The Diva's Prayer
Which Art in Neiman's
Hallowed be thy shoes
Thy Prada come
Thy shopping done
As it is in Paris
Give us this day, our Visa Gold
And forgive us our balance
As we forgive those who charge us interest
Lead us not into Penny's
And deliver us from Sears
For thine is the Chanel, the Gaultier and the Versace
For Dolce and Gabbana
Shortly after, I read an article published on The School of Life's site, "On Consumption and Status Anxiety". The article positions buyers of branded status goods as those who "invest in luxuries because we want people to be nice to us", and adds, "it isn't luxury goods we want as much as the kindness they are a conduit to."
The uncredited writer says, "It is the result of hundreds of thousands of people who feel pressured by the fear of the coldness of others to add an extraordinary amount to their bare selves in order to signal that they too may lay a claim to love".
I'm not sure you reap kindness, let alone love, by buying a crocodile-skin Birkin, but you will receive deference, admiration or envy from persons who share similar values, and contempt from those appalled by ostentation. You may attract a type of friendship that people who have made and then lost money realize was phony.
While the display of status items reflects a desire to be noticed, to be seen as special, I believe there are many other reasons why someone acquires such goods:
1. Conformity: If everyone in your office wears bespoke suits, you may feel it wise to be one of the group.
|Fendi "Peekabo" bag|
2. Beauty: The author seems unaware that the fine materials and craftsmanship of a Fendi Peekaboo bag deliver an aesthetic experience not replicated by a Nine West. (For this reason primarily—the tone-deafness to the sensual pleasure of many luxury goods—I am willing to bet the writer is a male who has very limited experience with them, even at the "just looking" level.)
3. Peak Pleasure: Ask the guy driving his red Lambo, top down on a sunny afternoon, if he isn't having a pretty good day, or at least a better day than in your beater. And let me tell you about the ten minutes I spent wearing a vintage Cartier diamond and ruby necklace (in a shop), quite the thrill! A supremely fine object 5-alarms the brain's pleasure center.
4. Reward: When friends who can afford such things have shown me a luxury purchase, they often note that their trophy marks an achievement: the first big deal, the partnership, the book prize. Our friend Éric had a big strike, so prudently bought a piece of property, but also some spiffy Italian clothes.
5. Signal of Economic Power: When my 1%-er acquaintance John steps off the private jet, he is signaling to his cohort that he's in their league. For the same reason, he has not walked to the back of a commercial flight in decades. I doubt that he is looking for love, but he is looking for power, and the jet or first class cabin conveys that he commands significant resources.
6. Displacement: Status goods, instead of a strategy to evoke the niceness of others, can be proxies. This was the case for Joanne, who, after a breakup, bought a set of Valextra luggage roughly equal to the price of a car, and got her eyes done. She knew that, saying, "If he doesn't love me, I'm going to love myself."
School of Life has a distinct anti-capitalist bias; I applaud their efforts to question complex issues such as how to address the widening gap between what a few have and many do not. But they are throwing out the Bonpoint-clad baby with the bathwater in this post.
A number of top-ranked MBA programs now offer a specialization in Luxury Brand Management, and I doubt they view that niche as "existence to a trauma". When nearly all of us can, we want better, whether fingerling potatoes or Moncler jacket. Oprah, reminiscing about her first big TV gig, said she immediately treated herself to fluffy, matching bath towels.
|Reed bag for Kohl's|
|Louboutin "Trepi" sandal|
The article ignores the savvy of those status brands who ensure their quality is consistently exemplary, and shrewdly create lower-cost entry-level items—perfume and makeup are typical. But I don't think a woman hopes to recapture the unconditional love of infancy when she buys a bottle of Jour de Hermès.
The writer ends the piece with a jarringly illogical conclusion, referring to "acquiring a high-powered job" in the same breath as getting a Chanel bag or a Ferrari.
You can't buy that job (unless you count an investment in your education as 'buying'), or hordes of women would max their Visas immediately.