 million internet users. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)

Dolce&Gabbana fiasco shows importance, risks of China market

As retailers pulled their merchandise from shelves, co-founders Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana went on camera to apologize to the Chinese people.

Don’t mess with China and its growing cadre of powerful luxury consumers.

Dolce&Gabbana learned that lesson the hard way when it faced a boycott after Chinese expressed outrage over what were seen as culturally insensitive videos promoting a major runway show in Shanghai and subsequent posts of insulting comments in a private Instagram chat.

The company blamed hackers for the anti-Chinese insults, but the explanation felt flat to many and the damage was done. The Milan designers cancelled the Shanghai runway show, meant as a tribute to China, as their guest list of Asian celebrities quickly joined the protests.

Then, as retailers pulled their merchandise from shelves and powerful e-commerce sites deleted their wares, co-founders Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana went on camera — dwarfed against the larger backdrop of an ornate red wall-covering — to apologize to the Chinese people.

“We will never forget this experience, and it will definitely never happen again,” a solemn-looking Gabbana said in a video statement posted Friday on social media.

The apology video , and the sharp public backlash that demanded it, shows the importance of the Chinese market and the risks of operating in it. More broadly, it highlights the huge and still-growing influence of China, a country that cannot be ignored as it expands economically, militarily and diplomatically.

These trends are intertwined in frequent outbursts of nationalist sentiment among consumers who feel slighted by foreign brands or their governments. It’s not the first time a company has apologized, and it surely won’t be the last. Mercedes-Benz did so in February for featuring a quote by the Dalai Lama on its Instagram account.

For Dolce&Gabbana, it could be mark the end of its growth in China, a crucial market for global luxury brands that it has cultivated since opening its first store in 2005 and where it now has 44 boutiques.

“I think it is going to be impossible over the next couple of years for them to work in China,” said Cary Cooper, a professor of organizational psychology and health at Manchester University in England. “When you break this kind of cultural codes, then you are in trouble. The brand is now damaged in China, and I think it will be damaged in China until there is lost memory about it.”

London-based Brand Finance consultancy estimates that the scandal could wipe up to 20 per cent off the Dolce&Gabbana brand’s value of $937 million, which already places it out of the top 50 global apparel brands. They are 36th among all Italian brands, extending to sectors like automotive.

That could shake Dolce&Gabbana’s financial health. The privately held company does not release its individual sales figures. But Chinese consumers are responsible for a third of all luxury spending around the globe, according to a recent study by Bain consultancy. That will grow to 46 per cent of forecast sales of an estimated 365 billion euros ($412 billion) by 2025, fueled by millennials and the younger Generation Z set, who will make a growing percentage of their purchases online.

“Without China, the hinterland for growth, D&G will obviously be in a weak competitive position and in danger of being eliminated,” the Chinese business magazine New Fortune said in a social media post Sunday. “This is one of the major reasons why D&G finally lowered its head. They really cannot survive without the Chinese market.”

While Dolce&Gabbana has displayed a knack for social media engagement, inviting millennial influencers with millions of collective followers to sit in their front rows or walk in their shows, that engagement has been a double-edged sword. Pop idol Karry Wang, who has drawn hundreds of screaming Chinese fans to the designer’s Milan showroom for season runway shows, was one of the first to disavow the brand, saying he was ending his role as Asia-Pacific brand ambassador.

Dolce found himself on the defensive several years ago after Elton John lashed out for comments that suggested he did not support gay couples using surrogate mothers to have children. At the time, more than 67,000 tweets urged #boycottdolcegabbana, while Courtney Love vowed to burn her Dolce&Gabbana garb and Martina Navratilova pledged to trash her D&G shirts.

Gabbana, who has 1.6 million Instagram followers, faced a more contained backlash earlier this year when he responded to a collage of Selena Gomez photos on Instagram with the comment, “She’s really ugly.”

Celebrities took to social media Wednesday to blast Dolce&Gabbana and said they would boycott the show, which was cancelled. By Thursday, the company’s goods had disappeared from major e-commerce websites. The prevailing sentiment was captured by an airport duty-free shop that posted a photo of its shelves emptied of D&G products: “We have to show our stance. We are proud to be Chinese.”

The rapid escalation into a public relations disaster was fueled by social media. Individuals posted videos of themselves cutting up or burning their Dolce&Gabbana clothes, or picking them up with chopsticks and putting them in the trash. A parody of the offending Dolce&Gabbana videos, which featured a Chinese woman using chopsticks to eat pizza and an oversized cannoli, shows a white man trying to eat Chinese food with a fork and knife. At least three rap bands took up the cause with new songs.

“Companies that don’t respect us don’t deserve our respect,” Wang Zixin, team leader of CD Rev, a nationalist rap band, said by phone from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province. Its new song had been viewed more than 850,000 times on Weibo.

“We hope people will remember companies that have ever insulted China, and not forget about them when the fallout passes,” Wang said.

That sense of pride reflects a nationalism that has been encouraged by the government, often in disputes China has with other countries over other foreign products.

Sales by Japanese automakers plunged in 2012 amid tensions between islands both countries claim in the East China Sea. The clash also illustrated the complexity of Chinese sentiment: Industry analysts said buyers didn’t want to be seen in Japanese auto showrooms but went ahead with planned purchases once tensions had passed.

More recently, several foreign companies ran afoul of Beijing’s insistence that they explicitly refer to Taiwan, a self-governing territory, as part of China. Many complied, showing how important the Chinese market has become.

