Chopsticky matter, this luxury fashion business. In a bid to further appeal to China’s fetching luxury fetishists, Dolce and Gabbana (D&G) on 18 November 2018 released an advertorial series of “instructional” videos on the usage of chopsticks which set tempers flaring. A “Mad Men” old-school funny parodying depiction to some, yet blatant blasphemy and a belittling cliché to others. So which one is it?
Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce are no strangers to the not so dolce topic of discussion that is “cultural degradation” — we’ll get back to their infamous legacy in a jiffy — and 2018 is proving yet another eventful year in terms of the brand’s China-aimed advertising, with ad videos leading to video apologies from the designer duo to the people of China.
Let us take a little Temper trip down memory lane. Before we get to the controversy at hand.
Dolce and Gabbana founded their fashion empire back in 1985, conjuring up the intentionally stereotyped romantic representations of southern Italy: Black-clad Sicilian widows, mui macho Mediterranean men and voluptuous Loren lingerie sirens, bondaged together by the central aspects of family, divine Catholic devotion, a salacious lust for life and food and the bewildering beauty of the Tuscan panoramas.
“Salacious” being the operative word here…
Predators In Their Prime
Some past examples of D&G advertising prime include the pulled 2007 campaign featuring model Alessandra Ambrosio sprawled out helplessly yet effortlessly so on the floor surrounded by glazed god-like male creatures ready to come and pillage, i.e. invoking a “rape-esque” theme.
Temper would hereby like to remind you that despite our not condoning assault on anyone or anything in any shape or size, D&G did play it fair on both sides in this 2007 instance, adding a male version of the theme to its campaign.
All gang-bang pandemonium aside, the dynamic duo in 2015 set off dynamite when they referred to IVF babies as being “synthetic” as well as slamming the sanctity of same sex marriage. Nononono. Not. Done. Nevertheless, Dolce stated in an interview with Italian magazine Panorama:
“We oppose gay adoptions — the only family is the traditional one. No chemical offspring and rented uterus. Life has a natural flow; there are things that cannot be changed.”
“I am opposed to the idea of a child growing up with two gay parents. A child needs a mother and a father. I could not imagine my childhood without my mother. I also believe that it is cruel to take a baby away from its mother,” Gabbana reiterated.
The earlier mentioned 2007 shoot was thereupon brought to light by U.S. publicist Kelly Cutrone who tweeted one of the long lost images along with the caption:
“I guess simulating gang bangs are fine – but IVF and same sex marriage are not – life according to @dolcegabbana.”
The brand went on to repent, or so it seems, when in February 2016 it debuted a new handbag depicting a modern-day family of two fathers embracing their three children, one of whom has a darker skin tone.
Forgiven and forgotten or one more rosary to pray?
Tu Cool For… Controversy?
Sailing, sailing, across the bounding main that is D&G luxury branding and off to China, we go.
Chinese netizens in April of 2017 reacted angrily to a series of D&G photographs (part of its “DG Loves China” campaign), which showcased the city of Beijing. Aside from starring such notable urban landmarks as Tian’anmen and the shopping hutong that is Nanluoguxiang, the Morelli Brothers-shot photographs also prominently showed off many of the city’s residents just as they are seen in real-life — riding their bikes and taking selfies included.
Unfortunately, as The Beijinger so graciously reported at the time, “the spontaneous and informal style of the smiling photographs clashed with the Chinese concept of ‘face’, especially since foreigners are involved. By ‘exposing’ a side of China that did not feature its positive traits as seen in big international events like the Beijing Olympics, Dolce & Gabbana inadvertently embarrassed its hosts.” Though some Sina Weibo (China’s Twitter-like platform) comments praised D&G for featuring Beijing in their photographs, the majority of netizen reactions leaned to the negative right. In Sina Weibo exemplum:
- “Isn’t this an insult to China? Why don’t they go to places like Sanlitun and Guomao instead? Why do they go find an old uncle that collects garbage to be part of their photo shoot?”
- “Boring! Ugly! […] This imagery even shows a slight contempt for us [the Chinese people].”
