March 30, 2008

The Cult of the Luxury Brand

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

40 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I applaud your honesty. As an Asian I always cringe when I see other Asians dressed from head to toe in designer stuff. They look so brainwashed.

3/30/2008 12:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(quote) 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. (end quote)


..this is how most people feel who have a brain and left-wing inclinations. In addition, it is felt that consumerism places a large burden on the environment.

3/30/2008 12:18 AM  
Anonymous Kate said...

I completely agree on why you feel this book may not be so great.

I find that this book focuses on Asians a bit too much to the point where it seems a little too sterotypical and is sending out the wrong image.

I'm certain that all the points that were made are true to some extent, but it seems like they are generalizing this to the entire Asian population. The idea of luxury and the way that people "outdo" one another with materialistic goods is pretty much standardized across the industrial world.

While I do agree with some of the points made in this book, I find it somewhat offensive that the authors chose to direct this to one particular population when it affects the whole world in general.

3/30/2008 3:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sounds like rabid racism to me

3/30/2008 5:31 AM  
Anonymous savvygal said...

I agree luxuary consumption is a global thing, not isolated to a particular area of the world or a group of people. Newport Beach in California is full of name brand wearing individuals from all groups, black, white, yellow,etc.

Anyway, I think people have their likes and desires so who is to judge. Vanity... So what.... Granted, there are some people who will follow blindly buying the latest must-haves, but whatever that makes a person happy. It's their money and if they want to spend it on a 10K bag then so be it.

3/30/2008 5:45 AM  
Blogger alis said...

This was an interesting read!
Ok so I have a theory (but must warn you my knowledge about asian culture is extremely limited):
Look at the traditional clothes asian women used to wear; kimonos, hair ornaments, things made from exquisite and rare fabrics, hand-made things, patterns that are works of art.. The casual, middle class look cannot be compared with the splendour of those garments. So maybe this interest for luxurious clothes is caused by subconscious reminiscence of that glory.

3/30/2008 7:05 AM  
Blogger Material Girl said...

While it may seem at first like rabid racism, it looks like this book is acknowledging a very real phenomenon--the Asian luxury-goods consumer. It is absolutely true that in any major European city, you will find the luxury stores crammed to the brim with Asian shoppers, FAR more than tourists of other nationalities. Rather than perpetuate existing unfortunate stereotypes about Asian shoppers, maybe this book can serve to explain why luxury goods fit into Asian societies based on historical norms...and, hopefully, make readers not look so dismissively at Asian shoppers spilling out of the Gucci store in Milan. Know what I mean? It's OK to admit cultural trends, and then to go into detailed study of them to see the meanings and histories behind these trends and why they are valid and do not deserve pooh-poohing.

In the same vein, I think that it's great to see materialism and "consumer culture" for what it is...and also to recognize its place in our lives and why it is important to us, and that it's OK!

sorry for the endless comment...I get passionate about this kind of thing... :) MG

3/30/2008 7:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't read the book, MG, but I'm assuming the phrase "single parasites" is from the book. That's rather nasty.

3/30/2008 7:15 AM  
Blogger david santos said...

Good posting. Honestly! Thank you.


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3/30/2008 7:51 AM  
Blogger Thumbelina Fashionista said...

I am an Asian-American who in no way loves fashion because of race; however, I do understand the book's claims. Every woman in Koreatown owns designer duds/bags/etc. There IS a huge emphasis on appearances (looking done up, wearing makeup, being skinny). But I wonder if it's a testament to Western culture's dominance in Asia (hence the popularity of the eye lid surgery). Wearing Western labels is one way of looking Western.

