Fashion label apologises to China shoppers

BEIJING • Fashion house Balenciaga, owned by French luxury group Kering, yesterday issued a second, longer apology after reports of a scuffle between Chinese and other shoppers in a Paris shop led to claims in China of racial discrimination by store employees.

In a Chinese social media post after calls for a boycott by some Internet users in China, Balenciaga said it sincerely apologised to all Chinese customers and other shoppers over the incident, which occurred last Wednesday.

According to Chinese media reports, staff at a Balenciaga outlet in a Printemps department store told Chinese customers to leave after a confrontation with other shoppers.

Considering the "seriousness" of the matter, Balenciaga said yesterday it had temporarily suspended management staff present during the incident pending the outcome of an investigation.

In the incident, according to Chinese media, a Chinese customer scolded queue jumpers when she was standing in line to enter the Balenciaga shop in Printemps.

One of the jumpers pushed the woman and threatened to punch her, prompting her son to come to her defence, according to China's Global Times, which cited a video that was posted on Chinese social media platform, WeChat.

Her son was beaten to the ground by group, the daily said, adding that a sales clerk then allegedly insulted Chinese customers and told them to leave.

The hashtag #BoycottBalenciagaDiscriminatesChinese spread across another social media service, Weibo, drawing 23 million views as of Friday.

"Balenciaga shoes are beautiful, but such an episode is an eye-opener. #BoycottBalenciaga, which discriminates against the Chinese," said one Weibo user.

Another wrote: "You can say goodbye to the Chinese market."

Balenciaga had issued a first apology on Weibo on Thursday, saying it regretted the incident and noted that security guards had acted immediately to restore calm.

"Balenciaga sincerely apologises to the customers who were present and reaffirms its strong commitment to respect equally all its customers," it said on Weibo. But it did not identify the customers to whom it offered the apology as Chinese, prompting scorn among some Chinese social media users.

Printemps also apologised on Thursday, writing that staff would receive additional training to ensure they manage such situations in the best possible way.

"We would like to extend our sincerest apologies to the Chinese customers involved in this altercation as well as to all those who were upset or inconvenienced in any way," it said.

Paris is a favourite European destination of Chinese travellers, and they are crucial clients for French luxury brands.

Long lines of customers from China and other countries are common at Parisian stores.

But big-spending Chinese tourists have become targets for thieves in France, with China's embassy issuing a statement last year urging them to exercise caution following "several large-scale violent robberies".


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 29, 2018, with the headline Fashion label apologises to China shoppers. Subscribe