SHANGHAI • When the star-studded Victoria's Secret lingerie show hits Shanghai today, the first time the brand is holding its "sexiest show on earth" outside the United States and Europe, it will be without top model Gigi Hadid.
The 22-year-old pulled out of the show last Friday, after getting Chinese netizens' knickers in a twist with an online video that showed her apparently making slanted eyes.
Hadid - who was fifth on Forbes' list of the highest-paid female models last year with US$9 million (S$12 million) - gave no reason for her absence from Shanghai.
"I'm so bummed I won't be able to make it to China this year," she said on Twitter. "Love my VS family and will be with all my girls in spirit!"
Chinese Internet users accused Hadid of racism after her sister Bella - another of the three dozen or more models expected in Shanghai - posted an Instagram video in February showing Gigi squinting her eyes while holding up a Buddha-shaped cookie.
After Hadid announced in August that she would come to Shanghai, many Chinese netizens warned her to stay away.
She posted a bilingual apology on Weibo in September, declaring her "respect and love for the people of China" and swearing she meant no harm, but even that drew flak.
A Victoria's Secret spokesman declined to comment when asked whether Hadid pulled out on her own, was asked to by the company or whether the Chinese authorities applied any pressure.
Lingerie is among the fastest-growing segments of the Chinese women's apparel market, reaching 112 billion yuan in 2015, according to market-intelligence firm Mintel Group.
Victoria's Secret opened its first two Chinese flagship stores this year, including a four-storey Shanghai emporium.
Although the company has been accused of bias towards leggy blonde and Latina models, it featured a record four Asian models at its show last year and will reportedly feature six models of Chinese origin this year.
At the taping of the Shanghai show today, China's top model Liu Wen will reportedly be joined by Shu Pei Qin, Sui He, Xiao Wen Ju, Ming Xi and Paris-born Estelle Chen, alongside top models such as Adriana Lima, Alessandra Ambrosio and Karlie Kloss.
The show will air globally on Nov 28.