Luxury fashion brands Versace, Coach, and Givenchy have apologised for making perceived affronts to China’s national sovereignty with T-shirts listing Hong Kong and Taiwan as separate countries.
Versace was criticised on Sunday for a T-shirt that implied Hong Kong and Macau — both semi-autonomous cities in China — were independent.
Hong Kong has become a particularly sensitive subject in mainland China as the Asian financial hub has been plunged into months of pro-democracy protests.
On Monday, images of a 2018 Coach T-shirt that said Taiwan — a self-ruled democratic island Beijing regards as its territory — and Hong Kong were not part of China again provoked anger online.
Givenchy too was outed for a similar offence: a black T-shirt that listed Taiwan and Hong Kong separately from cities in mainland China.
All three companies have tried to minimise the damage over the mistakes that cost them their high-profile Chinese brand ambassadors.
Coach said in a statement Monday that the clothes with the “serious inaccuracy” had been pulled, adding it was “fully aware of the severity of this error and deeply regret it”.
The brand corrected its website as well, after Chinese users shared screenshots online showing Hong Kong in a “find by country” drop-down list.
Versace has also apologised. “We love China and resolutely respect China’s territorial national sovereignty,” the Italian brand wrote on its Twitter-like Weibo account on Sunday.
The controversial T-shirts were removed from its official sales channels and “destroyed” on July 24, the company explained.
Givenchy’s Weibo apology also reiterated its respect for China’s sovereignty, and said the brand “resolutely upholds the One China Principle.”
– ‘Sacred and inviolable!’ –
Chinese users online, however, were not mollified.
“There should be no missing part of China — Versace get out of China!” wrote one angry Weibo user Monday.
Versace’s representative in China, actress Yang Mi, said she would stop collaborating with the fashion house over the T-shirt incident, saying the brand was “suspected of damaging our country’s national sovereignty.”
Similarly Coach’s ambassador, Chinese model Liu Wen, said she was terminating her work with the brand over its T-shirt blunder.
“At all times, China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity are sacred and inviolable!” she posted on her official Weibo account.
“I love my motherland, and resolutely defend China’s national sovereignty!” she wrote.
And Jackson Yee, a hugely popular singer in boyband TFBoys, also pulled the plug on collaborating with Givenchy.
The three luxury brands are the latest examples of foreign companies that have run afoul of the many political sensitivities that go with operating in China’s gigantic market.
Chinese authorities and state media have lashed out particularly in recent weeks at firms that appear to back the Hong Kong demonstrations, with flagship airline Cathay Pacific facing demands that staff who supported the protests be prevented from working on flights passing through Chinese airspace.
In May 2018, US clothing retailer Gap apologised over a T-shirt showing a map of mainland China that omitted Taiwan, which Beijing considers a rebel province awaiting reunification.
Italy’s Dolce & Gabbana also apologised in November after its products were pulled from lucrative Chinese e-commerce platforms over an Instagram post seen in China as culturally offensive.