Former YSL Exec Wonders: Is All That Expensive Crap Really Necessary? (Hint: No!)

A few months back a curious thing happened to a big luxury brand executive: she began questioning what the crap the point of all those logos was. So she quit her job at Yves St. Laurent and got a new job working someplace slightly less offensive so she could go all existential in today's Huffington Post:

I remember a lunch conversation with my dear friend ... around the art of the brand. Logo'ed luxury items were top sellers, but why? Was it simply to send a message about status and class? ... As this was happening in my outer world, something was happening inside. Of course I was deeply proud to represent a major designer house, founded by one of the most brilliant designers in history. At first I was proud to have the ability to buy and wear $900 pants, $1,000 blouses...But over time I started to pay more attention to the push pull inside of me every time I put my credit card on the counter. In order to continue to stay current season after season, it seemed I 'required' more. Another pair of shoes. That dress. Yes, it was fun at first. But over time all of this started to feel deeply 'out of proportion' - it was all out of proportion with what it meant to me as a human being. Was that blouse really worth $1,000? Even if I could afford it, did I WANT to???

The executive, Claudia Cividino, also notably wonders when it happened that luxury brands became about "status" and "class-chasing" — as opposed to craftsmanship, quality. Oh Claudia! I know they burned all the books, but I saved a copy of this little 1958 publication called The Affluent Society just for you!

It was written by Cosmo bachelor of the year 1977 John Kenneth Galbraith, and because I was feeling geeky today I decided to just excerpt the parts I found relevant to your personal crisis.


Economic theory has managed to transfer the sense of urgency in meeting consumer need that once was felt in a world where more production meant more food for the hungry, more clothing for the cold and more houses for the homeless to a world where increased output satisfies the craving for more elegant automobiles, more exotic food, more erotic clothing, more elaborate entertainment — indeed, for the entire modern range of sensuous, edifying and lethal desires. Although the economic theory which defends these desires and hence the production that supplies them has an impeccable (and to an astonishing degree even unchallenged) position in the conventional wisdom, it is illogical and meretricious and, in degree, even dangerous.



Few economists in recent years can have escaped some uneasiness over the kinds of goods which their value system is insisting they must maximize. They have wondered about the urgency of numerous products of great frivolity. They have been uneasy about the lengths to which it has been necessary to go with advertising and salesmanship to synthesize the desire for such goods....The weakness, as well as the ultimate defense, lies with the theory of consumer demand. This is a formidable structure; it has already demonstrated its effectiveness in defending the urgency of production. In a world where affluence is rendering the old ideas obsolete, it will continue to be the bastion against the misery of new ones.

The theory of consumer demand, as is now widely accepted, is based on two broad propositions, neither of themquite explicit but both extremely important for the present value system of economists. The first is that the urgency of wants does not diminish appreciably as more of them are satisfied or, to put the matter more precisely, to the extent that this happens, it is not demonstrable and not a matter of any interest to economists or economic policy. When man has satisfied his physical needs, then psychologically grounded desires take over. These can never be satisfied, or, in any case, no progress can be proved....



The second proposition is that wants originate in the personality of the consumer or, in any case, that they are given data for the economist. The latter's tasks is merely to seek their satisfaction. He has no need to inquire how those wants are formed. His function is sufficiently fulfilled by maximizing the goods that supply the wants.



As Adam Smith observed: "Nothing is more useful than water; but it will purchase scarce anything; scarce anything can be had in exchange for it. A diamond, on the contrary, has scarce any value in use: but a very great quantity of other goods may frequently be had in exchange for it."



Yesterday the man with a minimal but increasing real income was reaping the satisfactions which came from a decent diet and a roof that no longer leaked water on his face. Today, after a large increase in his income, he has extended his consumption to include cable television and eccentric loafers. But to say that his satisfactions from these latter amenities and recreations are less than from the additional calories and the freedom from rain is wholly improper.

To summarize: you are a tool of the Western World's obsession with quantifying the worth of its situation via continuous, sustained GDP growth. Also: get a life.

P.S. Did not mean to be snippy! Clearly you are making headway! Just suggesting that empty feeling you're feeling — Paris is feeling it too! — does not have its origins in anything that happened, say, the year Scarlett Johansson started shilling for Vuitton or whatever.

How I Escaped The Luxury Brand Tsunami [Huffington Post]

The Affluent Society