For many people , acquiring luxury brands is a must , perhaps because it somehow validates their sense of self-worth . ” Look at me , I can afford this so I must be doing well “. The Japanese are the prime examples of such acquisitiveness, or at least they were . Until recently , Japan used to be a major market for luxury brands in spite of its relatively small population . However , even before the tsunami and its aftermath , the Japanese have been moving away from this obsession .
The ” luxury brand ” mindset is not peculiar to Japan . I see it here in the U.S too . Thus , on TV I watched one of the ” Real Housewives of New York ” buying a handbag for $ 1, 600 and remarking that its her ” B- list ” acquisition and that she doesn’t feel right about spending $ 6,000 ( as one her friends did ) , because it doesn’t seem right in these difficult times. To people like me , such spending is incomprehensible . What could possibly make a handbag worth $ 6,000 , or even $ 1,600 ? I know there is a certain cachet to the name but , in other respects , there is no difference between those handbags and a knockoff that costs a twentieth as much. For that reason , I’m not as outraged by knockoffs as many people are.
When I was working in New York it was quite common to see street peddlers hawking knock-offs of Coach , Gucci, Kate Spade and other name brands . Many of them were Senegalese immigrants who would have their goods spread out on a large cloth . They would have one eye out for cops and, on spotting one approaching , they would quickly pull the ends of the cloth together, gather up their goods and scram .Every so often , they would be arrested and their goods confiscated . It’s a tough way to make a living but somehow they did .
There was a story in this morning’s New York Times that gave me a laugh . It seems an undercover cop went into a Chinese owned funeral supplies shop part of whose stock is replicas of luxury goods which are meant for the departed to take with him on his final journey .The store, Fook On Sing Funeral Supplies, on Mulberry Street, along what is known in Chinatown as Funeral Row, sells traditional objects of mourning, mostly copies of luxury objects. The items are made of cardboard, paper and plastic, to be used at funerals as symbolic gifts for the deceased. The cardboard models are burned as part of traditional Chinese funeral practices. Among the items sold by the store are a cardboard mansion for $400 and a cardboard flat-screen television for $40. There are stacks of money ($10,000 bills) for sale, as well as miniature sports cars, cellphones, double-breasted suits and even smiling dolls to act as servants in the hereafter. As one of the stores owners explained “When people die, they feel they are going to need things in the next world.”
The items are supposed to be fake but that did not deter the cop from arresting a shop worker on counterfeiting charges for selling several items, including Louis Vuitton and Burberry handbags. According to a police spokesman , the worker, Wing Sun Mak, was observed offering to sell three handbags “that bore a counterfeit trademark Burberry” and one handbag that bore a fake Louis Vuitton insignia. He was also observed offering for sale four pairs of shoes and two outfits. He was held overnight in a local precinct house and then arraigned before being released.He was charged with two counts of copyright infringement in the third degree. ( Is the third degree worse than the first or the second ? I don’t know .)
Councilwoman Margaret Chin, who represents the neighborhood , said she had requested a meeting with police officials. “You expect the police to be culturally sensitive,” Ms. Chin said. “This has been going on for hundreds of years, the Chinese burning offerings to the dead, and that’s what these kind of stores are for. It’s hard to understand how someone could mistake this for criminal activity. ” I couldn’t agree more . The replicas are made of cardboard and plastic and could never be mistaken for the real thing . They do not represent an attempt to defraud Burberry et al of sales and royalties. This is like shutting down a kid’s roadside lemonade stand because she doesn’t have a license. Don’t the police have anything better to do ?
What gave me a laugh was the reaction from Suki Lin, the wife of the arrested man. Pointing to her own Coach handbag, she said that it was real and that it was a gift from her husband. Then, she motioned toward a cardboard bag and said, “If he gave me that bag, I’d beat him to death.” (LOL)