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Vera Wang makes fashion faux pas at first China store

By Alexis Lai and Lucrezia Seu
March 29, 2013 -- Updated 0619 GMT (1419 HKT)
A general view is pictured at the opening of the Vera Wang bridal boutique in Sydney, Australia, on June 27.
A general view is pictured at the opening of the Vera Wang bridal boutique in Sydney, Australia, on June 27.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • U.S. luxury bridal designer Vera Wang's first store in China charging US$480 to try on clothes
  • Fee was exclusive to Shanghai store, prompting cries of discrimination against Chinese
  • Some speculated fee was intended to discourage copycat designs
  • Vera Wang spokesperson said fee would be scrapped upon official opening of store in April

(CNN) -- U.S. luxury bridal designer Vera Wang's first store in China has gotten off to an unfashionable start. Amid cries of discrimination, the company announced Wednesday it would scrap a controversial policy of charging customers a nearly $500 fee to try on clothes.

The store, which had its soft launch in Shanghai in January, has been charging customers a RMB 3000 (US $480) fee for a 90-minute appointment to try on its famous wedding gowns. The non-refundable fee would be credited toward any purchase made.

Local media and netizens have decried the fee, exclusive to the Shanghai store, as discriminatory to Chinese customers.

Some speculated that the fee was intended to discourage efforts to copy Wang's coveted bridal designs, which can run several thousand dollars per gown.

Chinese designers at London Fashion Week

"In the United States, they say unmarried women want a Vera Wang gown, divorced women miss their Vera Wang gown, women remarrying are glad they can have a Vera Wang gown," wrote user Wumei120 on the popular Sina Weibo microblogging platform. "Each Vera Wang wedding dress is a piece of fine art. To see such wonderful work, girls cannot help but want one."

A search for Vera Wang dresses on Taobao, a popular online marketplace, revealed prices for as low as RMB 273 (US $44) for knock-off versions.

A spokeswoman at the Shanghai store would not confirm if the fee was aimed at discouraging copycat efforts, emphasizing only that it ensured a "luxury shopping experience," complete with a personal shopping assistant and afternoon tea.

She said the store had been instructed via e-mail on Wednesday to adhere to the brand's global standards and scrap the fee upon its grand opening, which the company has previously announced as April 29.

Vera Wang's collections were previously distributed in China only through high-end boutiques and department stores.

Chinese consumers currently account for approximately 27% of worldwide luxury consumption, according to a December report by management consultancy McKinsey & Co. It called China the "paramount driver of growth" in the luxury sector, estimating its consumers would make up 34% of global luxury spending by 2015.

Alexis Lai reported and wrote from Hong Kong, and Lucrezia Seu reported from Beijing.

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