By the way ... Spent forces, or what’s the point of judging spendthrifts?
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“Psst,” my friend whispered as we left a restaurant Friday night, elbowing me in the direction of a young woman holding a brand-name bag. “That’s the crocodile version, the one costing Rp 800 million [US$84,800].”
The sighting was quite the coincidence; only a couple of days before we had set up our own informal people’s court to examine the consumerist and consuming passion for brand-names, either bona fide or good knockoffs, that has taken over the city. I recounted my recent experience at a restaurant located across from a luxury goods store and watching the endless trail of customers going back and forth.
Our conversation turned to the celebrities who have become society’s barometers of showy style for their penchant for luxury goods. Singer Syahrini’s exercises in retail therapy — including a reported Rp 1 billion shopping spree in Hong Kong — are eagerly followed in Twitterland and in the media.
“People come in to the store and ask my aunt if she has the ‘Syahrini bag’,” my friend said about his relative who sells counterfeit versions of brand-name purses.
“Before that, they came for the bogus version of the Manohara bag,” he added of the starlet who became famous after she fled her former husband, a Malaysian prince.
There you have it; our infotainment stars have become more famous and identifiable than the luxury goods they — and we — covet. It probably does not matter in our marketing and social media-driven times that some of the bags are fake; any news — even the potshots frequently aimed at Syahrini — is good news in spreading the word.
Ultimately, our court of two decided that it was international woman of not much mystery, Paris Hilton, who has muddied the once clear waters of class and taste to make bogus bling-bling more beguiling than Balenciaga for some.
She may be the butt of the joke, but her pronouncements and lifestyle choices are eagerly followed by some. When Ms. Hilton became known for toting a Chihuahua around town with her, I swear I spotted someone in my apartment building doing the same. A very skinny pooch (Paris would be proud), it looked a bit more like an undernourished greyhound than one of its Mexican relatives. I now think that the luxurious wrapping of a silk blanket was to keep it out of the gaze of the security guards at our no pets-allowed building.
Now it can be quite delicious to get preachy when it comes to people who grandiosely tote their status symbols in the same calculated way that we ourselves tout our social media status. I could tell you the story of a friend whose fat inheritance led to him being dubbed “the six-million-dollar man”. When I reconnected with him recently, I found out he had taken a vow of poverty, given away all his riches to become a Jesuit priest (now, if only I had contacted him earlier to secure a donation for my own foundation for unfulfilled dreams).
Even though the purchases seem obscene when many Indonesians are struggling to survive, it would be a bit hypocritical. I have had a cushy media junket or two during my career, including once staying at one of Indonesia’s most expensive hotels whose previous guests include Posh and Becks no less. While I took a cynical view of all the excess — smiling farmers toiled in a special rice field for guests’ viewing pleasure, à la Marie Antoinette — I can’t deny I enjoyed the dalliance with a lavish lifestyle all the same.
And who am I to tell a new generation of young people with disposable income that a motorcycle is not their path to happiness only because I want less traffic on Jakarta’s streets?
I asked a person who is battling cancer about her thoughts on money.
“I’m more thoughtless about how I spend now. I’ve never really been into luxury goods, but today I don’t think about what I’m spending if it makes me happy,” says chef and author Lely Simatupang. “I figure I have five years left to live at most. I’m now using my money to buy things for my loved ones. Going out for dinner, travel, anything to make them happy, because it makes me happy, too.”
As Lely points out, life is short. Happiness is where you find it. And if big brands are your bag, then who am I to judge?
— Bruce Emond