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The Cult of the Luxury Brand

Saturday, 29 March 2008

I love book shopping. Strolling leisurely along the aisles with rows and rows of books, you never know what treasures you might come across. Some of my best discoveries have been books that had randomly caught my eye. I like to think its fate. This is probably why I love book shopping. But anyway, my latest treasure has been, "The Cult of the Luxury Brand," by Radha Chadha and Paul Husband. I'm sure you can imagine why it might have caught my attention.... This book focuses on the cult of the luxury brand in Asia, which takes up 37% of the $80bn USD global luxury brand market, while Europe and US only take up 35% and 24% respectively. I think in this case, "cult" is definitely the right word. Living in one of the centers of this phenomenon, and admittedly to most degrees being part of it, I've always wonder why we behave the way we do. And as much as I wince at being labeled as part of the luxury glutton society, I must say, Chadha and Husband comes up with some intriguingly insightful points.

Their main thesis is that "luxury brands are a modern set of symbols that Asians are wearing to redefine their identity and social position," which I guess for the most part is true, but that is kind of obvious. Here are a few other points which I thought were interesting:
  • The Spread of Luxury model, where they split the luxury evolution in Asia to 5 stages: Subjugation, Start of Money, Show Off, Fit In and Way of life. I think they are all pretty self explanatory and pretty accurate
  • The single parasites is the group of young women aged 20-35 in Asia who are still living at home with their parents. Since they do not have to pay for rent etc, they have a larger disposable income to spend on luxury goods- which they do in hoards!
  • One of the reasons that luxury consumption is so big in Japan is because while the Western culture celebrates individuality, the Japanese culture (and indeed most Asian cultures ) places great emphasis on conformity and fitting in. So when the majority of people wear luxury brands, the rest of the people need to wear it too. That is probably why 94% of Japanese woman in their 20s own a Louis Vuitton
  • In Tokyo (and other small cities I suppose), because the apartments are so small and expensive, it is difficult to show off wealth and success. And so people have turned to luxury brands as the best way to display their success- by literally wearing it!
  • For the Chinese, their love for brands stems from their Confucius roots, which places a lot of importance on "family face." And so, today Chinese see luxury brands as a way to show "face" and signify their success
  • In Hong Kong, luxe consumption has been adopted as the central ideology. Making money and blowing it on the luxuries of life is the one thing that the people are clear about, while on everything else, from politics, culture to patriotism, ambiguity reigns. Coming from Hong Kong, I must say, I totally agree
  • In Korea, there is a clash between their love for luxe (Burberry is apparently the Korean word for trench coat!) and their culture. Luxe consumption is seen as "sinful" since frugality and moderation is very big in their culture. Additionally, nationalism is also very big and so wearing imported goods is also frowned upon. No wonder Koreans typically dress in more subtle designer brands (those I know anyway)!
These are just some of the more interesting points that I remember off hand. At this point, I'd usually expend on how awesome this book is and how much I love it. But I find that this time, I cannot quite do that because I am still unsure about my feelings towards this book. On one hand, I thought it made some very clever, valid and insightful points about this phenomena. But on the other, I felt that it made the consumers caught in the heat of this phenomena sound like a bunch of fools continuously chasing after greater materialism trying to fit in and outdo each other at the same time. Maybe they were just writing it as it is and I just took it too personally because I admit that despite being fully aware of this materialistic path I am taking, I am still part of this phenomenon. Maybe the truth is just hard for me to accept, when put down so matter-of-factly. But I still cannot help but feel defensive. Now you can see why I feel so unsure about this book.

Image Source: Cult of the Luxury Brand

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