One morning as I was driving the kids to school, I noticed a woman standing at the bus stop with a Michael Kors logo tote bag slung over her shoulder. Later that same day, I stood behind a woman at the grocery store who pulled a food stamp EBT card out of her Coach logo handbag.
Well, if low income households are wearing these brands, then it points to one thing: they have officially “jumped the shark.”
Now I know that sounds really snobby.
But it’s the economics of supply and demand. Luxury is based on exclusivity; if low income earners are consuming en mass, then it’s no longer exclusive.
It’s like that scene in The Incredibles (2004) where Syndrome talks about everyone having super powers:
When everyone has it, it’s not special anymore.
It also dilutes the brand.
Remember the designer jean craze of the early 1980s? Jordache. Gloria Vanderbilt. Calvin Klein. They were “the” jeans to have in those days.
Brooke Shields for Calvin Klein Jeans (c. 1981)
But within a matter of years, it was all over. Calvin Klein filed for bankruptcy in 1992 and was bought by the Phillips van Heusen company in 2002. Jordache and Gloria Vanderbilt are still available, at Walmart and Kohls, respectively. They lost their hip factor thirty years ago, when everyone and her mother owned a pair.
Same with Pierre Cardin, Halston, and Tommy Hilfiger. More recently, True Religion, Juicy Couture, Abercrombie & Fitch, and L.A.M.B. By Gwen Stefani have all seen better days. Even red bottomed Louboutins are starting to reach critical mass.
So what does all of this have to do with you?
Be very careful when selecting your status accessories, especially if your work with high end clients. People who were raised with wealth typically don’t wear designer initials – they wear their own, if they wear any at all. With few exceptions, logos are strictly a middle class thing.
So if you know people who make a lot of money but they still wears lots of logos, chances are, they’re “new” money – first generation – and were raised in the middle or lower class. The nouveau riche, as they were called in the Industrial Age.
Here’s a list of some of the oldest fashion brands still in existence:
1781 – Asprey (silk printing)
1815 – Pringle of Scotland
1818 – Brooks Brothers
1828 – Guerlain
1834 – Rimmel London (perfume)
1837 – Hermès (saddlery)
1837 – Tiffany & Co.
1847 – Cartier
1851 – Aquascutum (sporting apparel)
1853 – Levis (dry goods)
1854 – Louis Vuitton (trunks)
1856 – Burberry (sporting apparel)
1889 – Lanvin
1909 – Chanel (hats)
1919 – Jean Patou
1921 – Gucci
1925 – Fendi
1933 – Lacoste
(The words in parentheses are the products the company originally sold.)
A quick look tells you that with the exception of Levis – and these days, Rimmel – they all have one thing in common: products that cater to the rich. Jewelry, perfume, saddles, sporting apparel – items consumed by the leisure class. They’ve all stayed in business for over a century because they know their target market and cater to it exclusively with quality goods that have withstood the test of time.
Hermès Scarf Ad – with a nod to their carriage trade beginnings
But Hermès, Louis Vuitton, and Chanel all have logos, you might be thinking.
And you’re right – they do.
In fact, Louis Vuitton was the first to put a logo on their trunks back in the 1890s to discourage counterfeiters.
Vintage Louis Vuitton Trunk
Chanel started stamping her interlocking Cs on her Chanel No. 5 perfume bottles in the 1920s for the exact same reason – to ensure authenticity.
Chanel No. 5 Perfume
Hermès started adding an H to their Constance bag in the 1950s.
Hermès Constance Bag
So why haven’t their brands been diluted by all the logos?
Some would argue that they have. One fashionable friend said that seeing all the “trashy” reality stars wearing Louis Vuitton and Chanel means those brands are “done.”
I don’t think so. These products are still very expensive and out of the reach of most middle class consumers. That they’ve been counterfeited so much does hurt them, but those who can afford to buy at this level simply avoid the most-copied styles.
So should you. Especially if you work with – or aspire to work with – high end clients.
Quality speaks for itself. It doesn’t need a logo to prove its worth. Neither do you.
Which would you say is more expensive?
Ralph Lauren Totes
Michael Kors Bags
When you see them side-by-side, it’s easy to discern the difference. The texture, the shape, the construction – it’s like the difference between haute cuisine and fast food. There is no comparison.
So if you stop wearing the logo styles favored by the masses, what should you wear instead?
Well, aside from the pieces you love and cherish, you might want to check out the under-the-radar styles that the fashion cognoscenti are wearing. Look at the reviews on high end retail sites like Nordstrom or Net-a-Porter.com to see what luxury consumers are rating highly. If people who spend this kind of money all the time like something, it might warrant your attention.
Do you have to buy any of these things?
Of course not!
But I want you to at least be aware of what high income earners like. Not everyone can afford to pay $200-$500+ per piece, so it behooves you to know what this demographic is buying, particularly if you work with or aspire to work with people at this level. Their buying habits offer insight.
As do those on the lower end of the spectrum. When you see low income earners buying status goods, it means that brand – or that style at least – has “jumped the shark” and is on its way out. Remember: luxury is about exclusivity. If everyone has it, it’s not exclusive.
So think about that next time you go to buy a status accessory. If you’re going to spend the money, spend it on quality pieces that will last you for years. Forget the logos that everyone has and buy under-the-radar pieces instead. You’ll signal to high end clients that you’re one of them instead of someone who just follows the crowd.
Diana Pemberton-Sikes is an image consultant and author of Executive Style Bootcamp. Ready to to look like the leader your are? Executive Style Bootcamp shows you how.