Carrie is a middle-level executive in a retail company in the United States. Her annual income is $60,000 and as a birthday gift, she wants to purchase an exclusive Hermes handbag for herself that costs a whopping $80,000! When quizzed about her highly, extravagant choice of gift, Carrie fiercely states, “A Hermes bag defines me — an independent, career woman who is worthy of respect.” Carrie is not the only woman who is obsessed with international brands and designer labels. She is also not the only individual to splurge thousands of dollars on an expensive commodity.
International brand consciousness, ostentatious consumption, and consumers have shared a special bond since years. This bond transcends borders, nations, income-groups, religions, and social boundaries. As consumers, we remain obsessed not only with designer labels but also with the brand of rice we consume. If we are Indians then we remain obsessed with ‘Basmati’ as the best, quality rice even though it may be more expensive than ordinary rice. Other Asian cultures stick by their personal brand of rice regardless of the dish or the cuisine. Brand obsession begins with the toothbrush or the toothpaste that we use in our homes. We can afford Colgate as well as Vicco yet, we choose Colgate over Vicco. Vicco may make use of more natural ingredients that are not harmful to the body but, Colgate is our preferred brand because we have been using it for years and its quality remains consistent. Like most, I associate high price with high quality.
The obsession of linking high price to high quality extends to women’s obsessive fascination with designer handbags. If you think about it then what do you think a handbag is? A handbag is only meant to carry personal items, cosmetics, etc. So does it really matter which fashion house is manufacturing that bag? I, for one, have a fairly large collection of handbags ranging from Ralph Lauren to street-side-picked-up-convenient bags. But more than the brand or the label it is the design and the utility of the handbag that draw me to purchasing it. Unfortunately or fortunately, most women do not think like me. To them, owning a luxury brand is a status symbol. For them, a highly priced commodity implies that it is of superior quality. In fact, according to an India Today article, India’s luxury market is set to be valued at $5.8 billion by 2016.
India’s tier-II cities such as Ludhiana in Punjab have outpaced the metros in the race for acquiring the biggest and the latest brands. Ask the wife of any rich industrialist in Ludhiana about her wardrobe collection and she will tell you that her sunglasses are Bulgari, her shoes are Jimmy Choo, her handbag is a Dior, and her watch is a Cartier. The obsession with luxury labels is so pronounced in these smaller cities that it becomes difficult to keep up with the high standards of grandiose. Ludhiana’s rich wives claim their identity and status in society through the likes of Hermes and Versace. More than the craftsmanship, the design, and the history of the brand it is the ‘beautiful feeling of self-worth and value of the individual’ that the brand creates. A fake version of the brand, although priced at much less than the original, fails to create the same feeling of ‘worth and status’. It is not just Indians but also the super-rich in China who are crazy about luxury brands. China’s young rich are so obsessed with brands that a Louis Vuitton has lost its exclusivity. China’s economic growth and the spending power of the youth have contributed to a booming luxury market. By 2015, the luxury market in China is set to be worth $28 billion. Limited edition bags cost anywhere between $9,000 and $150,000 but China’s rich are not complaining. As the rich in China become richer, their desire to indulge in the best of shoes, clothes, accessories, and jewellery is getting stronger. However, luxury in China surpasses our perceptions of acquirable luxuries and stretches to more boastful displays of wealth in the form of yachts, private jets, and sports cars. Another very notable reason behind the rich spending loads of cash on expensive luxuries is because they can afford to and because they want to. Luxury brands symbolize wealth. Wealth symbolizes power.
It’s not just the women who are obsessed with brands but also the men who are fiercely loyal to their favourite brands be it for shoes or for apparel. Obsessive shopping that was predominantly a woman’s territory has now been taken over by men. Without realizing the extent of their obsession, young men and women all over the world, are running into debt amounting to thousands of dollars and pounds but still they do not refrain from this indulgence, mainly because of peer pressure or pressure to ‘elevate’ their social status.
The obsession with brands is prevalent among teens too. Teenagers are at an impressionable age when they are easily influenced by celebrity culture and fashion trends. Celebrity lifestyle has a major impact, on the youth and teenagers who have the spending capacity — all thanks to their parents’ wealth. They feel the need to imitate their favourite celebs. Our celebrities endorse the best of luxury brands such as Tag Heuer, Rolex, and more and the first question that pops up in every young girl’s mind is — if Priyanka Chopra or Kate Winslet can sport this watch then why can’t I buy it? Deepika’s outfits from ‘Cocktail’ become the next ‘in-thing’ to sport.
Another very often less-publicized reason for wanting to sport luxury brands is personal insecurities and low self-esteem. The wealthy, who can afford to camouflage their insecurities, felt within a social group, with decadent luxury, do so with panache. However, the not-so-rich who cannot afford the luxury, still indulge themselves, sometimes at the cost of neglecting family—advice, low bank balances, and wisdom.
Our society is deeply impacted by celebrity culture and media propaganda and the obsession with international brands and designer labels is not going to end anytime soon. What we have to realize as a society is that luxury is materialistic pleasure; it cannot buy happiness or respect for long.