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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Snub a Hermes pocketbook issue to Oprah

Oprah Winfrey wants to hit Hermès where it hurts - in its fine leather wallet.

You may have heard that the talk queen was denied entry to the luxury-goods store's Paris branch last weekend at closing time. According to one report, Hermès staffers rebuffed Winfrey because they didn't recognize her and because they'd been "having a problem with North Africans lately."

But friends of Oprah say that's bunk.

"They knew exactly who she was," a pal tells us. "They specifically said, 'We know who you are.'"

The source says Oprah arrived just after 6:30 p.m., when there were still shoppers inside the store. According to the source, Oprah politely asked an Hermès sales clerk if she could dash in. She knew what she wanted: a specific watch for Tina Turner, her dinner partner that evening.

Now if the No. 1 celebrity on Forbes' power list - a woman who earned $225 million last year - knocked on their doors, many shopkeepers would carry her in on a litter, even if it was midnight.

Instead, she was rebuffed - first by the clerk, then by a store manager.

Though Oprah hasn't accused the Gauls of racism, her friend suggests, "If it had been Celine Dion or Britney Spears or Barbra Streisand, there is no way they would not be let in that store."

Hermès' brusque treatment understandably came as a shock to someone who recently bought a dozen of the store's Birkin bags, which can run $6,500. In fact, Oprah had just ordered another one.

After last weekend, she canceled that order.

We also hear she's called Robert Chavez, president of Hermès in America, to inform him that, although she has long enjoyed his stores, she will no longer be shopping there.

We also hear she may share the incident with her 22 million-plus viewers.

"We are calling it Oprah's 'Crash' moment," says the friend, recalling the new movie about race in America.

Our calls to Hermès weren't returned yesterday.

This isn't the first time Oprah is alleged to have gotten a hard time in the luxe lane. In 1994, a former employee of Bulgari alleged in a lawsuit that the jewelry store hiked its prices for Oprah and other celebs. The store denied the charge.

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