A Swiss luxury-goods store has denied any wrongdoing after Oprah Winfrey suggested she had encountered racism when one of its shop assistants allegedly refused to show her an expensive handbag.
The store's owner claimed the entire incident was based on a misunderstanding caused by language difficulties and that the saleswoman had never sought to stop Winfrey, whom she failed to recognise, from buying the $47,000 crocodile bag.
Winfrey, one of the world's wealthiest women, claimed the assistant had told her the bag was "too expensive" and refused to show it to her when she visited a Trois Pommes boutique in Zurich last month. She said the incident demonstrated that racism was still a problem.
Switzerland's national tourism board issued a direct apology for the incident, saying the actions of the saleswoman had been terribly wrong.
But Trudie Goetz, the owner of the Trois Pommes chain, insisted that it had simply been an innocent mix-up.
"My salesperson wanted to give her the handbag in her hand. But she didn't want to take the bag," Miss Goetz said.
She said her assistant had worked in the store "for a few years and takes care of the most spoiled customers from all over the world ... any countries, any ... she is a really correct salesperson.
"Her English isn't as good as her Italian so it must have been a misunderstanding. Everyone wants to sell a crocodile bag. She explained how beautiful the bag was, then she said, 'Honestly this bag costs 35,000 Swiss francs, but I can show you other versions in ostrich, in pure leather and in velour'."
Goetz's interpretation of the incident was not shared by Winfrey, a businesswoman, actress and chat show host, ranked the most powerful celebrity in the world with a personal fortune estimated by Forbes magazine at US$2.8 billion ($3.5 billion). She recounted it while discussing racism on the American television show Entertainment Tonight.
Describing how she had spotted the handbag - designed by Tom Ford - while visiting Zurich ahead of her friend Tina Turner's wedding. She said: "I go into a store and I say to the woman, 'Excuse me, may I see the bag right above your head?' and she says to me, 'No. It's too expensive'."