Monday, March 5, 2012

The mysteries of brand worship

THERE is a craze for vinyl bags with leather trimmings among the womenfolk. School girls and college-going ones are smitten over colourful bags, I was told, but I did not find out about it until I heard teenagers talking passionately about their latest acquisitions. I could not make out what type of bag they meant but it sounded something like "Long Cheng".

When my wife told me that it was a hot favourite among teenagers, including my daughter and her schoolmates, I decided to find out more.

When I was at a shopping complex recently, and had time on my hands, I popped into a bag shop and asked for a Long Cheng. The 70-something Ah Pek who was keeping watch at the shop at lunch time was as perplexed as I was. He said the shop sold all sorts of bags from China but he had never heard of a Long Cheng.

The mystery was solved when the Filipina shop assistant came back from lunch. The name struck a chord with her. The mysterious Long Cheng, it turns out, is actually the Longchamp. Since they did not carry the brand she directed me to another shop.

According to the Wikipedia, Longchamp was set up by Frenchman Jean Cassegrain in 1948. The company produced leather coverings for pipes and other products for smokers.

In the 1950s, its business expanded to include small leather goods.

Two decades later, Longchamp opened boutiques in Hong Kong and Japan, and won fame for its lightweight travel goods. In the mid-90s, Longchamp introduced its Le Pliage line of foldable travel bags made of vinyl and leather trim which became a hit with women worldwide.

Today, Longchamp is known for its designs and has a loyal following. As to how it came to our shores, your guess is as good as mine, but the blogs of Longchamp diehards will give you some idea why this foldable bag is hugely popular.

I remember a time when we had a similar love affair with another French brand - Louis Vuitton. In the 1970s and mid-1980s ownership of the dark brown designer leather bags, wallets and travel luggage imprinted with the golden LV insignia meant you had arrived.

Those who could only afford across-the-border excursions made do with LV wannabes.

I recall finding a very genuine-looking wannabe LV bag once. It could have fooled anyone if not for the LW imprint. When I asked the chap who sold the stuff in Petaling Street what the imprint LW stood for, he said: "Looi Wui-tong -- from Seri Kembangan."

In the case of the Longchamp, an authentic bag costs anything from RM300 upwards. Even wannabes don't come cheap.

I am no expert in Longchamps but the look-alikes I have seen appear to be convincing enough to fool just about anybody but devoted brand worshippers.

I hope those totting the fake ones do not attract more than just brand-envy.

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