Op-Ed: The Assassination … of a Versace T-Shirt

MILAN, Italy—Informal and unscientific survey: who else is fed up with the American media? Have you reached a boiling point with the constant coverage of Trump and guns and presidential elections and trade wars and rich billionaires dying under mysterious circumstances? It’s too much! We’re so bombarded about all things Trump – be it the man himself or all the events surrounding Mr. POTUS – that I completely missed the news about the creation of two countries! Hong Kong and Macau have broke off from China and declared their independence! HOORAY! Take that, China! You probably couldn’t afford to keep either city, anyway, not after that recent currency deflation. Let’s chalk this up as a major international relations victory for Trump! He’s liberating wealthy Chinese enclaves from the clutches of Communism! 

Oh, wait. I really need to do a better job of checking out my news sources.  And here I thought the VNN – the Versace News Network – was above the fray, when it comes to fake news. Hong Kong is still a part of China, apparently. Macao, too. Sorry, folks, for the false sense of hope and PE – that’s premature excitement, get your mind out of the gutters, people! 

In case you missed it – or ICYMI, it today’s short-form parlance: Versace is it a bit of hot soup after printing T-shirts and misidentifying Hong Kong and Macao as independent countries. The back of the tees had a list of cities, with its associated countries listed just to its right. Milan, where Versace is headquartered, is listed first. Next to the city name is “ITALY,” in all caps. The list continues: London, UK; Paris, France; Dusseldorf, Germany; Atlanta, USA; Los Angeles, USA; Beijing, China; and, so on.

The end of the list is where we find Hong Kong and Macao.

“Hong Kong – HONG KONG” reads follows after Shanghai (which is correctly identified as a city in China.

Two cities down the list is “Macau – MACAO.” 

Photo Credit: Twitter

Photo Credit: Twitter

I guess someone fell asleep in fifth grade Geography class (or whenever that subject was taught to us as kids). Wait, do they even teach geography in school anymore? Serious question. The other day I was at lunch with two colleagues. One colleague informed us she just moved here from Baltimore. A second colleague asked, “where is that?” The Baltimore native replied, “Maryland.” The second colleague said, “Oh,” and then asked, “where is that?”

This makes me wonder: what if I just started rambling off previous names of current countries. Vienna, Austria-Hungary, anyone? Königsberg, Prussia, perhaps (as opposed to present-day Kaliningrad, Russia)?

Oh, hey, I hear India has been in the news a lot recently? Someone please tell me Jammu and Kashmir declared themselves as independent county, finally putting an end to the decades-long India-Pakistan conflict? No? Wait, the opposite happened? India stripped AWAY self-autonomy of the country’s only Muslim-majority state? Darn, and here I thought I could advice the folks at Versace to include “Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir” on its apology tees.

I’m piling on here – Versace (the company, not the man) did apologize for its faux pas, acknowledging the on-the-fly lesson in geography. The company also agreed to discontinue the tees and do away with its remaining inventory.

Hong Kong, just in case you didn’t know, is a city in China but operates with a special administrative status. Macau, which once was a territorial claim of Portugal, is also a city in China with special administrative privileges.

There is a bit of timeline irony in the luxury fashion brand identifying Hong Kong as its own country – Versace, the man, was assassinated on July 15, 1997, exactly two weeks after the United Kingdom handed Hong Kong back to China. The United Kingdom, for those who don’t recall, maintained administrative powers over the colony of Hong Kong from 1842 to 1997. The city became a Chinese city upon the famous transfer – known as a retrocession – in 1997.

Versace, of course, isn’t the first corporation to fail in geography – especially when it comes to China. Marriott, for example, once had Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan and Tibet listed as independent countries on a survey. The Delta Airlines website once has Taiwan and Tibet listed as separate countries. (Taiwan, for the record, is claimed by China as a territory and not recognized by the United States or United Nations as an independent country – in fact a little more than a dozen UN countries actually recognize Taiwan as independent.)

I again ask: any chance you’d allow me to legitimately refer to Constantinople, Ottoman Empire in my writings, completely ignoring the past, oh, I don’t know, 100 years of history in North Africa, Southeast Europe and Western Asia?

Hey, I get it - I really do. I’d like to be judgmental toward Versace’s faux pas but there are 190-some recognized countries and at least a couple dozen other places actively seeking independence or to officially operate as a country. So it’s hard to keep up and know the names of every single country - officially recognized or otherwise. I’m not defending Versace, just the same. The fashion company should undergo a fair amount of scrutiny for allowing not one but two geographical errors to be listed on what I have to believe is a mass-printed Tee-shirt. It’s fair to question Versace’s quality check process - how many eyeballs saw the tees’ mock-ups and signed off on it before it made it to the presses? Did anyone question the Hong Kong and Macao entries? Maybe? No? 

What’s done is done, though. Versace is rightfully under the microscope - the company should endure blowback for its mistake (a blatant one, at that). Versace also apologized and took action - the company deserves credit for that, as well. Now let’s use this as a classroom moment: China, rightfully so, is quite territorial about its territories. Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Tibet are all territorial claims of the Chinese government. Anyone who forgets this will be reminded as such and perhaps be made an example of in our (unforgivingly) nonstop news cycle. (Unless, of course, the day does actually come where Hong Kong or Macau or Tibet actually do break away from China and are formally recognized as independent nations.)

Photo credit: Versace

Photo credit: Versace

By the way I hope someone from Versace is reading this (and makes it to the end of this article, in the process) – because the company is in need of a grammar lesson, too! You list the capital city of Belgium on your now discontinued T-shirt, you know, the one where Hong Kong and Macao are mentioned as independent countries? That capital city is spelled as “Brussels,” not “Brusells.”