Dolce & Gabbana's Photo Ban Angers Hong Kong Shoppers

Mainland Chinese Are Allowed to Snap Pictures but Locals Aren't; Protest Escalates on Facebook

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Dolce & Gabbana is the target of public anger in Hong Kong after reports that locals are banned from taking photos in front of the luxury retailer's store, highlighting simmering tensions over the status of mainland Chinese in the territory.

Dolce & Gabbana in Hong Kong
Dolce & Gabbana in Hong Kong

About a thousand people turned up at the brand's flagship store on Canton Road over the weekend, clogging streets in the luxury shopping area, media reports said. Dolce & Gabbana was forced to close the store Sunday afternoon.

Demonstrators, who included local lawmakers, held placards and snapped away with digital cameras, news photos showed. One protester reportedly used paper money traditionally burned for the dead to form the Chinese character for "shameful" on the store window, a strong statement in a culture where speaking about death is taboo.

The protest gained traction on Facebook after local media said Dolce & Gabbana security guards were preventing Hong Kong citizens from taking photos of window displays, even from public areas on the street . Store representatives apparently said they were protecting intellectual property but added that foreigners and mainland Chinese were exempt from the rule.

It's not clear whether this is official store policy or the reaction of overzealous managers. Dolce & Gabbana has so far only issued a statement that said: "We wish to underline that our company has not taken part in any action aiming at offending the Hong Kong public."

Hong Kong is a key market for many luxury brands. The former British colony is a popular shopping destination for cash-flush mainland Chinese, who like to take advantage of taxes that are significantly lower than those at home.

Dolce & Gabbana co-founder Domenico Dolce said in a recent interview with a Hong Kong magazine that he and partner Stefano Gabbana aim to open 30 stores in China over the next two to three years.

Many suspect that the no-photo rule is aimed at appeasing the mainlanders, who many regard as nouveau riche with no class. Hong Kong citizens take pride in their unique Cantonese culture and democratic ideals but worry that these will be eroded as China's political and economic clout expands. Beijing governs Hong Kong under a policy referred to as "one country, two systems."

Jing Daily, an online publication covering the luxury market and Chinese culture, posted an analysis headlined "What Luxury Brands Should Learn From Dolce & Gabbana's PR Disaster" discussing the danger for brands in favoring mainland Chinese shoppers over locals. It points out that Hong Kong's more open press and internet access, and greater English fluency, let public relations problems escalate faster and more globally than in mainland China.

Facebook, for instance, is blocked in mainland China but freely accessible -- and popular -- in Hong Kong. In fact, this anti-Dolce & Gabbana Chinese-language page sprung up on Facebook and has more than 20,000 fans, and the luxury retailer's own Facebook wall has been peppered with comments such as "One of D & G values is 'Respect for individuals.' This is be changed to 'Practice of racism is our core value [sic].' "

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