The 2017 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, filmed on Monday in Shanghai, was full of milestones: it was the first time it was held outside the US and Europe and had the most diverse runway ever with a record number of Chinese models (eight in total, up from four last year). It probably also set a record for the most last-minute replacements.
The controversy started when supermodel Gigi Hadid had her visa application rejected, just four days before she was due to appear at the world’s most-watched fashion show.
Then news surfaced that the headlining performer at the event, singer Katy Perry, had discovered that her visa had been revoked.
Even though China’s authorities didn’t give a reason for denying entry to Hadid, it was soon being linked back to a video in February in which she was seen squinting her eyes while holding up a biscuit shaped like a Buddha.
After the footage went viral, Chinese netizens attacked her as “racist” and flooded her social media accounts with negative responses warning her to “stay out of China”.
Hadid tried to make peace by posting an apology on her Sina Weibo account after it was announced she was booked to appear at the Victoria’s Secret extravaganza. “I want you all to know that it was never my intent to offend anyone through my actions… I have the utmost respect and love for the people of China and cherish the incredible memories I have made while visiting in the past,” she assured.
But as WiC reported in issue 379, the apology did little to pacify netizens. “I don’t know who wrote this for you but I’m sure a lot of people are like me who can’t accept this so-called apology. If you were really sincere, you’d have apologised when the incident first happened and not in August. As a country of comity, we do not welcome people with no manners into our country,” fumed one of the country’s more articulate netizens.
When news surfaced that Hadid wasn’t being allowed into China, the public was overwhelmingly supportive, striking a celebratory tone. “You humiliated us. Why would you think we’d let you in?” one wrote spitefully.
“Gigi’s discrimination against Asians has hurt not only Chinese, but she chose to apologise only on weibo which suggests that she only did so because she needed to come to China to make money. So of course, we chose not to accept that apology. In the end, she couldn’t make it to the fashion show. For Chinese audiences, it is a good thing and there is no need to feel any regret,” another commenter wrote.
The reasons for preventing Perry from attending the fashion extravaganza didn’t generate the same debate in social media. Few in the Chinese press offered many guesses, although WiC’s assumption is that the pop star offended Beijing by displaying a Taiwanese flag and wearing a dress covered in sunflowers during a 2015 concert in Taiwan. (The sunflower is a symbol of the student movement that opposed greater trade links with mainland China in 2014.)
Perry was replaced in the show by Harry Styles, formerly of the British boy band One Direction.
To be fair, Perry had tried to play nice ahead of her scheduled performance in Shanghai. In fact, she was granted a visa for the performance after publishing an open letter in October promising not to say anything “religious or political” or to participate “in any activities that would jeopardise China’s unity and integrity”.
However, Chinese officials appeared to have had a change of heart just a few days before the show.
“For every artist who wants to perform in China, officials comb through their social media and press reports to see if they have done anything deemed to be offensive to the country,” one insider told Page Six, a tabloid.
It wasn’t just the major stars that had problems getting to the fashion show. Lesser-known models like Julia Belyakova, Kate Grigorieva and Irina Sharipova also saw their visas rejected for unexplained reasons and. Page Six reported that producers of the event were on the verge of a “nervous breakdown” after several prominent fashion bloggers coming to China to cover it were also barred from entering the country.
As if to epitomise the show’s troubles, Chinese supermodel Ming Xi (also known as Xi Mengyao) then took a tumble as she strutted down the catwalk (like a true pro she managed to keep smiling – see photos).
All the same, the US lingerie giant says the media coverage about the event were blown out of proportion: “The news reports I’ve been reading from the US here in Shanghai regarding this year’s Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show are not an accurate reflection of what I’m seeing and experiencing on site,” Ed Razek, its producer, told People magazine in advance of the angel’s runway parade. “This will, without question, be the biggest fashion event in history and our most ambitious show by far. The event is well in hand and coming together beautifully.”
There’ll be no problems for Ed in getting a visa for his next trip to China, clearly.
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