Swiss luxury shop denies racism towards Oprah

ZURICH Fri Aug 9, 2013 4:43pm EDT

Cast member Oprah Winfrey attends director Lee Daniels' 'The Butler' New York film premiere at the Ziegfeld Theater in New York August 5, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Cast member Oprah Winfrey attends director Lee Daniels' 'The Butler' New York film premiere at the Ziegfeld Theater in New York August 5, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Andrew Kelly

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ZURICH (Reuters) - The owner of a luxury goods shop in Zurich has denied that racism was involved when Oprah Winfrey was discouraged from buying a 35,000 Swiss franc ($38,100) handbag.

The U.S. talk show host, recently named the world's most powerful celebrity, was in Switzerland for the wedding of singer Tina Turner when the incident occurred last month.

The broadcaster said in two U.S. interviews that a sales assistant had refused to show her the crocodile handbag, saying it was "too expensive" and steering her towards other, cheaper ones.

Luxury shop Trois Pommes denied discriminating against Winfrey, an African-American, who asked to look at a "Jennifer" purse, designed by Tom Ford and named for actress Jennifer Aniston. The owner put the incident down to a language barrier.

"This is an absolute classic misunderstanding," shop owner Trudie Goetz told Reuters on Friday.

"This has nothing to do with racism, I am here for everyone and the customer is king."

The sales assistant had wanted to show Winfrey that the bag was also available in other materials, which may have given the TV host the impression the shop did not want to sell it to her, Goetz said.

"Of course that's not the case. Who wouldn't want to sell a purse for 35,000 francs?" Goetz said.

Trois Pommes operates various luxury-brand boutiques in Switzerland, including the Tom Ford shop in Zurich where Winfrey said she was refused.

Winfrey, 59, who runs her own TV network, earned $77 million in the year to June 2013, taking the No. 1 spot on the Forbes most powerful celebrity list last month, the fifth time she has headed the annual ranking.

She also appears in a forthcoming movie, "The Butler", which examines race issues in a story about an African-American who works at the White House under several U.S. presidents.

The shop incident unleashed a volley of criticism in Switzerland, where media reported this week that asylum-seekers are not allowed free movement to public sports venues like municipal pools, prompting criticism from advocacy group Human Rights Watch.

Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga denied there were particular access barriers for asylum-seekers.

The Swiss tourism association said it regretted the handbag incident and was "never happy when our guests' feelings are hurt".

Switzerland has contradictory attitudes towards foreigners: on the one hand, it employs large numbers of foreign professionals in big industries like finance, which accounts for roughly 6 percent of gross domestic product.

On the other, the Swiss People's Party, the biggest in parliament, has long made opposition to immigration a key plank of its electoral appeal. It has been accused of racism for its campaigns which once featured a poster of a white sheep kicking a black one from a Swiss flag.

($1 = 0.9193 Swiss francs)

(Reporting By Katharina Bart; Additional reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Paul Taylor and Michael Roddy)

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Comments (24)
DaveBishop wrote:
I think the most telling part of this story is, “Winfrey is currently promoting her return to the big screen…” Ever since she tweeted something about one of her shows on her notwork, I mean network, right after the Zimmerman verdict, she has been more active in the “Blacks are getting screwed” side of things. To compare Trayvon to Emmett Till, for instance, is so anti-civil rights…but Oprah is trying to stay up there in her perception of what is civil rights with the likes of Jesse and the Rev. Al. So now she has to complain about what would be a misunderstanding for anyone else into a “I am Black and I was not treated right…” thing. But the bottom line is, she needs the publicity….her TV network is going down the toilet, and she has a movie coming out which might just get flushed down there too.

Aug 09, 2013 11:53am EDT  --  Report as abuse
TheBushYears wrote:
If it’s really true, then she must have been shocked: “Omg, but I am not one of the little people. They watch my show but I am much more important.”

Aug 09, 2013 12:10pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
SEEKERMMC wrote:
Dave I believe you misguided. This incident in Switzerland is a clear cut case of racism. Plain and simple. If the clerk had known it was Oprah, end of story. But some unknown black person wants to buy a $38K handbag. Sorry..you probably couldn’t afford it. Let me show you this one instead. Talk to a person of color and they will enlighten you. Whether you want to admit it or not racism is alive and well even for one of the most famous and wealthy persons of color in the world.

Aug 09, 2013 12:30pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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