Fashion controversies in China: 7 (not 8!) times western fashion brands angered China and Chinese netizens

Chinese burn

Text: Ryan Sng

Image: Instagram

For reasons we won't go into here — this is the fashion section, after all — everything from clothing to soybeans and mixed martial arts have become targets of burgeoning nationalist sentiment in China. In the wake of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, the Chinese internet's hackles appear to have been permanently raised, making business dealings with China a dicey eggshell walk. We take a look back at the recent spring of fashion controversies in the world's most populous country for your entertainment.

August 2019: Everyone gets denounced for failing to treat Hong Kong, Taiwan, and/or Tibet as Chinese territories.

With sensitivities vis-à-vis Chinese sovereignity running high, netizens scoured the internet and stores for brand websites or products that listed Hong Kong and Taiwan as separate territories to China; Versace, Coach 1941, Givenchy, Swarovski, Fendi, Gucci, and Chanel all copped flak, with several of them losing their Chinese brand ambassadors.

Versace Hong Kong shirt China controversy


January 2019: Burberry's edgy Lunar New Year campaign is poorly received.

Riccardo Tisci's debut Lunar New Year campaign — titled Modern Tradition starring Vicki Zhao and Zhou Dongyu — was criticised for its dark grittiness. Viewers felt that the campaign's grimy backdrops and unsmiling subjects misrepresented the spirit of the Lunar New Year.

Burberry Lunar New Year campaign


December 2018: Chinese consumers are encouraged to boycott Canada Goose, 'cause Canada.

Sometimes, country/region of origin can be an attractive facet of a brand's story; think Bottega Veneta or Marcelo Burlon County of Milan, for example. For Canada Goose, however, it proved disastrous when relations between Canada and China soured over the former's arrest of Huawei's chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou (making matters worse, Meng's arrest was carried out at the request of the USA). Digital cries to boycott Canada Goose in retaliation sent its stock tumbling some 20%, and put a serious dampener on the opening of its first flagship in China. Recent reports, however, suggest that the company has largely rebounded from the debacle.


November 2018: Stefano Gabbana becomes fashion's biggest villain in recent memory.

We've given this story so much airtime, we can't manage another punchy summary. In case you missed it (where have you been lately?!), read all about it here, here, and here.


April 2018: Balenciaga staff in Paris are videotaped mistreating Chinese shoppers.

After a Chinese shopper was assaulted for confronting (white) queue-jumpers outside Balenciaga's Printemps store, a (white) sales associate contemptuously asked said shopper to leave. Footage of the incident went viral on Chinese social media, and prompted many to label broader French antipathy towards Chinese shoppers as racist.


November 2017: Victoria's Secret's Shanghai fashion show hits some road bumps.

Days before the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show in Shanghai, model Gigi Hadid and singer Katy Perry were denied visas to participate in the event. The BBC reported that the denials likely stemmed from Perry carrying a Taiwanese flag during a concert in Taipei, and Hadid posting a racist, squint-and-you'll-look-like-Buddha pic on Instagram.


May 2017: Dior controversially appoints Angelababy, 'China's Kim Kardashian', a brand ambassador.

Chinese fans of Dior saw Angelababy — real name Angela Yeung Wing — as a poor fit for the French fashion house, citing her rumoured plastic surgeries, reputed early start as a mistress, and unexceptional acting career as disqualifiers. Yeung's appointment was seen as a cynical and number-driven move on Dior's part; at the time of the announcement, she counted some 80 million followers on Weibo.

Angelababy Dior