As much as I think of myself as someone arrogant enough to assume that their fashion sense transcends the usual status brands, I cannot deny that they can have a strange hold over me.  I was going home on the metro in Tokyo one day when I clocked that the rather bland women (apologies) in front of me was wearing a Louis Vuitton cardigan as eluded to by the presence of the embroidered logo all over it (probably a real premium price point piece), and I must confess that my opinion of her changed instantly.  I began to wonder how she could afford that particular item – was it her career, her husband, etc, in short I assumed her success in life on some level – how else could she afford it otherwise?  Now I may scoff at the prices of the pieces preferring instead to spend the same budget on a whole year of clothes, but I cannot deny the enduring power of brands.

Even in the midst of a global recession leaving brands like Versace crumbling in its  wake, Louis Vuitton continues to dominate the wish lists and daily coordinates of Tokyo.  It is no coincidence that the brands with the highest price tag occupy the highest rankings in whatever magazine is running the arbitrary “ideal gift” survey that month.  Louis Vuitton nearly always enjoys the top spot, with Hermes running a close second.  I remember asking a good friend of mine which foreign brand was her favorite, shocked at her answer of Hermes, the elegant image of the brand so at odds with her young fun image, that I asked her why – “well it is the most expensive” came the reply.

In a country which cultural commentators and sociologists alike were only recently wide-eyed in their astonishment that Japan did indeed have a class system – albeit a subtle one – you do need to prove somehow that you are a success.  Japan is a very fashionable and affluent society and it is actually quite hard to show in public that you are different.  Brand goods are an easy pass to assumed success – fakes being actually quite hard to come by.

My introduction to this world came when an old girlfriend dragged me off to the Louis Vuitton flagship in Omotesando.  Where she tried to convince a jewellery aficionado (me) to buy her an LV ring.  Having explained to her that the one she liked (simple logo on a band) was plated rhodium costume rubbish sold at the price of  solid gold she proceeded to have a bit of a huff.  In retrospect that cheap plating would have outlasted our relationship, but I was unaware at that point that it was very much the expectation that I would be buying her a gift to show how I felt about her.  She ended up showing me a magazine with advised presents for your girlfriend, all foreign brand goods – no dice I am afraid.  Aware as I am that I probably am sounding quite stingy right now, I will clarify that I was just surprised by her expectation and cringe-worthy brazen cheek of the manner she suggested that I needed to get her a gift.  I guess her on my arm was my status symbol and a boyfriend who could afford Louis Vuitton for her was hers.

My other issue with Brands lies in the extreme lengths that young girls go to to afford them.  While the less savory are obvious (note that Louis Vuitton in Shinjuku is 2 minutes from the red light district) I met a girl while at university in Japan who had taken out a million yen loan to get one.

I guess it makes me a little sad to see all that a brand bag culturally represents, and sadder still that every time I see one I cannot help but mentally note how much that must have cost.

For the record I love my Balenciaga bag – for the design and not for the fact that people always comment on it – promise!

Samuel

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