Wed, 20 Nov 2019

Western fashion brands are coming under fire in China for designs perceived to run afoul of local political sensitivities, sparking calls for boycotts in a market that accounts for a third of global luxury demand.

Less than 24 hours after Versace apologized for t-shirts that were accused of defying the One-China Policy, American fashion label Coach and French luxury house Givenchy are facing a backlash from Chinese consumers for similar faux pas.

After pictures circulated online of t-shirts sold by both brands that suggest Hong Kong and Taiwan are countries, rather than cities, calls grew on Chinese social media for boycotts of Tapesty Inc.-owned Coach and LVMH's Givenchy.

Coach's brand ambassador, Chinese supermodel Liu Wen, said Monday on the Weibo platform that she would terminate her relationship with the brand for "seriously hurting the Chinese people's feelings."

Givenchy's t-shirt, which is being sold for 3990 yuan ($565) on the Chinese website of luxury e-commerce platform FarFetch, features a list of cities and their corresponding countries.

Hong Kong is listed as both a city and country, while Taipei's corresponding country is listed as Taiwan. Coach's T-shirt was similar.

Coach said on its Weibo account on Monday that the t-shirts were pulled from sale in May 2018 after the mistake was identified and said that it is "deeply sorry for the emotional harm caused to consumers."

Representatives for LVMH and for Givenchy did not immediately respond to requests for comment; Jackson Yee, a boyband star who's an ambassador for Givenchy's beauty line, said he was terminating his contract with the French label.

Versace apologized on Sunday for a "wrong design" on its own t-shirts, where Hong Kong and Macau were listed as countries. Versace's China brand ambassador, actress Yang Mi, also ended her cooperation with the Italian fashion house, which said the t-shirts had been removed from sale July 24 and destroyed.

The backlash comes as China steps up its response to months-long anti-Beijing protests in Hong Kong, which along with the gambling enclave of Macau is a special administrative region of China.

The fracas surrounding the t-shirts shows how easy it is for foreign companies to fall afoul of local sensibilities in China, where the government censors web and media content and consumers can be increasingly nationalistic, especially online.

An advertisement from Dolce & Gabbana last year that showed a Chinese model struggling to eat spaghetti and pizza with chopsticks sparked outrage and a boycott of the luxury fashion retailer's goods.

In April, Leica Camera AG quickly distanced itself from a promotional video bearing the camera maker's name that prompted a backlash against the company in China for partially focusing on the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests.

With both Tapestry and LVMH increasingly focused on China to drive growth, the t-shirt incidents are likely to add to concern about western luxury brands' ability to navigate the huge market.

Chinese consumers are estimated to account for at least a third of current luxury sales and two-thirds of the industry's growth, according to figures from consultancy Bain & Co.

Demonstrations in Hong Kong that started as a protest against a law allowing extraditions to China have entered their 10th week. Companies have been caught in between, with shares of Cathay Pacific Airways falling on Monday after China's civil aviation authority demanded the airline bar employees who supported the protests from flying to the mainland.

Versace's former ambassador, an actress known for films like Eternal Love and the Tiny Times series, said Sunday that she has ended her relationship with the company because it had harmed China's sovereign and territorial integrity.

Designer Donatella Versace apologized in a post on Instagram on Sunday for an "unfortunate error."

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