Delta, American and other airlines agreed to refer to Taiwan as part of China, and Zara now says “Taiwan, China” on its website after regulators criticized the fashion brand for calling Taiwan a country. Marriott announced it “respects and supports” China’s sovereignty after it was ordered to shut its China website for a week.

Actor Richard Gere, a supporter of the Dalai Lama, has told The Hollywood Reporter that movie studios balk at hiring him for fear of an official or public backlash that might affect ticket sales in China.

It remains unclear whether the D&G mea culpa video will stop the backlash — or if it will have implications for Made-in-Italy at large. The scandal erupted as Italy’s high-end furniture and design companies were making an annual presentation in Shanghai and as Miu Miu, the Prada Group’s little sister line, showed its cruise line in Shanghai.

Italian designers have so far refrained from comment. Dolce & Gabbana has remained conspicuously outside of the Italian Fashion Chamber, which organizes fashion weeks and acts as a lobby for the fashion industry.

Brand Finance’s luxury expert, Alex Haigh, said the scale of the Chinese reaction risked contagion in other markets, but that the brand could get ahead of the scandal if it makes sincere change. “They have made a big storm for themselves,” he said. “They need to wait a few months, and potentially do something like Volkswagen, when it had the emission scandal and repositioned itself as a more environmentally friendly electric-vehicle-first brand. Sometimes these issues can be a focal point for change.”

Italian commentators mused whether the Dolce&Gabbana protests were truly spontaneous or if there was some level of government control behind them. The government has publicly said the spat had no diplomatic element and would not comment.

“Anywhere in the world, an entrepreneur can make a mistake, use inappropriate language. Usually it is the consumers and the market to decide the seriousness of the offence,” the Milan daily Corriere della Sera wrote in a commentary. “Only in China is one forced to produce a humiliating video with public self-criticism, like in the time of Mao’s revolution. Now China feels powerful and is applying re-education on a global scale.”

Related: Guo Pei’s B.C. show takes you into a world wrapped in luxury

Related: Holy haute couture: Divine designs grace carpet at Met Gala

___

Barry reported from Milan. AP journalists Joe McDonald and Dake Kang and researchers Henry Hou and Jiawei Chen contributed to this report.

Ken Moritsugu And Colleen Barry, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

(File photo from The Canadian Press)
Red Deer down to 66 active COVID-19 cases

Red Deer has lowest number of active cases since last November

Orange shirts, shoes, flowers and messages are displayed on the steps outside the legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Tuesday, June 8, 2021 following a ceremony hosted by the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations in honour of the 215 residential school children whose remains have been discovered buried near the facility in Kamloops, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Alberta city cancels Canada Day fireworks at site of former residential school

City of St. Albert says that the are where the display was planned, is the site of the former Youville Residential School

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Alberta reports 100 new cases of COVID-19

The Central zone sits at 218 active cases

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Red Deer drops to 71 active cases of COVID-19

Province adds 127 new cases of the virus

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2020, file photo, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Nassib on Monday, June 21, 2021, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. Nassib announced the news on Instagram, saying he was not doing it for the attention but because “I just think that representation and visibility are so important.” (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Nassib becomes first active NFL player to come out as gay

More than a dozen NFL players have come out as gay after their careers were over

A pair of Alberta residents were arrested after police responded to a report of a woman who had allegedly been assaulted and confined against her will on June 20, 2021. (File photo)
Salmon Arm RCMP arrest 2 Albertans suspected in alleged assault, unlawful confinement

Firearms, stolen items seized including NHL hockey cards believed to be worth thousands

A man makes his way past signage to a mass COVID-19 vaccination centre at the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Canadians encouraged to see mRNA shots as interchangeable as more 2nd doses open up

Doctors urge people not to hesitate if offered Moderna after getting Pfizer for their first shot

Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance sits in the front row during a news conference in Ottawa on June 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Defence committee rises without report on Vance allegations

Committee had been investigating the government’s handling of complaints against former defence chief

Tl’etinqox-lead ceremony at the site of the former St. Joseph’s Mission in Williams Lake, B.C., June 18, 2021. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
‘We are all one people’: Honouring residential school victims and survivors

Love, support and curiousity: Canadians urged to learn about residential schools and their impact

Indigenous rights and climate activists gathered outside Liberty Mutual’s office in Vancouver to pressure the insurance giant to stop covering Trans Mountain. (Photo by Andrew Larigakis)
Activists work to ensure Trans Mountain won’t get insurance

Global campaign urging insurance providers to stay away from Canadian pipeline project

Investigators use a bucket to help recover human remains at a home burned in the Camp fire, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, in Magalia, Calif. Many of the missing in the deadly Northern California wildfire are elderly residents in Magalia, a forested town of about 11,000 north of the destroyed town of Paradise. (AP Photo/John Locher)
‘Forever War’ with fire has California battling forests instead

Five of the state’s largest-ever blazes seared California last year, as authorities tackle prevention

Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto and IOC President Thomas Bach, on a screen, speak during a five=party online meeting at Harumi Island Triton Square Tower Y in Tokyo Monday, June 21, 2021. The Tokyo Olympics will allow some local fans to attend when the games open in just over a month, Tokyo organizing committee officials and the IOC said on Monday. (Rodrigo Reyes Marin/Pool Photo via AP)
Tokyo Olympics to allow Japanese fans only, with strict limits

Organizers set a limit of 50% capacity — up to a maximum of 10,000 fans

Most Read