(BEIJING) — Italian fashion house Versace apologized Sunday in China for selling T-shirts that it said attached incorrect country names to cities, after being attacked on social media for challenging China’s territorial integrity.
Versace did not identify the T-shirt in its own post on Weibo, a popular Chinese social media site, but the Global Times newspaper said the item mislabeled Hong Kong and Macao as countries. Both are former European colonies that were returned to China in the late 1990s.
The apology came after a Chinese actress cut her ties with the company, saying the clothing was suspected of harming China’s sovereignty.
The studio for Yang Mi, who had been a brand ambassador for Versace, said in a Weibo post that it had sent notice to Versace to terminate their contract. “The motherland’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are sacred and inviolable,” the studio’s statement read in part.
Versace said the shirts had been removed from all sales channels on July 24 and destroyed.
“It’s our company’s negligence and we express deep apology for the impact it caused,” it said on Weibo. “Versace reiterates that we love China and resolutely respect China’s territory and sovereignty.”
Versace is not the first foreign company to face flak over how it describes Hong Kong. China has pressured international airlines and other companies to describe the city as “Hong Kong, China” on their websites, rather than just as “Hong Kong.” Both Hong Kong and Macao are semi-autonomous territories that have separate identities from China in many peoples’ minds.
The latest flap comes at a sensitive time for China, as protesters in Hong Kong demanding democracy have taken to the streets all summer, motivated in large part by a desire to protect their way of life from interference by the central government in Beijing.