Thursday, February 23, 2012

CULTURE : Consumers Consumed by Luxury Brands

Asheley Gao

            It was just a normal Friday at my high school. I was on my way to my the classroom, when a gust of wind carrying an intense smell of perfume almost knocked me off my feet. It wasn’t the normal amount of perfume that makes you feel pleasantly refreshed, sometimes even aroused. It smelt like the whole cosmetic section of Bloomingdales had just exploded next to my nose. As I walked up the stairs, the smell got even stronger. Three steps away from my classroom, the source was revealed: a pile of glass debris, resembling the bottle Armani Code is held in. From this sharp field of glass came pooling, clear liquid, giving off this overwhelming aroma that my high school probably wouldn’t be rid of for another two weeks-- our classrooms began to smell like the well-scented bathrooms at St.Regis, even the mop that cleaned up the mess remained ever so fragrant throughout the semester!

            What is out of place in this story? What is a bottle of Armani Code doing in an ordinary high school in Beijing? As it turns out, one of the freshmen bought it as a present for his girlfriend. Unfortunately, he dropped it in the corridor before she could even marvel at it. But he didn’t seem to be deterred by this; by the end of the lunch break, the girl discovered a huge rose bouquet, a limited edition Steiff teddy bear (the one with a golden button on its ear), and a brand new bottle of Armani Code on her table.

            Rough calculation? This generous little freshman spent at least $350 on this gift package for his girlfriend. He is not the only one to burn a hole in his pocket in the name of high school romance and material love. But, it's not just teenage boys decorating their women with lavish gifts-- it's everyone who has indulged in this new fad of luxury brands.

             As the semester progresses, Gucci and Prada bags began to replace backpacks. Even pencil-cases started to have luxury brands on them. Hermes scarves and Cartier bracelets sneaked out from underneath our ugly uniforms (a sports jacket that is two sizes too large). And, of course, all this was capped off with Dolce and Gabbana shoes and Chanel sunglasses. If my classmates had been tele-transported to New York City, they would be ready to shoot the new episode of Gossip Girl right on the spot.

            Okay maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit... but once I saw these teenagers, only 15 or 16 or so, dressing up with nothing but these expensive brands, well, I was shocked! Not that I’m against shopping for luxury products when earned with one's own hard-earned money. But such products are inappropriate for teenagers, still economically dependent on their parents and squandering money on products that are not entirely suitable for their young and still growing bodies.

            Maybe it all started from their parents, the new generation of upper-middle class Chinese whom have recently became the third-largest consumer market for luxury brands in the world. Upscale shopping malls in major cities in China welcome customers who range from multi-millionaires to white-collar workers. For these customers, brand is everything. No matter how ordinary the handbag looks, or if the sweater looks like a Christmas present from  distant relatives, as long as the expensive logo is in a prominent position, people will be more than thrilled to drop hundreds. What they don't realize is that they are paying for the logo, not the material. The company they are buying from should be paying them for the free advertisement of showing off their logo, not the other way around.

            It is not a surprise that the young generation of Chinese teenagers start to worship luxury brand. Just look at the media today with its advertisement ploys on billboards, in commercials, in magazines, even in newspapers, and shown to us everyday. And, people act as the company's own personalized advertisements; once one teenager buys a new product, all the "cool kids" must buy one. Pictures of these high school kids (mostly taken by themselves), dressed up in brands, are uploaded to their facebook pages, showing off their latest conquest after an extravagant shopping spree. Again: free advertising for multi-million dollar corporations. 

            Few people still care about the history, style, design and artistic element behind each and every brand; it is only the logo that matters. It's like a man buying his fiance a huge diamond; it shows how much he thinks she's worth in a materialistic strut, rather than what marriage really means: simple, beautiful, natural love. The more money poured into luxury brand market, the more diluted the value of these luxury brands is and the poorer the quality will be. These brands are like alcohol; they should be handled responsibly by people who truly appreciate the meaning of money, luxury and fame. Next time you want to spend over a hundred dollars on a product, ask yourself how much it would take you to make a similar shirt material-wise. Ask yourself what's making the product expensive, the material quality (then buy it!) or the brand (refrain!). Either way, if I were you? Call up the company and tell them to give you some money for advertising their product. Just you flaunting their lines will sell more than many advertisements can. Consider this the next time the weight of your shopping bags increases.

The Woman Behind the Cultural Perspectives Section:
Asheley Gao is an extremely creative young woman, currently attending UC Berkeley as an undergraduate, a long way away from her home country of China. She is double majoring in Political Economy and History of Art. Her interest in life and exuberance is evident, not only in her work as an artist and academic, but also a friend and co-worker.

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