Following the incident at Printemps, Balenciaga released another statement on its social media channels, announcing that the brand has temporarily suspended the management staff that was present during the scuffle and will implement a new system for product launches to offer customers “a shopping experience aligned with the House’s values.”
“Balenciaga sincerely apologizes to all Chinese customers and all other customers present at that time,” the statement read. “The House is endeavoring to reach customers impacted by the incident in order to individually apologize.”
What We Reported Earlier
Balenciaga’s Triple S sneaker is at the heart of an international incident. A four-second video was posted on Chinese social app WeChat showing a scuffle that broke out Tuesday at the Balenciaga concession at Paris’ Printemps department store.
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According to the person who uploaded the clip, the dispute occurred when French shoppers attempted to cut a line of Chinese customers queuing up to enter. The caption of the video read: “Boycott Balenciaga discriminating against Chinese. Really angry, queuing up and yet get hit by the people cutting in line.”
It continued: “Today an older lady pointed out that five foreigners were cutting in line and one of them threatened her. Her son rushed over to defend her and got beaten by the group. French security only went after and restrained the Chinese. In the end, the sale was canceled. The most frustrating part is that the ones that started the fight were able to buy the shoes and Printemps disrespected the Chinese who had lined up, telling us to go away and never come back to buy shoes again.”
On Tuesday, Printemps took to Instagram to comment: “We are sorry for the altercation between two customers [which] took place this morning in the queue of the launch of a collector’s item. We immediately took action to restore calm and we are currently trying to understand what has happened.”
On Thursday, Balenciaga wrote the following in a statement: “The house of Balenciaga regrets the incident that took place yesterday morning at a department store in Paris while customers were waiting to enter its corner shop. The security staff acted immediately to restore the calm. Balenciaga sincerely apologizes to the customers who were present and reaffirms its strong commitment to respect equally all its customers.”
However, the Instagram accounts of both brands have been flooded with comments such as “shame on your racism,” “disgusting,” “apologize,” “without Chinese customers you are nothing.” Another read: “We in China have an old saying: water can carry a boat and can over turn it.” According to a report by consultancy firm Bain & Co., the global share of luxury items purchased by Chinese shoppers was 32 percent in 2017.
FN spoke to Chinese-American and longtime Paris resident Trang le Bozon, who is COO of technology company Braincity Labs. Such discrimination is a common occurrence with high luxury brands, she noted, especially in France. “It happens a lot here; it’s about the culture. They think, ‘This is our fashion; we determine who gets this.'”
Her own cousins have been at the receiving end. “They were told by a certain store that there were ‘no bags for them,'” le Bozon said. “They went in three times wearing three different outfits.”
The situation is not without its irony: “The luxury industry is hurting, and who is making the money [to be able to afford it]? It’s the Chinese,” she said.
Two Fashion students at Paris’ Parsons, Wanyun Gu and Abbygail Talao, who are respectively Chinese and Chinese-Lebanese by way of New York, weighed in on the situation.
“I thought it was crazy,” said Talao. “But it’s not just Paris; it’s a global problem in the luxury industry. I’ve heard of several cases in New York involving African-Americans who were discriminated against.”
“China has been a producer of luxury for a long time,” said Talao, “and now, even though it’s a consumer of luxury, there’s still a stereotype in place, which needs to be questioned.”
It should be noted that this year, Balenciaga moved the manufacturing of its Triple S sneaker from Italy to China.
Such is the demand for the product that the girls doubt this incident will damage sales. Nevertheless, while there may not be a huge economic impetus for luxury brands to change the way they operate, there’s an ethical one.
Le Bozon’s solution? “Hire people who are Chinese to work in customer service. It’s about diversity. When you’re around people, you start to understand them.” She likened the situation to female hires at male-dominated companies but warned that tokenism doesn’t work. “You can’t just have one or two people. You need a proportionate amount for there to be a shift in attitude.”
This story was updated to reflect the statement from Balenciaga.