Dolce & Gabbana’s co-founders have asked for China’s “forgiveness”, trying to salvage a crucial market for the luxury brand after a backlash against its latest advertising campaign.
The Italian fashion house cancelled a marquee show in Shanghai on Wednesday after celebrities and social media users threatened a boycott over the campaign, which led e-commerce firms to pull Dolce & Gabbana items on Thursday.
The furore is a setback for one of Italy’s best-known fashion brands in China, where rivals from Louis Vuitton of LVMH to Kering’s Gucci are vying to expand.
Chinese buyers account for more than a third of spending on luxury goods worldwide, and are increasingly shopping at home rather than on overseas trips.
Users slammed the video campaign in which a Chinese woman struggles to eat pizza and pasta with chopsticks while the narrator offers eating lessons in a patronising tone.
The blunder was compounded when screenshots were circulated online of a private Instagram conversation, in which designer Stefano Gabbana makes a reference to “China Ignorant Dirty Smelling Mafia” and uses the smiling poo emoji to describe the country.
The company said Gabbana’s account had been hacked.
But Diet Prada, the American fashion blog which first broke the story, claims Gabbana was in direct control.
The blog posted direct messages, allegedly sent from Gabbana to Instagram user Michaela Tranova, containing racist messages about Chinese people.
One message reads “China ignorant dirty smelling mafia”, while another questions Ms Tranova’s intelligence.
“The whole world knows that the Chinese eat with chopsticks and that the Westerners with a fork and knife !!! Is this racism ?? Haha you are not comfortable with the brain [sic],” the message says.
In a video apology on Friday, Gabbana and co-founder Domenico Dolce said they had “reflected seriously” and were saddened by the impact of their words.
“In the face of our cultural misunderstanding, we hope that we can earn your forgiveness,” Dolce, speaking in Italian, said in the video of the two designers seated side-by-side.
The 85-second video with Chinese subtitles was posted on China’s Twitter-like platform, Weibo.
“We have always been in love with China,” Dolce said.
“We love your culture and we certainly have much to learn. That is why we are sorry if we made mistakes in the way we expressed ourselves.”
Gabbana also asked for forgiveness and offered a formal apology to Chinese people around the world. The designers ended the video by saying sorry in Mandarin.
“We will never forget this experience and lesson, and this sort of thing will never happen again,” Gabbana said.
It’s not the first gaffe by Dolce & Gabbana in China, where the brand came under fire on social media last year for a series of advertisements showing the grungy side of Chinese life.
The crisis for Dolce & Gabbana showed no sign of easing on Friday (local time).
Retailer Lane Crawford said it would pull the brand from its stores and online sites in mainland China and Hong Kong after customers had returned Dolce & Gabbana items.
Most of the comments posted under the apology video on Weibo were also critical.
“We don’t have to accept your apology. Go and make money in other countries, there’s none for you here in China,” one user wrote.