• 21 . 12 . 04
  • Japan takes the concepts of brands to an extreme, with Louis Vitton the unofficial uniform of the middle-class.

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Brand Identity

I’ve been told that, percentage-wise, Japan has the largest middle-class in the world and it would be difficult to disagree. The sheer volume of consumerism here, especially in the run-up to Christmas, demonstrates an abundance of spending money that the economy doesn’t seem to justify, as well as highlighting the tendency not to save for the future. (On the other hand, with interest rates at 0%, would you put your money in a bank?)

Nowhere is this more evident than in the luxury goods sector. The Japanese are incredibly fashion conscious and are happy to pay over the odds for something as long as it is considered new, cool or stylish. You don’t see scruffy Japanese people, unless they’ve spent a couple of hours trying to look that way. The most obvious example is Louis Vuitton. From casual observation, I would estimate that about 60% of Japanese women have some item of Mr. Vuitton’s, ranging from umbrellas to purses, handbags to entire luggage sets. All, of course, at exhorbitant prices.

When 60% of people own something, is it a luxury brand anymore? Or is it just an expensive uniform? The Japanese I have asked all come up with pretty much the same answer; that Japanese people are very concerned about being a part of the group and that having the same bags, purses, clothes or whatever is a way that they can do this. This exposes a fundamental difference in thought between Japan and the West. In Europe, luxury brands are bought to distinguish yourself from everyone else. In Japan, they are bought so that you can be the same as everyone else. To emphasise this further, all of Mr. Vuitton’s goods have exactly the same brown and beige monogram pattern on them, with absolutely no variation. I’ve yet to see an LV product here that has anything different. One design, millions sold, yet more millions desired. He must be laughing all the way to the bank.

The ironic thing is that Japanese style is the most individual I’ve come across. Nobody bats an eyelid if you go around in fake fur truckers hats with 5 layers of t-shirts on, or neon makeup, or dressed like Pikachu or even, I’m told they do in Tokyo, dressed as French maids. There are no rules here. So, while they endeavour to be part of the group, they also have strong personal style. Contrast this with England, where I think most people would prefer to think of themselves as being an individual. Paradoxically, there, everybody wears jeans and a t-shirt. The way you dress definitely reflects something about yourself and this would seem to indicate that Japanese people have more self-confidence than the British, not caring what people think.

However, I already know that’s not the case, so it probably comes down to the fact that people here don’t bitch about other people’s clothes. Older members of society may not approve (but where in the world do they anyway?), but mainstream society is very tolerant of individualism and experimentation when it comes to fashion. Perhaps this is just another outlet of a society where 12 hour working days are the norm and children are expected to go to school virtually 7 days a week from the age of 12. Fashion, then, would seem to be some sort of passive rebellion against the system. All I know is that when I go out I’m the scruffiest person I’ll see in a day. But maybe that’s not so different from home after all…

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