The Dolce & Gabbana fashion brand has been badly damaged in China after initial attempts to defuse a PR crisis fell on deaf ears.
The founders of the top Italian fashion house apologized to Chinese consumers in Mandarin last Friday as a row over racially offensive posts snowballed.
“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 Mr Dolce in Italian.
“We have always loved China; we have visited many cities … and certainly we still have much to learn.”
In the subtitled video, Gabbana added: “We offer our sincerest apologies to Chinese people worldwide.”
While the designers reassured fans that nothing like this would ever happen again, on mainland social media at least, reactions to their apologies were unforgiving.
One Weibo user wrote, “I will never buy D&G again. Too much choice out there. Why wear a brand that is racist, rude and attacks young women online by demeaning their looks.
Another added, “I think 1.4 billion people will never buy anything from you again. Go to another market- you’ve lost this one @dolcegabbana”.
Others poured ridicule on the company by suggesting that the apology may have been posted by a hacker, an early excuse used by Gabbana in response to the outrage that hit them after the story broke.
This all started with a series of videos featuring “eating with chopsticks”, in which a narrator instructed a woman to use chopsticks to eat a large Italian pizza.
What was originally a light-hearted joke to promote a Shanhai catwalk show unfortunately fell foul of delicate Chinese sensibilities.
To make things worse, a Whatsapp message allegedly from Gabbana called China “the country of shit” and “Ignorant Dirty Smelling Mafia”. Gabbana said his account was hacked but its Asian model Michaela Phuong Thanh Tranova posted screenshots of her exchange with Gabbana.
Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi and actor and singer Chen Kun joined the chorus of criticism against D&G, whose Chinese ambassadors such as Karry Wang Junkai, a member of the popular boy band TFBoys, and actress Dilireba, have also terminated their contracts.
A dozen Chinese people holding “Not Me” banners protested in front of D&G’s headquarter in Milan, and the rest was history.
Beijing has opted out of getting involved directly in the issue, according to the South China Morning Post.
Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Thursday it was not a diplomatic issue and that China did not wish to escalate it into one.
He said, “Instead of asking the foreign ministry spokesperson, it is better to ask the ordinary people in China to see how they view this issue.”
Although D&G founders have apologized, they may still not know how a minor cultural brouhaha became such a huge public relations disaster. They should learn from previous cases.
In October 2017, IKEA, the global Swedish furniture giant, caused a social media storm when a Chinese advert featured a mother who threatened to disown her unmarried daughter.
The 30-second commercial showed a family scene with a stern-looking Chinese mother telling her daughter: “If you cannot bring back a boyfriend, don’t call me mom.”
The company was criticized for the “sexist” ad and finally shamed into apologizing.