Then there were those who simply were not taken with the impromptu fashion shots, remarking:
- “This style is really awkward. I don’t like it; it’s ill-advised,”
- “I don’t like it, there is no culture on display,”
- “The clothes don’t look good. It’s just that the models are young, that’s all.”
“Impromptu” being the operative word here…
Temper would like to hereby refer you to our previous report on China’s original TǔKù (Tu Cool) culture. Resulting in lookbooks brimming with “scenic spot views”, the very Chinese phenomenon that is TǔKù takes a more direct approach to shooting images, often staged around and focused on popular tourist areas such as Tiananmen Square, the Great Wall and Shichahai Lake. Posing like John and Jane Wang on their annual National Holiday, models and passers-by alike — art imitating life, if you will — melt into that only-in-China tourist blockbuster feel. TǔKù [too-koo]: Imitatio et aemulatio at its fashionably finest.
The 2015 remarks: Not. Cool. The 2017 imagery — admittedly with the exception of one or two: Too. Cool.
The Cutlery Controversy Is Made Of
It is in such frantic fashion, tempers not yet calmed all round, that 18 November came strolling round the Liberace-styled, yet as it turns out not so liberal-minded, street corner… A new D&G advertorial was unleashed onto audiences across social media platforms from East to West. The ad depicts a model versus her cutlery, serving as a spoof “instructional” video on the usage of chopsticks.
In the video, a model wearing a Rita Hayworth red sequin D&G dress appears to have trouble eating Italian food — pizza, pasta and cannoli — with chopsticks, but finally manages to figure it out. In one particular moment during the cannoli-tasting ad, the male narrator in a slightly tasteless tone asks the model: “Is it too big for you?”
A “Mad Men” old-school funny parodizing depiction to some, yet blatant blasphemy and belittling cliché to others. So which one is it?
We quote Instagram favorite Diet Prada, one example of the latter mindset, who in turn on 19 November quoted a number of Sina Weibo users:
“#DGlovesChina#? More like #DGdesperateforthatChineseRMB# lol [Sina Weibo user]. In a bid to further appeal to luxury’s covetable Chinese consumers, @dolcegabbana released some hella offensive “instructional” videos on the usage of chopsticks. Pandering at it’s finest, but taken up a notch by painting their target demographic as a tired and false stereotype of a people lacking refinement/culture to understand how to eat foreign foods and an over-the-top embellishment of cliché ambient music, comical pronunciations of foreign names/words, and Chinese subtitles (English added by us), which begs the question — who is this video actually for?
It attempts to target China, but instead mocks them with a parodied vision of what modern China is not…a gag for amusement. Dolce & Gabbana have already removed the videos from their Chinese social media channels, but not Instagram. Stefano Gabbana has been on a much-needed social media cleanse (up until November 2nd), so maybe he kept himself busy by meddling with the marketing department for this series. Who wants to bet the XL cannoli ‘size’ innuendos were his idea? Lmao.”
That’s one clear-cut way of putting it.
Given Temper leans a little more to the artsy and witty left, and however a devout believer in Diet Prada we usually are, we opt to go with the former option and take the Mad Men style of styles approach. Giving D&G the benefit of the doubt and looking at the video, together with our Chinese contributors — mind you, we choose to see the humor of it and actually crack a smile.
Most of the clichéd Chinese cultural symbolism like the lanterns that appeared in the deliberately messy background of the video according to a Sina Weibo user called “manchengkuangzao” (满城狂草) were “outdated and stereotypical”. The subtitles referred to chopsticks as “small-stick” tool, whilst referring to Italian food as being great, grand and tasty. Distasteful? Perhaps. Salacious and slanderous? Only in the eye of the beholder.
We welcome you to the new war on “cultural appropriation” and “degradation”.
Such grave and inditing critiques some five decades ago were only lapped against de facto offensive art — think demeaning caricatures such as blackface or ethnological expositions which literally put indigenous (caged) people on display. If artists anno 2018 dabble outside their own cultural experiences, they’ve committed a creative sin. Purgatory looms for us all.
Versace does “vulgar” with a wink just as Dolce and Gabbana do “distasteful” with one. So before we head into Salem ville and follow pastor and parish into the fires of eternal damnation, we at Temper would like to remind you of a little quote from