Dolce & Gabbana: A Lesson in Cultural Sensitivity

In promoting its Shanghai runway show, Italian luxury fashion brand Dolce and Gabbana, inadvertently killed its China market via a series of tone deaf videos. Ramifications from this indicates the growing significance of cultural sensitivity in an increasingly global marketplace as well as the line between private and public thought.



The videos, depicting a Chinese model attempting to eat traditional Italian food accompanied by a heavily accented, stereotyped and sexist voice over incited intense public furor and was taken down after just 24 hours of launch. Such was the intensity and impact of this campaign, D&G’s 500 look runway presentation was cancelled and the brand itself was denounced by prominent Chinese celebrities, such as Zhang Ziyi and Wang Xiaoming.

Despite arguments over labelling the racist campaign as racist, messages sent from Stefano Gabbana’s Instagram account to a Chinese fashion blogger certainly did not help to alleviate the situation. Claiming to have been hacked, Gabbana’s private messages further perpetuated decades old stereotypes, culminating in painting Chinese consumers as an ‘ignorant and dirty smelling mafia’. A later video apology did little to save the brand’s image and at time of writing, D&G remains locked out of the lucrative Chinese market.

Stefano Gabbana (left) and Domenico Dolce (right). Credit: Maxim Blinkov /

With China making up 33% of global luxury good consumers (a number which shows a strong trend to hit 46% by 2025, Bain & Company) support and following from the Chinese market is increasingly important. Immediate fallout of this campaign led to the removal of D&G products from popular online shopping platforms, Tmall and Alibaba, boycotting of physical stores and publicised vandalising of products on social media.

Interior of Dolce & Gabbana store – Hong Kong. Credit: Sorbis /

Lasting implications of this still remains to be seen with some speculating that despite such negativity, it has increased awareness of the brand in China. With the rise of social media, controversies can spread wide and fast, but can also easily be forgotten once another scandal arises. In spite of the public’s short term memory, this event does highlight the importance of diversity, externally and internally, in a company’s structure. More diversity in staff can navigate brands through different cultures and help translate ideas fluidly across global markets.