SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Dolce & Gabbana cancelled a fashion show in Shanghai on Wednesday, after a series of advertisements for the brand in which a Chinese woman struggles to eat pizza and spaghetti with chopsticks drew condemnation from Chinese celebrities and on social media.
The controversy was the number one topic on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform, with more than 120 million reads by mid-afternoon, as celebrities, including “Memoirs of a Geisha” movie star Zhang Ziyi, posted critical comments about the brand.
Many users said they were annoyed by what they considered the patronizing tone of the narrator in the “Eating with Chopsticks” campaign.
Compounding the row over the advertisements were screenshots circulating online appearing to show designer Stefano Gabbana making disparaging remarks about China in an Instagram chat.
The luxury fashion brand said in an apology posted in Chinese on Weibo that Gabbana’s Instagram account had been hacked.
“We are sorry for the impact and harm these untrue remarks have had on China and the Chinese people,” it said.
Wednesday night’s show in Shanghai “has been postponed,” the company added, without elaborating or specifying if there would be a new date for the show. “We are deeply sorry for the inconvenience this has caused.”
A slate of celebrities, such as actress Li Bingbing and singer Wang Junkai, said they would boycott the Shanghai show.
It is not the first time Dolce & Gabbana has drawn fire in China. A series of advertisements last year prompted criticism and debate among social media users saying they only showed the grungy side of Chinese life.
Dolce & Gabbana co-founders Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana said in a statement sent to Reuters that “our dream was to bring to Shanghai a tribute event dedicated to China.”
“What happened today was very unfortunate not only for us, but also for all the people who worked day and night to bring this event to life.”
The incident underscores the risks for global brands in China, where influential online citizens often respond rapidly to perceived cultural slights and can have a major impact on firms seeking to lure the country’s big-spending shoppers.
Chinese customers account for over a third of all luxury purchases, with younger buyers in particular attracted by branded goods and willing to splurge on shopping trips abroad, or increasingly, within China.
(Reporting by Adam Jourdan and Pei Li; Additional reporting by Shanghai newsroom; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Alexandra Hudson)