3/30/2008 8:32 AM  
Anonymous penn girl said...

there's more asians in the world than europeans and americans, so it sort of makes sense that asians take up a higher percentage of fthe lucury goods market, plus it's only an extra 2% compared to the europeans...not exactly that significant, i might add, so i think people are all the same, they just want to look good
actually, if you look at it from a per capita basis...asians probably purchase even less luxury goods compared to europe and america
ok...so that sounded really nerdy, but i don't really see a problem with people and the luxury industry, it boosts the GDP

3/30/2008 11:40 AM  
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3/30/2008 4:33 PM  
Blogger Fashion Tidbits said...

as a Korean- no, luxe consumption is NOT considered "sinful" only unless it is overdone but then that is the same with all individuals. Plus you don't get frowned upon if you wear imported goods. there is a certain social hype and inside joke about "dwen jang neo" who are women who spend lavishly on luxury brands and their starbucks but eat "dwen jang" back at home- this part is partly true but we all love our certain brands and those who choose to spend lavishly and live their life they want to regardless of this scrutiny is a choice they pick for themselves. for instance, koreans like brands and i think it does take a part away from a show of individualism (which i like) but it's not like all koreans are brand zombies...well some are :P but then you get that all around the world

3/30/2008 5:33 PM  
Blogger Mica said...

Thanks for your honest views on the book, it made it a great review :)

I find it really interesting to look at population trends like the book does. What you have to realise is that the book could be written about any groups in any country, and I'm sure it wasn't aimed directly at any particular group to make them "feel like fools". Similar things could be writen about American's love for large cars for example, or the Australian's desire to only buy Australian made products.

They seem to have just made some generalisations to make their points easier to understand.

3/30/2008 10:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's bad enough that "hoards" [hordes] of 30-plus year-olds are parasitically mooching off their parents, but I wouldn't be surprised if many of them are actually wearing COLORED TIGHTS AND LEGGINGS! THE HORROR!!!!!

3/31/2008 12:53 AM  
Blogger Molly :] said...

It looks like an interesting book, even though it may be taking the 'piss' out of young asian shoppers.

I agree with Alis' very valid point about how perhaps its derived from thier traditional kimonos/ hair peices.

Im definately contemplating buying this book- and if i do i'll let you know what i think.

:) x

3/31/2008 2:23 AM  
Blogger awongwong said...

i can understand how some of the ideas in this book generated from, but i don't exactly agree with most of it. it's very stereotypical, but probably an interesting read.

i just stumbled upon your blog on google and have fell in love with it! you live in hong kong, right? how i envy you so.

3/31/2008 9:57 AM  
Anonymous Elle said...

honestly, people can buy whatever they want to buy with their own money. it's their own choice and no one has the right to judge. i think while this book may provide some insight to why asians buy luxury goods, the question to ask is SO WHAT? it's really easy for authors to draw in readers with facts, numbers, and stories that are out of the norm, but if this book has no other point besides stereotyping asian shoppers, then what's the reason for it being published?

3/31/2008 11:19 AM  
Blogger ColourPiano said...

I agree with penn girl, this is a global thing, not asian. We are just surpised to see asian doing the same things we do.
My last two jobs as sales staff were in Sloan Square and in Hampstead (the 2 most ultra posh areas of London). This is definitely global. Plus there is a clear contradiction: If they are the ones that consume more luxury, why are the ones that produce more of the opposite: cheap clothes.
With their child labour and low class work they produce the cheapest garments you can find in western stores.

3/31/2008 7:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

[quote] honestly, people can buy whatever they want to buy with their own money. it's their own choice and no one has the right to judge[/quote]

yes, by law we can buy whatever we want. but morally, no. I think its unethical to spend a furtune on luxury products when it could have been used for more charitable purposes.

I think its selfish and degenerate to spend so much money on such superficial things when it could have been used to help others who are suffering due to poverty.

So much good could be done if people would just stop being so focused on themselves.

3/31/2008 8:28 PM  
Anonymous Elle said...

Anonymous

I agree that it is selfish and degenerate to spend so much money on superficial things when we could potentially use it to help others. But this book is in no way helping that right? I was merely questioning the point of this book. No way in saying that people can buy what they want do I mean that people shouldn't help others. However, the fact that we both read I Am Fashion means that we are the people who splurg on unnecessary fashion items sometimes, and I don't see a problem with it. If people work hard for their money, they have a choice to shop AND to help others. I don't see the two as contradictory at all. Maybe the reason why this bothers you is because people are only buying these items because they want it as a status symbol, but isn't that the point of luxury/premium priced products? If that's the case, then we should just scrap the market in general.

