From controversies over Chinese New Year themed luxury products to Victoria’s Secrets’ dragon costumes, and most recently Dolce & Gabbana’s Beijing campaign, international luxury brands have time and again learned the lesson that it can be a highly delicate task to play the “Chinese style” card with local consumers. These brands are no doubt striving to convey a friendly message through campaigns and products featuring Chinese elements, but all too often the reception is one of discomfort.
That’s exactly what happened with Dolce & Gabbana. The Italian fashion and luxury brand was recently caught up in a public relations crisis over photographs that were shot in Beijing, which depicted D&G models mingling with locals. The series of photos were taken by the Morelli Brothers, who also shot the Hong Kong and Japan collections in a similar style for Dolce & Gabbana in recent months.
In the Beijing version, several Chinese Dolce & Gabbana models posed next to iconic landmarks, such as the Great Wall and the hutongs. In some photos, the models posed with locals, like taxi drivers and tourists, and in others, passerby were simply included in the frame, often in the foreground.
These photos, as part of the brand’s “Dolce & Gabbana Loves China” online marketing campaign, were intended to create a positive buzz and cater to rich Chinese clients in the lead up to Dolce & Gabbana’s “Alta Moda and Alta Sartoria Fashion Show” that convened at the Peninsula Hotel in Beijing on April 21. The couture show was its first in Beijing after the brand debuted it in Hong Kong for the first time outside of Italy in December.
However, many Chinese online citizens flocked to the brand’s official Weibo account when it posted photos last week, with a majority of them reacting negatively. Their complaints centered around questioning why Dolce & Gabbana only showed underdeveloped parts of Beijing and impoverished residents, while disregarding the more modern scenes of skyscrapers and citizens who are more stylish than those featured. “Stop it! You intentionally show the backwards part of China. It is discrimination,” one Weibo user wrote.
Many online users said they would stop buying Dolce & Gabbana’s products in the future, as they did not feel they were being respected.
Another criticism targeted the photographers and their shooting and editing techniques. “It is not the problem of the content, but the photographers’ lack of shooting skills,” a Weibo user commented. A verified professional graphic designer and photographer on Weibo posted a long review that had more than 3,000 likes, which criticized the photographs which depicted the locals in the foreground and the models in the background. The user also complained that the editing was overdone, with the coloring appearing too dirty and unnatural, creating an overall insincere attempt to show the brand’s love for China.
Online fashion bloggers also joined in on the discussion. “FashionModels”, a fashion blogger on Weibo who has approximately 3 million followers, posted Dolce & Gabbana’s photos along with an image with a long line of question marks to show his confusion regarding the campaign. Under his post, more than 700 people left comments and most of them supported his sentiment.
The backlash has caused Dolce & Gabbana to delete these photos on Weibo as well as on its official WeChat channel. The collection can still be seen on foreign social media sites, such as Instagram, which is blocked in mainland China. Here, much of the negative tone continues, but there of course are still supporters of the campaign as well.
All of the attention, both positive and negative, seemed to fare well for Dolce & Gabbana’s fashion show in Beijing. After the Peninsula event, Dolce & Gabbana hosted an event for VIPs at Beijing’s luxury shopping mall, SKP, complete with gelato, and photo ops with the models. The brand created another video for their Instagram page featuring the neighborhood surrounding the mall in Beijing’s business district. One commenter, xiuwen_zhao, said of the video, “finally, DG took some photos in Chinese good neighborhoods. Good job.”