I bought my first Louis Vuitton in 2004, the summer before graduating high school. $200 was a princely sum then, but the uniqueness of the item—a Monogram Glacé Pocket Organizer (wallet)—was well worth it. I still have it.
Much later, after many subsequent purchases and interactions with salespeople, some of whom I am still friends with, I realized that the the experience—of pleasantries, optimal store lighting, a box, dust bag, and thick brown shopping bag—was the real addiction.
I’ve written about that here in the recent past.
Unlike other transactions, buying luxury means being treated to luxury. No rush, no lines, no thumbing through racks. “Precious cargo” is the overarching theme.
That isn’t to say one doesn’t enjoy the tangible itself. I relish my purchases, since many of them have held up to time and use, thanks to gingerly treatment.
But they’re never the same after they leave the store. They collect scuffs, show wear, degrade slowly.
Whenever I walk past a window display, I remember how beautiful Louis Vuitton handbags look inside the store.
The leather is so perfectly creased. The metal hardware shined to a mirror finish. Props and mannequins frozen in motion.
Spotted in the wild, though, they seemed less brilliant. On the arms of the masses, they’re cheaper. More tarnished and abused.
The space between purchase and first real wear, which christens an item as your own, always feels like a drug high.
And after the store moments, you just enjoy the sight of your new purchase, hanging in the closet or placed on your feet carefully. The shopping bag and wrapping litter your bed.
And then, the feeling passes.
Until the next purchase, which for me, hunting starts immediately.
Today, having dissected my love for shopping over many posts and discussions with wise people, I realize that I love the experience of shopping as much as I love having a well-rounded closet—but that neither are as important as all the other elements that make life special.
And yet—I’m still a giddy teenager, thinking about unfettered shopping.
One of my de-stressing pastimes is browsing Flickr for luxury store photos from around the world. In part, because travel is high on my list of priorities, even though I can’t do it all the time. And, because I’m fascinated with stores.
They’re in different settings and come in different sizes, but ultimately dispense the same items, anywhere you happen to be.
As part of a perennial cycle to remain fresh, brands renovate their spaces, applying a modern design standard across every outlet they operate or license, even those within department stores.
In a nutshell, branded stores are fascinating to see replicated across the globe, but also sort of strange.
There is a wide spectrum of societies where Louis Vuitton has plunked down stores. From the dusty medinas of Marrakech, to resort villages like Aspen…and in the smog-choked cities of China. Some of my favorites are set in cities where suburban American moms would feel uncomfortable, like Almaty, Kazakhstan. Or in Beirut.
Other brands, often owned by corporate conglomerates with a single goal and set of values, are similarly dispersed. That is, to grow revenues and explore untapped societies.
I’ve pondered how my own fixation, with Louis Vuitton in particular, relates to that of Starbucks devotees—itself a status-symbol brand name around the world.
You know the folks. It’s their first stop off the plane, and often the orienting point for local navigation.
It would be easy to assume that the uniformity of the coffee brand’s stores and offerings serves as a comfort blanket. It’s something you know, and know what you can get, anywhere you are. It has no local flourish.
For a nonconformist, this reeks of mindless brand loyalty.
But maybe it isn’t that simple.
The experience of being in a Starbucks, however subtle, makes its customers feel the same way I do in a luxury store.
One gets a sanctuary of order, of stability. The roughness of the outside world is stopped at the door, overruled by predictable, sensual bliss.
Everything looks and smells pleasing. People are polite. Glass and chrome counters encase gems of opulence and indulgence. The furnishings are often nicer than what customers have in their own homes.
Maybe it’s due to my love of the juxtapose, between harsh environments and glossy, cosseting stores, that I find these phenomena intriguing—both of the store experience and the worldwide distribution of stores. There is an obvious friction between the rest of life, which is often messy and ugly, and the space which is carefully controlled for human delight—and that dynamic is replicated across the world, through handbags, and wallets. And coffee.
And then I think to myself, this analysis is too much. It’s simpler than that.
In a way, it is my nicotine-patch, a way to explore the world of luxury shopping, and the comfort that goes with it, without actually purchasing and breaking my humble piggy bank.
I had a friend read this post, and he said to break it up into several. Obviously I didn’t do that, and I know it is somewhat stream-of-consciousness. There may not be a point to this post, but I wanted to share my thoughts anyway.