I have always heard that France is a very fashion conscious society. Seeing is believing and during my recent trip to France, I noticed that unlike India, the brands are not restricted to the upper society. People in France, across different sections of society, are extremely well-dressed and more so very brand conscious.
In one of my earlier blogs I had mentioned how walking in the fashion streets of any capital makes one wonder where in Europe is the recession? The story continued in France as I saw all the shops in Champs-Élysées and George V street chockablock with people. Did someone say - We live not according to reason, but according to fashion?
The best example of the fashion consciousness of France is summarized by the waiter who served us food in a small town; he was carrying a Mont Blanc pen and wearing a Birkenstock (I heard about the Birkenstock first time almost 15 years ago when one of my friend’s fiancée got him a pair from USA and got his leg pulled). The waiter was extremely stylish and sophisticated; he could have a conversation on topics as diverse as Yoga, Gayatri Mantra and the French influence in Pondicherry to the history of ancient Europe. For those who still haven’t heard of Birkenstock, it’s a stylish footwear.
On the food and wine, I’ll write some other time but another interesting sight was the queue in front of the Louis Vuitton shop. This brand is known to most of us even though we have grown up seeing mostly the VIP brand in India. With some time to kill, I decided to walk into the shop but was stopped at the gate by two hefty guards who pointed me to a queue of almost 100 people standing, patiently waiting their turn to enter the shop. For those who believe in random sampling, you could safely conclude with 100% confidence that this queue at Louis Vuitton is perpetual. I went there twice and both the times there was a queue of anything between 50-100 people standing. Can’t imagine standing in a queue to buy a bag of Rs1 lac and above. That is the power of the Brand.
Interestingly, most of the people standing in the queue were of Chinese and Japanese origin and guess what? Most of them were already carrying a Louis Vuitton Bag. I wonder if they were already proud owners of one bag and wanted to buy more or were they proud owners of Made in China stuff and were there to try and replicate some new designs. I have heard umpteen original-fake stories about Chinese stuff where you get them so good that even the boutique people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Of course there are stories of people buying a fake and trying to replace it with an original from the real shop.
There is a huge demand for made in China stuff and little wonder that the Chinese economy continues to grow driven by exports of also stuff like these. Interestingly, if you are travelling to France there are customs notification and declaration in customs which warn people from carrying fake goods. Punishments in France include hefty fines and imprisonment up to three years. Talking of Louis Vuitton, some years ago a French court had ordered the popular online shopping website to pay over US$61mn to LVMH (the holding company of Louis Vuitton and other luxury brands) for allowing counterfeit products to be sold on its site. It is interesting to know how consumer behavior and laws change.