(CNN), June 22, 2005 — Luxury store Hermes on Wednesday apologized to Oprah Winfrey for turning her away last week, saying that its Paris store was closed to set up for a public relations event when the talk show host stopped by.
“Hermes regrets not having been able to accommodate Ms. Winfrey and her team and to provide her with the service and care that Hermes strives to provide to each and every one of its customers worldwide,” the store said in a statement.
“Hermes apologizes for any offense taken due to such circumstances.”
The store said the incident occurred on June 14 around 6:45 p.m., about 15 minutes after the store closed. It said Winfrey and her team arrived at a time when “a private PR event was being set up inside.”
Harpo Productions spokeswoman Michelle McIntyre said Winfrey “will discuss her ‘crash moment’ when her show returns from hiatus in September.”
“Crash” is a film dealing with race relations. The phrase “crash moment” refers to situations where a party feels discriminated against on the basis of skin color.
The New York Daily News cited sources close to Winfrey as saying the talk show host was first rebuffed by a clerk and then a store manager. The Daily News reported Winfrey had gone to the store to buy a watch for singer Tina Turner, her dining partner that night.
McIntyre confirmed that account for CNN.
The New York Post, in its Monday Page Six gossip column, reported she was turned away because the store had been “having a problem with North Africans lately.”
In comments to CNN, an Hermes spokeswoman categorically denied that allegation.
“There was never any discussion of North Africans,” she said. “The story is not true.”
The spokeswoman said Winfrey came to the store 15 minutes after closing and a security guard informed her the store was closed and gave her a card, telling her she could come back the next day.
Surveillance videotape of the encounter supports the store’s account, according to the spokeswoman.
Excerpted from The Washington Post, June 24, 2005: The one thing that Oprah Winfrey and Hermes agree on is that the talk show host did not get a chance to do any early-evening shopping recently at the company’s Paris store. Why she was denied an opportunity to spend her money at the expensive boutique is what has gossip columnists, radio commentators and, in particular, the Internet reverberating with a chorus of girrrrrrlllll.
On June 14, Winfrey arrived at the Hermes shop at 24 Faubourg Saint-Honore. The street is well traveled by tourists and the well-to-do because of its abundance of famous designer boutiques. In the first (and untrue, both sides say) version of the incident, reported Monday in the New York Post, Hermes staff members stationed at the door failed to recognize Winfrey, as she was not in full glamour makeup with her TV hair. They denied her entry and, the gossip item claimed, told her that they have been “having a problem with North Africans lately.”
The bloggers raced to their computers: “Oprah Musta Forgot She Is Black.” “Oprah w/out makeup, hair done, etc. is really ugly. Seriously, I love Oprah, but what we see on TV is very different from how Oprah really looks.”
“That’s France for you.”
On Wednesday, the New York Daily News weighed in with a different version of the story, saying Winfrey arrived just after the store had closed at 6:30 p.m. and there was no doubt about her identity. She saw shoppers still milling about inside and asked the Hermes staff at the door if she could dash in to make a quick purchase. A clerk said no, and so did a store manager. An unnamed “friend” quoted in the Daily News didn’t use the term racism but suggested that if Celine Dion or Barbra Streisand had made a similar request, there wouldn’t have been a problem. In this telling of the tale, the entire population of northern Africa was not maligned.
Internet postings often blended the two versions and were accompanied by outraged commentary, indignation and suggestions that Hermes start putting together an especially nice gift basket in the form of a crocodile Birkin. (The company had no comment on the subject of apologetic bouquets, jewelry or handbags.)
A spokeswoman at Winfrey’s Harpo Productions confirmed the Daily News version of the story, saying that the incident was “Oprah’s ‘Crash’ moment” — a reference to the film in which racism unfolds in complex, subtle and surprising interactions. Winfrey also contacted Hermes’ U.S. president to inform him of the incident. She plans to tell the story on her show when it returns from hiatus in September. Keep reading