3/31/2008 8:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should definitely read Deluxe how luxury lost its luster, by Dana Thomas. It's sort of an expose on the whole "luxury" industry and its implications.

3/31/2008 10:42 PM  
Blogger Anna said...

"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. "

I think that's simplifying a lot. There's getting excited about a LV bag ONLY because it's an LV bag, and there's appreciating the quality, which is often a wise thing. (It's cheaper to buy a great quality bag that will last for years than a cheap one you'll have to replace soon. A party dress you'l wear 10 times, thought, I'd go with cheap.)

As for you, from what i see you shop mostly at Urban Outfitters and H&M, they're no luxury brands afaik.

4/01/2008 3:25 PM  
Anonymous sass said...

I think the authors claims are acceptable seeing as any theory must be a sweeping generalisation to make statistical sense. I don't believe the intent is to pigeon-hole Asian culture but to make an observation.

I'm an Asian girl living in Toronto, Canada. I can't afford to buy luxury goods, but my mother can and does. And if she wants to buy them for me, I'm not going to be one to complain.

I was in a Guess store with 2 of my Asian friends. Handbags? Gucci, Gucci and Louis Vuitton. Handbags of all the other Asian girls in the store? Similar line up. On the arms of all the non-Asians? Not a single designer handbag. It was a personal observation. I made a note of it and that was that, not further judgements made.

I don't think I consciously picked a designer bag just to 'show off'. I also didn't think the girls without one cared.

4/02/2008 12:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think most of the observations are true, but the causal analysis sounds questionable, and i'm surprised you didn't question it itself.

i think it's really problematic to say that it's an asian "thing" across the board, and to attribute something to "confucianism" for the chinese, and emphasis on conformity and fitting in. it sounds like this book serves to perpetuate stereotypes. how about going into why these stereotypes EXIST, and how we can challenge them, rather than legitimizing people's greed? also it sounds like none of this is contextualized within the broader political economy. why are hong kong people in a position where luxury is everything??? why isn't this properly historicized? and what about the demographic shift toward mainland chinese consumers???

4/03/2008 3:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really agree with Penn Girl's comment about how there are really more asians in the world, so it just makes sense that they would make up more of the luxury goods market. If you look at smaller communities, we could probably see that there's a bigger percentage of "Westerners" who buy designer stuff as compared to the percentage of Asians who do. It just so happens that the smaller percentage of Asians who buy designer stuff are still more than the rest of the world. It seems racist to create a book that seems solely based on stereotypes just because there are more people involved.

4/03/2008 11:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

how interesting, and coincidental.
my background:
born in HK, moved to australia at the age of 5, visits HK regularly every two years.
currently in HK for a month for study-related purposes. lucky enough to visit most major cities in the world (just came back from new york in december), and i have actually thought about this during my last couple of weeks in hong kong.

my thoughts?
let me just reiterate something, i was in the IFC (upscale mall in the middle of HK) mall just today, when i overheard an american (possibly canadian) man beside me say 'Do you think the Chinese people have a serious shopping problem?' and i laughed at the truth of his casual comment.

There is DEFINITELY a more overt emphasis on OBVIOUS luxury in Asia than any other culture in the world. this has been present in cities like hong kong and tokyo for years now, and we are definitely seeing this trend growing amongst mainland china as well. it is global, but every single luxury brand in the world has focussed its most recent efforts on far-east asia. the mentality is not only amongst chinese/japanese/koreans living in their homeland, but also those living overseas. i don't think it's just a matter of their demographics explaining their share of the market, its definitely their spending habits as well. luxury spending amongst the middle class is probably more common than in other cultures. the other thing that i've noted is the amount of marketing effort in hong kong. for gods sake, there is a giant poster of Calvin Klein covering an ENTIRE SKYSCRAPER. there are ads for Bally, Anteprima, Gucci, Salvatore Ferragamo.. along the sides of public transport everywhere. i have not noticed the same strength of marketing in any other city, including new york, sydney, los angeles, london or paris. you do see it however, in hong kong, tokyo and shanghai. this is by no means an exhaustive list... but it does explain something.

