Gucci burns bridges between Hong Kong over fake assumptions


A Hong Kong funeral shop displaying paper Gucci bags to be burned not instagrammed. Photo: AFP

Last month, luxury favourite, Gucci, helmed by long locked “it” designer, Alessandro Michele, issued letters to stores in Hong Kong to cease all production of replicas of the Gucci logo as an “infringement of their trademark”. If this were a rickety stall in China financed by acrylic, faux fur replicas of their sold-out horsebit leather, kangaroo loafers, then the situation would be understandable. The greatest nemesis to any brand is someone else replicating their designs for less cost, especially when in China, intellectual property laws are murky waters, resulting in its reputation as an industry of fake goods.

The problem this time however is that these weren’t fake replicas of Gucci’s signature designs, but instead family run funeral shops selling miniature paper Gucci bags as offerings for the dead.

It is a customary Chinese ritual for families to buy paper versions of items that they would like the dead to use in the afterlife and send it to them via burning it on fire. This is a tradition that has been practiced for hundreds of years, and the sight of seeing these shops on the streets of Hong Kong, is not uncommon. Families would often burn these paper goods during the Ching Ming festival, or at funerals of their relatives. It’s a custom that is a fundamental part of Chinese heritage. In recent years, the items have grown from gold painted paper money, as to replicate real money, to more extravagant items such as miniature paper Lamborghinis and Hermès sought-after Birkin. The dead desire luxury.

Once receiving these letters, six stores responded by contacting local Hong Kong press. It is highly comical that a label with the brand value of $12.4 billion, and eleven stores in Hong Kong alone, pens a “warning” letter to stores that only maintain operation by family bloodline.

Due to the rightful criticism of the funeral shops for disrespecting a cultural heritage, Gucci issued a statement of apology. “We regret any misunderstandings that may have been caused and sincerely apologise to anyone we may have offended through our action,” Gucci said. “We trust that the funeral store owners did not have the intention to infringe Gucci’s trademark. Accordingly, we did not suggest any legal action or compensation.”

The reason why this is an issue is because it presents an assumed idea that as Chinese people, we only have the mental capacity to see and copy. Though it is difficult to ignore China’s notorious reputation for producing fake goods, it is an incredible layer of disrespect to our identity as Chinese people and to the lack of knowledge of our culture, but what more could we expect from the monster that is the Kering group? The apology on Gucci’s behalf may be perceived as the right step forward in building bridges out of paper money (the non painted gold version) funded from the oh-so-far east of Hong Kong, but for a nation rich in culture, tradition and heritage, it is ten steps back for our recognition to the rest of the world.

A common sight. One of many stores in Hong Kong that sell a variety of paper offerings and traditional incense to burn at funerals. Photo: Yik Fei for The New York Times

One store owner told Chinese newspaper Apple Daily, that she has never bought a luxury brand and was unheard of the fact that Gucci was even a designer brand.

If anything, Michele should be pleased as the dead are in more dire need of Gucci than the living.