How many instances of bias or cultural insensitivity does it take for a fashion label to be called to account for its racism? Dolce & Gabbana is finally finding out after a series of campaign ads peddling in cultural stereotypes, followed by racist comments, have rightfully drawn the ire of the Chinese and the fashion industry.
The genesis of the scandal? Several ads for the luxury label’s “The Great Show” runway presentation, which was planned on November 21 in Shanghai and hashtagged #DGLovesChina. In the spots, a Chinese model was filmed clumsily attempting to eat a variety of Italian foods using chopsticks as a Chinese language voiceover made suggestive comments and intentionally mispronounced many of the non-Chinese words.
Was it racist? The question sparked major debate amongst fashion watchers, but we’re firm believers that the un-offended don’t get to make that determination. We know the backlash eventually caused D&G to cancel its highly promoted runway show in Shanghai last week, and has cost them numerous Chinese retailers and followers.
And in case you’re still scratching your heads over how racist this incident actually was, there were also a series of messages that surfaced as the scandal unfolded, purportedly written by designer Stefano Gabbana to a fellow fashion insider, later published by Instagram fashion favorite Diet Prada prior to the show’s eventual cancellation. Disturbingly, Gabbana refers to China as “the country of [shit]” and references what he calls the “China Ignorant Dirty Smelling Mafia.”
Predictably, the label immediately claimed hacking—of both their IG and Gabbana’s personal account—but the damage was already done.
The design partners have since apologized. But let’s be honest, this is far from the first time the label has been accused of racism. From sending “Blackamoor” earrings down the runway in their Spring 2013 collection to 2016's insensitively-named “slave sandals,” D&G has repeatedly misstepped when it comes to cultural correctness—not to mention the ironically homophobic stance the two openly gay designers took against gay parenting. (For reference, Out magazine has compiled a handy little timeline of their history of prejudice.)
In fact, this isn’t even the first time the designing duo has taken jabs at their Asian followers. As recently as April of this year, they were reported to have said they would be against a Japanese designer succeeding them at their label—a seemingly rather specific bias, if they’d simply prefer to continue the Italian legacy.
And admittedly, the fashion industry and media have long had a tenuous relationship with D&G—including The Glow Up. We have occasionally struggled with how to cover a problematic brand that remains a red-carpet favorite of so many of the black celebs we cover, including Naomi Campbell, Cardi B, Nicki Minaj, and many more. As the section’s sole current editor, it’s been my choice to only mention the label when absolutely necessary, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge that the benign tolerance many of us in the fashion media have repeatedly extended to D&G has further enabled this type of behavior.
So, will the loss of the Chinese market mark a very overdue comeuppance and ultimate evolution or demise of Dolce & Gabbana? We don’t know—and frankly, it’s not our problem. But as members of the media, it is our responsibility to call it out when we see it—even when we’re not the immediate targets. And whether or not D&G learns its lesson, that’s the teachable moment the fashion industry should be having right now.