In the 1990 film Pretty Woman Julia Roberts’ character, who is a prostitute, is refused service in an expensive Beverly Hills boutique. The sales ladies are rude and quite cruel. Oprah Winfrey had her own personal “Pretty Woman” moment in a Swiss boutique while she was in the country to attend her pal Tina Turner’s wedding, when a sales assistant refused to show her a handbag for sale in a high end shop.
Switzerland and the Swiss tourist board have both apologised to Oprah for the poor treatment she received from a sales clerk while she was shopping in Zurich. The 59 year-old television network media mogul, who was named the most powerful celebrity in the world last month by Forbes, said that she had experienced racism in a Swiss handbag shop.
In recounting the incident for Entertainment Tonight, Oprah said, “I was in Zurich the other day at a store whose name I will not mention. I didn’t have my eyelashes on, but I was in full Oprah Winfrey gear. I had my little Donna Karan skirt and sandals, but obviously The Oprah Winfrey Show is not shown in Zurich.”
She continued, “I go into a store and say to the woman, ‘Excuse me, may I see that bag over your head?’ and she says to me ‘No, it’s too expensive.'”
Winfrey said that she asked again to see the bag, which was a $38,000 crocodile skin handbag by Tom Ford, and the woman once again refused to show her the bag. She said, “No no no, you don’t want to see that one, you want to see this one, because that one will cost too much and you will not be able to afford that.”
Oprah then said she asked one final time to see the bag, “One more time I tried — I said, ‘But I really do just want to see that one,’ and she said, ‘I don’t want to to hurt your feelings,’ and I said, ‘Ok thank you so much, you’re probably right, I can’t afford it and walked out of the store. Now why did she do that?”
It seems that Oprah Winfrey was more shocked by the Pretty Woman moment than offended. That she would be offended is a given, who wouldn’t be? But the racist overtone is still there and it seems that Winfrey was shocked to see that sort of attitude in Switzerland.
Oprah never revealed the name of the shop, but it turns out to be the Trois Pommes boutique in Zurich and the owner, Trudie Gotz has said that the whole thing was a misunderstanding. When questioned by the BBC about the incident, Gotz said that Winfrey was “absolutely allowed” to look at the $38,000 bag, that was behind a screen.
Gotz alleges that, “My salesperson wanted to give her the handbag in her hand. But she didn’t want to take the bag.” The shop owner also explained that the assistant who dealt with Oprah had worked there, “for a few years and takes care of the most spoilt customers from all over the world. She is really a correct salesperson”
Trudie Gotz also said, “I didn’t take care of [her]… I’m sure she felt like this – but my salesgirl promised me she took care of [Oprah Winfrey] really the best she could. So it must have been a misunderstanding.” She added that her assistant was bilingual but that, “her English isn’t as good”.
Apparently, according to Gotz, “She tried to show Ms Oprah the same style in other qualities, because maybe she didn’t understand what she wanted.”
Danny Baer, a spokeswoman for the Swiss tourism office, said: “We are very sorry for what happened to her.”
But the last word on the incident rests with Oprah Winfrey, who said of her Pretty Woman moment, that she left the shop calmly. But she added, “That clearly is you know … it (racism) still exists, of course it does.” And to show that she still has a sense of humour, Oprah tweeted afterward: “Turns out the store clerk did me a favor. Just found out that bag was #38K!!! She was right I was NOT going to buy it.”
By Michael Smith