10 Aug 2013

Swiss shop denies Oprah racism

9:56 am on 10 August 2013

The owner of a luxury goods shop in Zurich has denied racism was involved when US talk show host Oprah Winfrey was discouraged from buying a 35,000 Swiss franc handbag.

Ms Winfrey was in Switzerland for the wedding of singer Tina Turner when the incident occurred last month.

The TV star said in two US interviews that a sales assistant had refused to show her the crocodile handbag, telling her it was too expensive, and steering her towards other, cheaper ones.

Luxury shop Trois Pommes denied discriminating against Ms Winfrey. Owner Trudie Goetz said it was a "classic misundertanding" caused by a language barrier.

She said the sales assistant had wanted to show Ms 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.

"Of course that's not the case. Who wouldn't want to sell a purse for 35,000 francs?" Goetz said.

Ms Winfrey, 59, runs her own TV network and 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 US presidents, Reuters reports.

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.