Of counterfeits and the democratization of luxury

When my friend Raghavendra flaunted to me his brand new all gold Rolex I was taken aback for a minute. He comes from a modest background and the watch costs over 20 lakhs INR. This particular rose gold Day Date model is something I have always aspired to buy. Some day, I had always consoled myself. It has exquisite craftsmanship, the right mix of luxe and panache, and the patented hand-crafted Rolex movement. I took the watch very carefully and started checking out the dial, old habit. I realized the unique identification number that is etched in every Rolex, was missing. I knew at once it was a fake, rather a first copy. The quality of steel and its heaviness was as good as real. The gold was plated and not solid. The movements are re-created by some craftsman in a remote Chinese or South East Asian town and not in Switzerland. But a great counterfeit, I must say as it is usually quite difficult to escape my eyes at first glance.

So I asked Raghavendra how much did you shell out? He said 10,000 INR. I told him great. He had purchased it from a website selling luxury brands at a crazy discount, like many others which are doing a roaring business across the globe selling counterfeits. I reluctantly told him that it is a first copy, but a good counterfeit. He said, “Of course I know that. I just wanted you to see how good it was. See, I don’t know whether I will ever be able to buy the real one. But this I can experience today. I am happy. Unlike people like you who are experts, how can anyone say that it is a fake? It is automatic, looks the same, I am happy that I won’t have to wait a lifetime.”

His parting words made me think. Is it worth the wait for people with limited means to get something they aspire for but can’t afford? Are counterfeits helping democratize luxury?

Snob value is an integral part of luxury brands. In the core they are supposed to be exclusive and not available for all. Democratization will kill a luxury brand. This exclusivity is why a premium is charged by these luxury brands. This exclusivity is usually a legacy that you are made a part of. The dazzle can be replicated by a counterfeit and so is the label, but you can’t replicate the exclusivity that the original can offer. The gold plated watch may shine more than the solid gold one, but this can’t give you the legacy of a Rolex or a Patek or a Breguet.

I think the luxury brands in order to be more inclusive and to tap the Great Indian Middle Class have made a mistake of focusing on masstige. The biggest folly with masstige is that the focus is only on the label, the monogram. And that is why even a key ring with just LV will be very coveted as you think you have become a part of that legacy.

A world-class brand attains a certain stature not only for marketing or branding. We need to delve deeper and understand what makes it so sought after in the first place -- it is the exquisite craftsmanship, the intense labour hours given by masters, the elegant design, the patented movements, the finishing and the hand crafted creations. These can’t be replicated. These can’t be cheap, these must have a premium, these must be exclusive, just like all good things in life.

Luxury is not skin deep.

So luxury brands need to move beyond just focusing on the labels and popularize how these labels have become what they are. It is the responsibility of these luxury brands to make people aware of the difference between a Rolex-patented movement and the one my friend is flaunting. It is the responsibility of these brands to share with its clients, both current and potential, why they are exclusive and how futile it is to buy a fake, a counterfeit or a first copy.
Although it might look that the world of counterfeits are democratizing luxury but in reality it is just taking you further away from the real world of elegance, luxe and exclusivity. Luxury brands surely have a role cut out for them in achieving this desired outcome.

Let your quest for luxury continue.


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