If you mess with Gabourey Sidibe, she will (politely) call you out. On May 9, the Empire star penned a Lenny Letter about a recent experience at a Chanel store, for which the iconic brand has since sent its “sincerest regret.” Spoiler alert: It wasn’t the best experience. In the post, the 34-year-old actress described being profiled at Chanel, either for being black or being fat — she wasn’t sure which — and only helped after someone recognized that she was actually famous. (This happened once to Oprah at a fancy boutique in Switzerland too.)
“I needed new eyeglasses. My friend has a really cute pair of frames from Chanel that I’d been coveting, so I decided to try to buy a pair for myself at the Chanel store near my apartment,” Sidibe explained before noting that her friend, Taraji P. Henson, had requested that she also pick her up a pair of sandals.
According to Sidibe, whose new book, This Is Just My Face, was just released, as soon as she walked through Chanel’s doors, “A saleswoman and I locked eyes immediately. I said ‘Hello’ before she did. She greeted me, but the look on her face told me that she thought I was lost.” The unnamed saleswoman then informed Sidibe that they didn’t actually sell glasses there, only sunglasses, and directed her to a discount eyeglass store across the street. As Julia Roberts famously once said, “Big mistake.”
Sidibe was poised about the situation, however, and recounted, “I knew what she was doing. She had decided after a single look at me that I wasn’t there to spend any money. Even though I was carrying a Chanel bag, she decided I wasn’t a Chanel customer and so not worth her time and energy.” The star added that this “happens a lot.” While she admitted that she did steal a few things here and there in her youth, the number of times she’s been suspected versus the number of times she was guilty is far from even.
It happens so much that Sidibe claimed, “Honestly, if I walked out of every store where someone was rude to me, I’d never have anything nice.” She added, “No matter how dressed up I get, I’m never going to be able to dress up my skin color to look like what certain people perceive to be an actual customer. Depending on the store, I either look like a thief or a waste of time. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground between no attention and too much attention.” (Coincidentally, Sidibe’s new memoir touches on these topics.)
The Oscar nominee noted, “To be fair, I don’t know why that saleswoman didn’t want to help me. I suspect it’s because I’m black, but it could also be because I’m fat. Maybe my whole life, every time I thought someone was being racist, they were actually mistreating me because I’m fat. That sucks too. That’s not OK. I’ve felt unwelcome in many stores throughout my life, but I just kind of deal with it.”
Ultimately, another sales associate recognized the star and stepped in to redirect the tone of the encounter, but the damage was done. Sidibe did end up making her purchases and provided her email address so she could later fill out a customer survey about her experience. In the end, however, she couldn’t bring herself to threaten the saleswoman’s career and penned a Lenny Letter instead — which soon crossed the desk of the PR department at Chanel.
“Chanel expresses our sincerest regret for the boutique customer service experience that Ms. Sidibe mentioned in this essay. We are sorry that she felt unwelcome and offended,” the brand’s statement began. “We took her words very seriously and immediately investigated to understand what happened, knowing that this is absolutely not in line with the high standards that Chanel wishes to provide to our customers.” The letter ended by noting that the brand hopes Sidibe “will choose to come back to a Chanel boutique and experience the real Chanel customer experience.”
In other words, please keep spending your money at our stores.
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