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Sour note for Lancome-sponsored concert

Make-up brand Lancome, along with other stores owned by French cosmetics giant L’Oreal, closed in Hong Kong yesterday in the face of protests over the cancelling of a Lancome-sponsored concert featuring a pro-democracy singer.

As well as Lancome’s booth at Lane Crawford (pictured), Times Square, Yves Saint Laurent Beaute and Helena Rubinstein’s booths, as well as Shu Uemura’s store, were all closed. Lancome’s office at Times Square was also shuttered. In Causeway Bay, Lancome counters in Sogo and Hysan Place were both closed, while those for other brands under L’Oreal, such as Shu Uemura, were open.

Dozens of protesters earlier crowded the Lane Crawford store in Times Square accusing Lancome of bowing to China by cancelling the concert, starring cantopop singer Denise Ho Wan-sze.

Carrying yellow umbrellas – a symbol of Hong Kong’s democracy movement, which is supported by Ho – and banners in Chinese, English and French, the protesters were shouting: “L’Oreal! No self-censorship.”

Hong Kong internet users and political activists have also vowed to boycott all brands under the L’Oreal banner, including Lancome, Kiehl’s, Shu Uemura and The Body Shopimes, a tabloid published by the Chinese Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper, criticised Lancome for working with Ho. This sparked calls online in China to shun Lancome’s business on the mainland.

“Tough times”

Ho says she was saddened by the cancellation of her concert.

“I am quite shocked that a global brand such as Lancome … would succumb to the pressure from Chinese tabloid news or the Chinese market,” says the 39-year-old singer.

“In Hong Kong we have been going through really rough times,” she says. “Most of we celebrities wouldn’t dare to speak out for ourselves because we know that self-censorship is really serious right now in Hong Kong. But I wouldn’t think that worldwide brands such as Lancome or L’Oreal would succumb to this kind of pressure.”

L’Oreal, which counts China as its second strongest market for sales behind the US, says it cancelled the concert because of safety concerns.

Booked to perform on June 19, Ho wrote on her Facebook page that Lancome’s decision was self-censorship. “When a brand like Lancome has to kneel down to a bullying hegemony… the world’s values have been seriously twisted.”

Meanwhile, the controversy has escalated on the mainland, with internet users threatening to boycott a host of Hong Kong companies tied to billionaire Richard Li Tzar-kai, whose company PCCW owns the Moov fitness app, which suggested on Monday that it would “employ Denise Ho permanently”.

Li’s family is also involved with such companies as Johnson and Johnson, Listerine and Watsons. Ho is a spokesperson for Listerine.

PCCW says that while Richard Li and Moov respect freedom of expression and staunchly oppose Hong Kong independence, Moov has no intention to engage in political matters, and the expression “permanent employment” was used before online comments linked the message to political discussions.

Meanwhile, Ho says Lancome should stand firm on its core values and moral standards. The singer was  among more than 200 people arrested as the pro-democracy protests ended in December 2014. She was blacklisted by mainland media along with singer Anthony Wong Yiu-ming.

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