BEIJING: Chinese e-commerce sites have removed Dolce & Gabbana products amid a spiralling backlash against an advertising campaign that was decried as racist by celebrities and on social media.
The ads - released earlier this week to drum up interest in a Shanghai fashion show the Italian brand later canceled - featured a Chinese woman struggling to eat spaghetti and pizza with chopsticks, sparking criticism from consumers.
The blunder was compounded when screenshots were circulated online of a private Instagram conversation, in which the brand’s designer Stefano Gabbana makes a reference to “China Ignorant Dirty Smelling Mafia” and uses the smiling poo emoji to describe the country. The brand said Gabbana’s account had been hacked.
Amid calls for a boycott, the furore threatened to grow into a big setback for one of Italy’s best-known fashion brands in a crucial market, where rivals from Louis Vuitton to Gucci are vying to expand.
Chinese customers account for more than a third of spending on luxury products worldwide, and are increasingly shopping for these in their home market rather than on overseas trips.
China’s Kaola, an e-commerce platform belonging to China’s NetEase Inc confirmed it had removed Dolce & Gabbana products while luxury goods retailer Secoo said it removed the brand’s listings on Wednesday evening.
On Yoox Net-A-Porter - owned by Cartier parent Richemont and a leading online high-end retailer - the label’s wares were no longer available on its platforms within China. The company declined to comment.
Checks done by Reuters on Thursday morning also showed pages that previously linked to Dolce & Gabbana items on the e-commerce sites hosted by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and JD.com Inc were no longer available and searches for the brand returned no products.
Alibaba and JD.com did not respond to requests for comment, and Dolce & Gabbana did not comment on the retailers’ moves.
The founders then apologised to its Chinese customers on Friday over racially offensive posts.
In an attempt to salvage their reputation in the world's most important luxury market, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana capped a 1 minute and 30-second video by saying "sorry" in Mandarin in a video posted on a the country's social media platform.
"Our families always taught us to respect different cultures across the world and because of this we want to ask for your forgiveness if we have made mistakes in interpreting yours," said Dolce in Italian.
"We want to say sorry to all Chinese across the world, of which there are many, and we are taking this apology and message very seriously," Gabbana added.
It was posted on the brand's official Weibo account, the popular Chinese Twitter-like social media platform, where they have close to one million followers.
The company had already issued a written apology on Weibo earlier this week.
Despite the earlier apology, the Italian fashion house's products didn't make a comeback on Chinese e-commerce platforms.
A spokeswoman of retail giant Suning.com said they have removed all Dolce & Gabbana products after the incident.
The brands also could not be searched on retail giants Taobao and JD.com. The two companies did not respond to requests for comment.
Chinese netizens were unconvinced by the latest apology, with the video garnering over 100,000 comments some three hours after it was posted.
"They're bowing their precious heads to the renminbi (yuan) then," one Weibo user commented on the apology post.
The company cancelled a long-planned fashion show in Shanghai Wednesday after an outcry over racially offensive posts on its social media accounts.
Some of China’s biggest celebrities had been billed to attend the ‘Great Show’ event, but on Wednesday one after another announced their withdrawal.
“Our mother country is more important than anything, we appreciate the vigour and beauty of our cultural heritage,” said the management of Wang Junkai, a hugely popular singer in boy band TFBoys, as they announced his withdrawal. “I love my mother country,” actor Li Bingbing told her 42 million fans on Weibo.
The controversy marks the latest backpedalling by a foreign company for offending Chinese consumers with advertising or information that insults China or clashes with Beijing’s official position.
Earlier this year, German automaker Mercedes-Benz apologised for “hurting the feelings” of people in China after its Instagram account quoted Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, seen as a separatist by Beijing.
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