The Italian luxury fashion house Dolce&Gabbana apologized Wednesday for insulting remarks about China it allegedly made in exchanges on Instagram but claimed its accounts had been hacked.
Chinese celebrities reacted angrily after screenshots of the conversations were posted on social media and several said they would boycott a Dolce&Gabbana show scheduled for Wednesday night. The company later said the show, an extravaganza meant as a tribute to China with Asian stars invited to take front-row seats, had been called off.
The screenshots appear to show co-founder Stefano Gabbana referring to China with crude terms and emoji as he defends promotional videos that had sparked controversy earlier. Separately, the Dolce&Gabbana Instagram account used offensive language in another exchange.
Dolce&Gabbana apologized on Instagram and said the accounts had been hacked. "We are very sorry for any distress caused by these unauthorized posts," it said. "We have nothing but respect for China and the people of China."
Zhang Ziyi, who starred in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," said on one of her social media accounts that the Italian brand had "disgraced itself."
The studio for pop idol Karry Wang, an Asia-Pacific brand ambassador for Dolce&Gabbana, said late Wednesday that it had informed the fashion house that it would terminate all cooperation with the brand. Both Wang and Zhang had been invited to attend the event.
Stefano Gabbana also wrote on his Instagram that his account had been hacked, adding "I love China and Chinese culture. I'm sorry for what happened."
The three promotional videos, which have been deleted from the company's Weibo account, feature a Chinese woman using chopsticks to eat pizza and other Italian food. Many Chinese social media users called the videos racist and full of outdated stereotypes.
In a statement from Milan headquarters, designers Gabbana and Domenico Dolce said, "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 Shanghai extravaganza was to include 300 models previewing a new collection on a rotating stage, including super model Eva Herzigova and Isabella Fontana during a brand DNA section, and a lineup of millennial stars and influencers for a second section dedicated to the future. The final part of the show was to be dedicated to Asia, with Asian models and a front row of Asian stars among the 1,000 invited guests, including actor Darren Wang, actor Jing Kang Liang, singer Stan Young and actress Bing Bing Lee, along with Wang and Zhang.
Asia, and China in particular, is key to European luxury brands' success. A recent study by Bain consultancy said one-third of all high-end purchases are made by Chinese consumers, shopping both at home and abroad. That is expected to rise to 46 percent by 2025, fueled especially by millennials and generation Z teens.
Dolce&Gabbana has 44 boutiques in China, including four in Shanghai, having entered the Chinese market in Hangzhou in 2005.
Dolce told The Associated Press in an email interview before the controversy erupted that the designers had planned an "homage to China, to celebrate the country, and at the same time, to tell our story and love for fashion."
"'We want to give life to a great show that we hope will be unforgettable to everyone. We used details that belong to the local culture, but always with sensitivity, without being intrusive."