Versace and Coach 'sorry' for T-shirts that angered China

Donatella Versace Credit: PA

Versace has apologised after one of its T-shirts appeared to incorrectly state that Hong Kong and Macau were not part of China.

The apology came as Coach also issued an apology over a 2018 T-shirt which also suggested Hong Kong was not part of China, and attributed Taipei to Taiwan.

Versace's apology came after it was attacked on Weibo, a Chinese social media site, over what was seen as a challenge to China's territorial integrity.

The T-shirt featured city-country pairs such as Milan-Italy and London-UK, however, Hong Kong was paired with Hong Kong, and Macau with Macao [sic], suggesting neither were part of China.

Hong Kong is a former British colony which was handed back to China in 1997, but retains special status, offering its people more autonomy than those on the mainland.

Meanwhile Macau was a Portuguese territory until 1999 and now is a special administrative region of China.

Taking to social media to apologise, a statement attributed to the head of the fashion empire, Donatella Versace, said she was "deeply sorry for the unfortunate recent error made by our company...

"Never have I wanted to disrespect China's national sovereignty and that is why I wanted to personally apologise for such inaccuracy and any distress it may have caused."

The apology came after Chinese actress Yang Mi cut her ties with the company, saying the clothing was suspected of harming China's sovereignty.

The studio for Yang Mi, who had been a brand ambassador for Versace, said in a Weibo post that it had sent notice to Versace to terminate their contract.

"The motherland's sovereignty and territorial integrity are sacred and inviolable," the studio's statement read in part.

Yang Mi has cut ties with Versace following the T-shirt's 'error'. Credit: AP

Versace said the shirts had been removed from all sales channels on July 24 and destroyed.

"It's our company's negligence and we express deep apology for the impact it caused," it said in another statement Weibo.

"Versace reiterates that we love China and resolutely respect China's territory and sovereignty."

Versace is not the first company to face criticism for its descriptions of Hong Kong and Macau.

Also on Monday, US fashion house Coach issued an apology over a 2018 T-shirt which appeared in its collection with Disney and which again did not list Hong Kong and Macau as being in China, and also listed Taipei as being in Taiwan.

Beijing considers self-ruling Taiwan to be a breakaway province.

The company said it "respects and supports China's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

"In May 2018, we found a serious inaccuracy in the design of a few T-shirts.

"We immediately pulled these products from all channels globally.

"We also reviewed our entire assortment to ensure compliance, and have strengthened our internal product development process to avoid the occurrence of a similar issue in the future.

"We are fully aware of the severity of this error and deeply regret it.

"We have also taken immediate action to review and correct relevant website content.

"Coach is dedicated to long-term development in China, and we respect the feelings of the Chinese people

"We will continue to strive to provide exceptional products and service to Chinese customers."

Coach also came under fire for the store locator on its website which listed Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan as three separate countries.

The brand’s ambassador in China, model Liu Wen, apologised on Monday for not being rigorous in her selection of brands to represent and said she would end her collaboration with Coach since its behaviour had “hurt the national feelings of the Chinese people” and must be “condemned seriously”.

Liu Wen apologised for not being rigorous in her selection of brands to represent, after the Coach T-shirt came to light. Credit: AP

It is not just fashion companies which have faced flak for the way in which they have described places which China believes belongs to it.

In recent years, China has pressured international airlines and other companies to describe the city as "Hong Kong, China" on their websites, rather than just as "Hong Kong."

However, in many people's minds, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan are separate from China due to their differences to the mainland.

The timing of the Hong Kong description is all the more sensitive due to the pro-democracy protests which have brought the city to a standstill many times over the past 10 weeks.

Demonstrators have been motivated to protest by a desire to protect their way of life from interference by the central government in Beijing.

The protests started after the government attempted to introduce an extradition bill which would mean criminal suspects could face trial in mainland China.

Since then, although Hong Kong's chief executive Carrie Lam has said that the bill is "dead", the demonstrations have morphed to include Ms Lam's resignation, democratic elections, the release of those arrested in earlier protests and an investigation into police use of force against the protesters.

On Monday, Hong Kong International Airport cancelled all departing flights after protesters filled the terminal.