By Osmund Agbo
I knew I shouldn’t have made the offer in the first place, but it was already too late. When you are in a shop, mobbed by an army of gorgeous ladies schooled in massaging fragile ego, it’s no more about the rationality of your knee-jerk responses as it to preserving your non-existing honor. In the end, a single phone call from my wife was the grace that saved me from committing financial suicide on the eve of Christmas. But I haven’t always been that lucky.
Louis Vuitton…$5,800, Coach…$4,500.. Coco Chanel…$8,500. For a second I had to assume that I was about to make a down payment on a second home, if to escape the feeling of being robbed in broad daylight. You couldn’t tell that though, from the throngs of ladies in high-heeled stilettos shoes, swiping cards and walking away as if nothing happened. To make matters worse, I didn’t see much difference from the one that a street vendor offered me in China for twenty dollars, sometime ago. In fact, the Chinese bootleg had a superior leather feel than what was offered at the Galleria. Ok, maybe I exaggerated on that score.
Funny enough, most of the ladies I saw didn’t appear like they had some millions stashed away in the bank. At least the looks didn’t give that away. In fact one could easily guess that most are possibly in low to middle income tax bracket and might even have benefited from the government’s stimulus check. How do I know? Well, it’s common knowledge that the average guy spends more on luxury items in comparison to rich folks. You are more likely to see boys that wear blings and high end Jordan snickers in the “hood” than in rich neighborhoods. Maybe it has to do with the rather hackneyed cliché, fake it till you make it. But in answering the question, I had to also turn to my friends at Google. Here is some of what they said:
Lack of financial education in schools fuels bad habits to build up. Rich folks however, are more likely to know how money works and so have the tendency to calculate the opportunity cost of most buying decision. It comes to many as a surprise that good spending habits are actually the biggest source of wealth, compared to earning more. The King of entertainment, Michael Jackson earned around a billion dollars in his careers but was close to bankrupt at the time of death.
Defined in the dictionary as “the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy.” This is often a bigger problem at the lower ends of the income scale.
The Desire to Impress
Of course most of us do this to a certain extent. We try to keep up with the Kardashians. Some however, take it to a whole new level, which is why someone would commit a full month salary to buying a prestigious name brand item when the cost of a similar but less popular brand sells for a penny on the dollar. Even though very few are ready to admit this truth, this informs one of the major reasons why many are drawn to luxury goods.
Just to be clear, am not the kind of guy that hates fashion. In fact I love fashion, so much so that few years ago, I registered a company and dabbled into it. At the time, it felt good getting to meet with industry leaders during the New York and LA fashion weeks, while squeezed into some tight fitting skinny jeans. The jury is still out on whether that was a good business move but for sure I have not become the next Giorgio Armani.
When Gabrielle Bonheur “Coco” Chanel made it to the list of 100 most influential people of the 20th century, very few people contested that choice. After all, the founder of the eponymous luxury brand had been credited with popularizing a sporty, casual chic as the gold-standard of feminine style. You just have to watch the smile play on the face of a believer as she clutches her overpriced bag while showing off the famed interlocked-CC monogram. I imagine her resurrect one day, just like Jesus to give a shout out to thousands of low to middle class women all over the world that traded retirement savings with the label of her iconic brands.
Truth is, I have always loved every fine work of art, whether it’s the artistic versatility of a Tom Ford or the creative genius of a Karl Lagerfeld. I also like the confidence that plays in the face of my friend Dave, each time he shows up in his Salvatore Ferragamo waist belt. Problem is, I could hardly convince myself to cough up $300 to subsidize the lavish lifestyle of a billionaire while struggling to meet my own competing financial obligations. Or it may be that as one gets older, you pay less attention to people’s perception of you, as you try more to reach out to things that will cater for your inner peace and tranquility.
Back to mademoiselle Gabrielle. Before fame and fortune came calling, she lived in ways remarkably different from the fairytale life of the glitterati. When she was just eleven years old, she lost her mum, Jeanne. Together with her two sisters, they were sent to an orphanage ran by the religious Congregation of the order of Sacred Heart of Mary, located in the village of Aubazine, in central France. It was a highly demanding environment that taught the young girl strict discipline. That was also where she learnt how to sew and the frugal lifestyle she was made to live while with the Sisters was credited with a big part of her success later in life.
Having made it out of the store, I continued my shopping. For starters, I am not really the type that dutifully observes the Christmas ritual of exchange of gifts, cards and all what not. My wife will tell you that in the past, even installing Christmas light in our household used to be a hit or miss from year to year. After we had our kids however, we both decided it’s only fair to have them live the experience like other kids their age. And so, we found ourselves believing in Santa, putting up Christmas tree and exchanging gifts. This year, my boy wanted certain brand of cashmere, a few more Nintendo games and other little things we picked up at the mall. I do not have his sister’s permission to disclose what we got her. Madam doesn’t want a surprise but asked that I wait till mid January for her to make her wish known. Hopefully, one doesn’t get to hear Louise, Coco or anything of that nature.
As I headed home, feeling relieved like someone who had just finished performing an important civic duty, I couldn’t help but wonder what Gabrielle would have thought about those women I met at the store and millions of others all over the world, struggling to pay for her ridiculously priced products. She might likely ponder over the irony of how her brand is owned almost exclusively by those who would find it difficult to identify with the virtues of frugal living that pushed her all the way to the top.
Happy New Year!
Tribute to Pierre Cardin
(July 2, 1922-December 29, 2020)
Pierre Cardin, born Pietro Costante Cardin, was an Iconic figure in the world of fashion. His influence was felt not just in his native France but all around the world. He is known for what was his avant-garde fashion style and got the inspiration for his design from just about anything but preferring geometric shapes and motifs. He was not afraid to experiment on his ever evolving fashion ideas.
Pierre was not the one to be confined to just the world of fashion and so dabbled into automobile design, ownership of hotel etc. At his peak, he sold products in more than 140 countries on five continents and his versatility could be summarized in his own quote, namely: “I wash with my own soap, wear my own perfume, go to bed with my own sheets, have my own food products. I live on me.”
Drawing from the tribute written is his honor by New York Time’s Ruth La Ferla, Pierre Cardin will be best remembered as the Designer to the Famous and Merchant to the Masses.
Rest in Power Pierre!
Dr. Agbo, a Public Affairs analyst is the coordinator of African Center for Transparency and Convener of Save Nigeria Project. Email: [email protected]No tags for this post.