The founders of Italian fashion house Dolce & Gabbana asked for China's 'forgiveness' as a row over racially offensive posts snowballed, with its products pulled from lucrative Chinese e-commerce platforms.
In an attempt to salvage their reputation in the world's most important luxury market, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana capped a 1 minute 30-second mea culpa by saying 'sorry' in Mandarin in a video posted on YouTube and Chinese social media platform today.
The Italian fashion house cancelled a marquee show in Shanghai on Wednesday after celebrities and social media users called for a boycott over the brand's latest advertising campaign which showed a Chinese model eating pizza, spaghetti and a cannoli with chopsticks that many deemed culturally insensitive.
The blunder was compounded when screenshots were circulated online of a private Instagram conversation, in which designer Stefano Gabbana makes a reference to 'China Ignorant Dirty Smelling Mafia' and uses the smiling poo emoji to describe the country. The company immediately said Gabbana's account had been hacked.
The furore is a setback for one of Italy's best-known fashion brands in China, where rivals from Louis Vuitton of LVMH to Kering's Gucci are vying to expand.
Chinese buyers account for more than a third of spending on luxury goods worldwide, and are increasingly shopping at home rather than on overseas trips.
In the video apology, Gabbana and Dolce said they had 'reflected seriously' and were saddened by the impact of their words.
'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,' Dolce, speaking in Italian, said in the video of the two designers seated side-by-side.
'We want to say sorry to all Chinese across the world, of which there are many, and we are taking this apology and message very seriously,' Gabbana added. 'We will never forget this experience and lesson, and this sort of thing will never happen again.'
The designers ended the clip by saying 'dui bu qi' - 'sorry' in Mandarin.
The video with Chinese subtitles was posted on China's Twitter-like platform, Weibo.
It's not the first gaffe by Dolce & Gabbana in China, where the brand came under fire on social media last year for a series of advertisements showing the grungy side of Chinese life.
Other upsets have come and gone in China without appearing to cause lasting damage, including at brands like Kering's Balenciaga, which apologised in April amid a backlash over how some Chinese customers had been treated in Paris.
However, the crisis for Dolce & Gabbana showed no sign of easing on Friday. Retailer Lane Crawford said it would pull the brand from its stores and online sites in mainland China and Hong Kong after customers had returned Dolce & Gabbana items.
Searches for Dolce & Gabbana turned up no items Thursday on major online retailers such as Alibaba's Tmall and JD.com while pages that previously linked to the brand's products were unavailable.
Cross-border e-commerce site Yangmatou said on Weibo it had taken 58,000 D&G products down, adding that 'the Motherland is more important than anything else.'
Video circulating on Weibo shows people protesting outside D&G's flagship store in Milan on Wednesday night holding the print 'Not Me', which Gabbana had posted when he denied ever making the remarks in direct messages on Instagram.
Celebrities including 'Memoirs of a Geisha' movie star Zhang Ziyi criticised the brand, while singer Wang Junkai and model Dilraba Dilmurat said he had terminated an agreement to be the brand's ambassador.
Most of the comments posted under the apology video on Weibo were also critical.
'We don't have to accept your apology. Go and make money in other countries, there's none for you here in China,' one user wrote.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.