Saturday, November 28, 2015   

Fashion disaster of its own making

Mary Ma

Monday, January 09, 2012

Italian fashion brand Dolce & Gabbana is notorious. It's making news headlines here and overseas for the wrong reasons this time - after its flagship shop in Tsim Sha Tsui found itself embroiled in a controversy over photo-taking.

The ban reportedly applied to Hongkongers only, while mainland customers were welcome to click away.

CNN ran the headline "Outrageous racism of D&G shop" while The Daily Telegraph said "Dolce & Gabbana photo ban protested." And in the past several days, the news flashed across the SAR.

It's disappointing that D&G only managed to make a terse statement now - not earlier - to refute accusations of discriminatory remarks made by staff at the Canton Road store.


The statement, without the names of contact persons that a professional press statement normally contains, did not answer the question whether the company has a policy to stop people from taking photos of its shopfront - the crux of the public outcry.

It would be in D&G's own interest to clarify if it has such a policy. But even if it does, it would have no effect here, since everyone is free to take photos in public places.

If its motivation was to protect copyrighted products and its storefront, it could sue if it found knockoffs elsewhere.

Clearly, the fashion house hasn't yet placed itself in a crisis management mode.

Anger over D&G began building last week after a security guard emerged from the store to prevent people from taking photos. Word spread like wildfire on Facebook and an appeal for the public to take photos of the shopfront in protest attracted more than 10,000 "likes" quickly. Yesterday, 1,000 people protested outside the shop.

It's been rumored that a VIP customer from the mainland was shopping inside and the staff were merely acting at his urging to "ban" the photo-taking.

Whatever the reason, its handling of the situation has been a PR disaster that could have been avoided from the outset. Maybe D&G's boss should take a cue from chief executive contender Henry Tang Ying-yen for his smart comment that it should welcome everyone to take photos because this is recognition of the company's success.

It would be dangerous for D&G or other luxury brands watching the developments to think the protesting masses include none of their target customers. As the row began to boil, two disgruntled drivers parked top Italian sports cars - including a Ferrari - outside the store in protest.

Top brands are known to have adopted marketing strategies tailored for a niche clientele. Perhaps they should take a lesson from the current flap and devise a PR strategy more sensitive to local sentiments as they continue tapping the vast mainland market.

At the end of the day, Hong Kong is an open city that treasures freedom no less than others.

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