4/04/2008 7:35 PM  
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4/05/2008 2:17 PM  
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4/07/2008 9:24 AM  
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5/09/2008 3:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You wrote "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".

While I agree with other text you've written, I beg to defer in this statement you made which is quite shallow. Confucian ethics does not place emphasis on "family face". Confucius says you have stability in country, then in family, then you'll have peace. He did not mean what you have inferred. Also his most promising student is one who lives poorly.

Next time when you try to comment superficially on culture in Asia, there is a large population, well-educated and understand the culture deeper than what you have try to put together.

11/15/2008 1:47 AM  
Blogger belhana said...

Thank you for the wonderful effort

إني تذكـرت والذكرى مؤرقـة *مجـداً تلـيدا بأيـدينا أضعـناه

أنَّى اتجهتَ للإسـلام في بـلـدٍ * تجْده كالطيرِ مقصـوصًا جناحـاه

كـم صرفتنا يـدٌ كنـا نـصرفها * وبات يـملكنا شعب مـلكناه

بالله سل خلف بحر الروم عن عرب * بالأمس كانوا هنا واليوم قد تاهوا

وانزل دمشق وسائل صخر مسجدها * عمن بناه لعل الـصخر ينعـاه

هذى معـالم خرس كـل واحـدة * منهن قامت خطيبـا فاغرا فـاه

الله يعلم ما قلبت سـيرتهم يومـا * وأخطـأ دمـع الـعين مـجراه

يا من يرى عمـراتكسوه بردته * الزيت أدمٌ لـه والكـوخ مـأواه

يهتز كسـرى على كرسيه فرقـا * من خوفه ، وملوك الروم تخشـاه

يا رب فابعث لنا من مثلهم نفـرا * يشـيدون لـنا مـجدا أضعنـاه

7/05/2009 8:26 PM  
Blogger belhana said...

Thank you for the wonderful effort

إني تذكـرت والذكرى مؤرقـة *مجـداً تلـيدا بأيـدينا أضعـناه

أنَّى اتجهتَ للإسـلام في بـلـدٍ * تجْده كالطيرِ مقصـوصًا جناحـاه

كـم صرفتنا يـدٌ كنـا نـصرفها * وبات يـملكنا شعب مـلكناه

بالله سل خلف بحر الروم عن عرب * بالأمس كانوا هنا واليوم قد تاهوا

وانزل دمشق وسائل صخر مسجدها * عمن بناه لعل الـصخر ينعـاه

هذى معـالم خرس كـل واحـدة * منهن قامت خطيبـا فاغرا فـاه

الله يعلم ما قلبت سـيرتهم يومـا * وأخطـأ دمـع الـعين مـجراه

يا من يرى عمـراتكسوه بردته * الزيت أدمٌ لـه والكـوخ مـأواه

يهتز كسـرى على كرسيه فرقـا * من خوفه ، وملوك الروم تخشـاه

يا رب فابعث لنا من مثلهم نفـرا * يشـيدون لـنا مـجدا أضعنـاه

7/05/2009 8:26 PM  
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Blogger sangini said...

(Quote) 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! (End Quote)

Asian Young women and men don't live with their parents for THEIR MONEY but because its ASIAN TRADITION AND CULTURE TO LOOK AFTER their AGED PARENTS.They do it out of their love and respect for their parents as they feel its really shameful and bad to send off parents to old-aged homes or neglect them.

Its AS difficult for people from western culture understand that why Grownup Asian sons or daughters live with their parents AS difficult it is for Asians to understand that why would people from western culture not stay with their parents or send them off to old aged homes.CULTURAL DIFFERENCE.

The book should have made some indepth study about different cultures before making such ignorant comments about a particular culture and labelling them as parasites.

7/10/2011 3:35 PM  
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