One of the things Roland loves doing when we go to Bangkok, something that basically makes no sense to me at all, is to buy fake Rolex watches and other brand name tokens to the excesses of consumerism. I like buying jade Buddha heads and traditional art. Last night we were pouring over tour books and planning out our trip to Burma and Roland blurted out, "Oh, I bet they have some cheap Rolexes at the Bogyoke Aung San Market or at the Theingyi Zei" (which is even cheaper and offers another Roland specialty that goes right over my head: a snake section that features the fresh blood and organs of various snakes; some live ones are disemboweled on the spot for medicinal consumption). Let a psychiatrist deal with the snake thing. I want to talk about the fake Rolexes. Actually, what I really want to talk about is a story in today's NY Times by Dana Thomas, author of Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster.
Ms Thomas deals with luxury items made in China and other places that are neither Italy nor France, but not the illegal counterfeits Roland craves, the super-expensive, authorized ones that have become a mainstay of the "democratized," newly middle class, luxury industry. "For more than a century, the luxury fashion business was made up of small family companies that produced beautiful items of the finest materials. It was a niche business for a niche clientele. But in the late 1980s, business tycoons began to buy up these companies and turn them into billion-dollar global brands producing millions of logo-covered items for the middle market. The executives labeled this rollout the 'democratization' of luxury, which is now a $157-billion-a-year industry."
Maybe this is where Bush gets his ideas about democratizing Iraq and the Middle east and any country he doesn't like. This is mostly bait-and-switch production, with the newly corporatized-- rather than democratized-- name brands outright lying, or just deceiving, about where and how their overpriced consumer garbage is made. Example: "To please customers looking for the 'Made in Italy' label, several luxury companies now have their goods made in Italy by illegal Chinese laborers. Today, the Tuscan town of Prato, just outside of Florence and long the center for leather-goods production for brands like Gucci and Prada, has the second-largest population of Chinese in Europe, after Paris. More than half of the 4,200 factories in Prato are owned by Chinese entrepreneurs, some of whom pay their Chinese workers as little as two Euros ($3) an hour."
Luxury brand executives who declare that their items can be made only in Western Europe because Western European artisans are the only people who know what true luxury is are being not only hypocritical but also xenophobic. They are not selling “dreams,” as they like to suggest; they are hawking low-cost, high-profit items wrapped in logos. Consumers should keep in mind that luxury brands are capable of producing real quality at a reasonable price. They know better, and so should we.
I avoid that stuff. Two days ago I noticed my Levys were precariously hanging together in a few sensitive areas by some threads so I braved Roland's scorn, drove over to a K-Mart and plunked down $15 for a new pair of Levys, which I intend to wear 'til they get drafty. And today, like I said earlier, is a Buy Nothing Day at my pad.