Dolce & Gabbana‘s Shanghai show was supposed to be one of the grandest in fashion history. Instead, its swift and sudden cancellation may now go down as one of the fashion industry’s biggest international controversies ever. On Monday, Web videos promoting the show went viral on Weibo, one of China’s largest social media platforms, amid complaints that they were racist and insensitive. At one point, the site’s trending-topics list was completely dominated by discussion of the show, and according to reports, the brand was forced to cancel.
The Italian brand’s founders and creative director, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, have never been accused of subtlety in anything that they do. Dubbed “The Great Show,” the Shanghai presentation was reportedly set to feature anywhere from 320 to 500 separate looks with more than a hundred additional performers. A who’s who of China’s elite and famous, including Li Bingbing, Zhang Ziyi, and popular music acts were slated to sit in the front row of an audience anticipated to be well over 1,000. It was a testament to China’s growing importance as a market for luxury goods (Business of Fashion reports that the nation accounts for 33 percent of all global luxury commerce and may make up as much as 46 percent by 2025) and for D&G particularly.
Dolce & Gabbana, as its designers were once happy to tell you, is not known for political correctness either. Online vignettes meant to promote the show depicted a Chinese model attempting to eat Italian food with Chinese chopsticks. As it grows in stature internationally, however, the Chinese public has become increasingly sensitive about what they feel are outdated and stereotype-laden depictions of their culture by Westerners. Many also felt that the videos claimed that forks were superior to chopsticks. The narrator’s innuendo-laden remark that a cannoli might be “too big” for the Chinese woman also rankled many.
The controversy only grew after Instagram’s favorite fashion watchdogs @Diet_Prada leaked Instagram DMs purportedly showing Gabbana’s personal reaction to the backlash on his account. The messages made liberal use of the smiling poop emoji, accused the Chinese of eating dogs, and included the phrase “China Ignorant Dirty Smelling Mafia.”
After that, Chinese VIPs began publicly pulling out of the show. According to WWD, a local modeling agency said that 24 of its models slated to appear on the runway would stay home. Individually, models began taking to social media to post images of the show’s casting board with the words “Not Me” over it.
The show was then officially canceled, and Dolce & Gabbana attempted damage control.
The brand now claims that both its official Instagram and Gabbana’s personal verified account were hacked and that their legal offices are looking into it. Gabbana reappropriated the “Not Me” protest himself by placing the words over an image of the leaked DMs. “My Instagram account has been hacked. My legal office is working on this,” he wrote. “I love China and the Chinese Culture. I’m so sorry for what happened.”
Gabbana, however, is well known for courting controversy both in interviews and online. He once called Selena Gomez “ugly” in an Instagram comment and slyly dissed Kate Moss (a supermodel with a limited history with the brand), Victoria Beckham, and Dior’s creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri.
Gabbana has also caused controversy for once referring to children conceived through IVF as “synthetic” (remarks he later apologized for) and for staunchly supporting First Lady Melania Trump (a controversy the brand doubled down on by selling T-shirts that read #BoycottD&G). The brand’s controversial reputation even once led to a model protesting its designer’s social politics in the middle of D&G’s own show back in 2017. Conversely, Gabbana’s stances have also won him praise from unlikely outlets like Tucker Carlson’s conservative site The Daily Caller.
“I love to be free. Free, free, free, free, free. I love to say what I think,” Gabbana once told The Washington Post about his lack of an online filter. “I’m not afraid. What I say is not wrong, but it’s out of the system. But it’s really what I think.”