News

Oprah: Clerk thinks I can’t afford $38k handbag

Oprah: Clerk thinks I can’t afford $38k handbag

The owner of a luxury goods shop in Zurich has denied that racism was involved. Photo: Reuters

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.

Recent Headlines

in Sports

INSTANT REPLAY: The week’s best sports photos

Fresh
cavaliers

A look back at some of the week's biggest plays in sports and the moments you may have missed.

in Sports

This weekend’s sports schedule

Fresh
hockey

Here's a look at some of the big sporting events taking place this weekend.

in National

Making headlines this week

Fresh
AP141543910901_5

A look back at some of the big stories and the headlines you may have missed.

in Entertainment

Netflix: What’s coming and going in June

Fresh
netflix

Find out what you should watch this weekend and get a sneak peak at what's being added next month.

in Sports

Sepp Blatter wins re-election as FIFA president

Updated
FIFA president Sepp Blatter speaks during a press conference in Marrakech, Morocco, Friday, Dec. 19, 2014. FIFA will not reopen the vote for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, and will publish at least some of the confidential report into the bidding process, Blatter said Friday.

Sepp Blatter's FIFA re-election came despite demands that he quit in the face of a major bribery scandal.