Political tensions grew to new heights in China this year, yet few global luxury brands learned from Dolce & Gabbana’s infamous blunder in 2018. Brands continued to offend Chinese culture and display a lack of political awareness, illustrating they still have much to learn when it comes to China.
Controversies kicked off when Burberry released its Chinese New Year campaign that was called out as cultural appropriation. Versace, Coach, and Givenchy were all entrenched in a T-shirt controversy; tops featured product designs and prints that challenged China’s territory and authority. Three days before its Spring 2020 fashion show in Shanghai, Dior was involved in a Chinese map crisis. As mainland China and Hong Kong’s conflicts escalated, products and campaigns targeting China’s market came under scrutiny.
Below, Jing Daily’s selection of the top 5 China luxury controversies in 2019. For more of our 2019 year in review analysis, read on here.
To usher in China’s Lunar New Year, Burberry launched a campaign that was criticized as unsettling on social media; Chinese netizens likened the images to Asian horror movies. This misinterpretation of Chinese New Year culture recalled Dolce & Gabbana’s biggest mistakes in cultural appropriation. The controversy surrounding this misjudged campaign challenged the brand’s repositioning in and emphasis on the Chinese luxury market. Read more
In August, a problematic shirt design listing Hong Kong and Macau as independent countries landed Versace at the center of a heated debate on Chinese social media. Although Versace issued an official apology, the damage was already done: millions of users persecuted the brand online by pinpointing the gravity of its political ignorance and its newly appointed Chinese brand ambassador Yang Mi resigned. Read more
Versace was not the only brand to misstep in China. Cautious Chinese netizens also exposed another brand, Coach, which had previously released a garment that listed Hong Kong and Taiwan as independent countries. The repercussions were great and Chinese supermodel Liu Wen, who became Coach’s brand ambassador this July, announced she will stop working with the brand. Coach joined Versace in apologizing to China over their T-shirt controversy. Read more
Givenchy was also embroiled in controversy during 2019 as netizens called the brand out for making the same design mistake. Brand ambassador Jason Yee, one of the most valuable pop stars in China, immediately cancelled his contract with the brand. The hashtag #JacksonYeestopscontractwithGivenchy#易烊千玺与纪梵希解约 was viewed 500 million times and had 112,000 discussions. Givenchy’s collaboration with Jackson Yee was considered a coup to win over young Chinese consumers. Read more
Within an hour of the map incident, Dior issued an apology on social media channels including WeChat and Weibo. The prompt official response played an important role in preventing the backlash from spreading more widely. The playing of the classic Chinese patriotic song, “My Motherland and Me,” at the 2020 Spring fashion show afterparty in Shanghai was considered another apology for the previous wrongdoing. The show and the crisis management were well-received by Chinese fashionistas and consumers. Read more