The elaborate, chunky Triple S sneaker is probably the most coveted item currently produced by French luxury house Balenciaga – so much so that it recently incited a brawl in Paris between Chinese shoppers and French Albanians. To the horror of Balenciaga’s executives this soon escalated into a row over racism on the Chinese internet.
The saga began with a long queue of customers – mainly Chinese – looking to buy the flamboyant oversized trainers at the upscale Parisian department store Printemps on April 25. According to local reports, a group of five French Albanians then jumped the line and pushed a Chinese woman when she tried to argue with them. Her son immediately came to her defence, but was then aggressively subdued by a group of French security guards. While the queue-jumpers managed to purchase the trendy shoes – which thanks to supply shortages tend to quickly sell out (hence the queues) – the Chinese shoppers were asked to leave the store and not return.
The incident was first reported by a WeChat user named Paituzhuli who had captured the altercation in dramatic video footage and posted it online. “I am trembling with anger,” wrote Paituzhuli, “Chinese are often marginalised in foreign countries. I line up to buy Balenciaga’s Triple S sneakers every day. French Albanians cut in front of me every day. And yet I can only suck it up every day.”
His video immediately went viral, making Balenciaga the most searched luxury brand on WeChat the following day with 18 million results – 10 times more than fellow Kering Group firm Gucci. The hashtag “Boycott Balenciaga for discriminating against Chinese people” also became a trending topic on weibo, attracting 36 million views as of May 9.
One supporter of the campaign posted a video in which he set a pair of Triple S on fire (a costly thing to do as they retail for $850), and another one tossed all his Balenciaga belongings into a rubbish bin. One internet celebrity also shared her experiences of prejudice in France. Another netizen proclaimed: “By irking the world’s biggest consumers, your days are numbered”.
The backlash grew despite two official apologies from Balenciaga and Printemps within 24 hours of the scuffle – partly because many Chinese thought they lacked sincerity. “[They are] just bowing down to money,” concluded one cynical netizen.
A day before the incident, Kering – Balenciaga’s Paris-listed parent – reported 36.5% like-for-like growth in sales for the first quarter. Analysts noted that the results were helped by a recovery in spending by wealthy Chinese shoppers.
The luxury goods group confirmed in January that it had shifted its manufacturing facility for Triple S shoes from Italy to China, presumably so it could make them in bigger quantities.
But if the Balenciaga boycott continues supply might soon exceed demand…
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