Winfrey suggested she was the victim of racism when a saleswoman refused to show her the bag, priced at 35,000 francs ($37,700), while she was visiting the Swiss city for Tina Turner’s wedding last month.
The American celebrity, whose fortune is estimated at $2.8 billion by Forbes magazine, expressed interest in a crocodile bag at the Trois Pommes shop but she said the assistant, who did not recognize her, indicated the bag would be too expensive for her.
The Swiss animal rights group Four Paws (Vier Pfoten) was critical of the fact that Winfrey would want to buy a crocodile bag and called on Trois Pommes to withdraw the item from sale.
“We do not know if Ms. Winfrey actually wanted to buy the bag,” Chantal Häberling, spokeswoman for the group, told the 20 Minuten newspaper.
But she should know that crocodiles suffer for the production of such bags, Häberling said.
“The animals are kept in extremely small enclosures,” she said.
To kill them the animals are beaten with a hammer on the head in some farms and “it sometimes takes two hours before they are dead.”
Animal rights activists are especially curious to know why Winfrey would want to see a crocodile bag given her avowed support for animal rights.
PETA, the world’s largest animal rights group, named Winfrey “person of the year” in 2008 after she spoke out against the wearing of fur.
But the organization has also campaigned against the “heartless millions” made in the fashion industry from the use of exotic animal skins.
Meanwhile, the saleswoman from Trois Pommes who dealt with Winfrey has denied that she showed racism or that she told the star that she could not afford the 35,000-franc bag.
“This is something I would never say to a customer,” she told the SonntagsBlick newspaper.
“Good manners are the alphas and omega of this business.”
The employee said she was only trying the show Winfrey other bags in the same style.
The saleswoman, who has been backed by the head of Trois Pommes luxury chain, Trudie Goetz, said she has not been able to sleep since the controversy blew up late last week.
“I feel like I’m in the middle of a hurricane.”
Goetz has described the incident as a “misunderstanding” but Switzerland Tourism, concerned about the country getting a black eye for racism, issued an apology to Winfrey on Twitter, adding that “this person acted terribly wrong”.
American website Politico reported over the weekend that Winfrey got worldwide attention when she commented on the alleged discrimination she received in Zurich during a TV interview about her new political movie, The Butler.
In addition to promoting her movie, Winfrey is ramping up her political involvement, including hosting a fundraiser for a Democratic Party candidate for the New Jersey Senate contest, the website noted.