Gucci apologises for sending warning letters to Hong Kong shops over paper handbag offerings

Italian luxury brand issues statement expressing ‘utmost respect’ for ‘funeral context’, says no legal action will be taken

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 May, 2016, 1:00pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 May, 2016, 1:50am

Luxury clothing brand Gucci apologised on Friday for sending letters to six Hong Kong stores earlier this week warning them not to sell replica paper handbags and fashion items bearing its brand to burn at Chinese funerals.

In a surprise U-turn, Gucci and parent company Kering expressed “utmost respect with regards to the funeral context”.

The Italian fashion house acknowledged that the stores in question had no intention of infringing intellectual property rights, and promised not to pursue any legal action.

“We regret any misunderstandings that may have been caused and sincerely apologise to anyone we may have offended,” the company said in a statement, explaining that the letters were sent as part of efforts to protect its valuable global trademark.

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Charlotte Judet, a spokeswoman for Kering, said the fashion house had not received complaints about offending traditional Chinese customs and was acting on its own initiative. She said Gucci had recently had a “constructive dialogue” with the store owners and received feedback from them.

Paper offerings are traditionally burned at funerals as gifts for the deceased to enjoy in the afterlife. Such items – ranging from money to phones and cars made of paper – are also burned at festivals such as Ching Ming to honour the dead.

“It’s the first time I’ve encountered this problem,” said Tai Wai-man, who has run a funeral store on North Point’s Marble Road for about three decades, but did not receive a letter. “I think they have good reasons for doing this. [But] to not report us would be better.”

Tai’s shop carried a few Gucci replicas at the time the letters were sent, but he quickly sold them after hearing about the controversy.

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Another shopkeeper in her 40s, who manages a store on Java Road, North Point, said she was glad Gucci apologised, although she did not receive a warning letter either.

“Everyone sells this stuff. If you can’t sell one type of brand, then you can’t sell any of them,” she said. “[Gucci paper replicas] have been on the market for about two or three years now.”

Her shop currently does not stock luxury item replicas like it used to. Paper Gucci bags cost about HK$10 to HK$20, or about HK$50 with shoes.

“I’m not worried,” she said, adding that demand for “designer” goods was the same as for other items. “We’re still going to sell. If one of us gets in trouble, we’ll all be in trouble together.”

Pro-democracy group Civic Passion planned to protest tomorrow at a Gucci shop in Central.

This is not the first time a luxury brand has been criticised for taking the battle against knock-off goods too far.

In 2013, French label Louis Vuitton accused a Shau Kei Wan hair salon owner of trademark infringement after he was found to have chairs covered in what appeared to be the brand’s signature check pattern. The label demanded HK$25,000 compensation and a published apology, but settled for HK$12,500 and the apology.