Singapore is the land of designer handbags. Everywhere you turn, whether you’re trying to keep your balance on the MRT, rushing to work or having a drink at a bar on the weekend, you see Chanels and Pradas, many of them authentic, hanging off people’s arms.
So it was surprising to read in a recent report that Singaporeans are no longer as obsessed as before with the “prestige and status that come with high-end brands”.
Apparently, the survey found that only 38% of the 1,000 affluent Singaporeans and PRs (defined as those with household wealth of over $7,500) surveyed felt it was important that the brands they were using be recognised by others, while only 31% said they liked the idea of people knowing the brands they bought.
In addition, only 51% said aesthetics mattered most when they were buying luxury goods, while 59% insisted they bought luxury items for the higher quality.
Does this mean that Singaporeans are finally becoming more down-to-earth and brand-conscious? Uh, not really. Here’s why nothing has really changed.
People still care about prestige
When many of the respondents said they didn’t care if anyone recognised the brands they were using, many were probably thinking of monogrammed products like Louis Vuitton bags with LV printed all over, or tacky tshirts from the 90s with “Versace” emblazoned across the front.
Such products are now considered tacky, and the fashion world has seen a shift in aesthetic values.
But, at least in my observation, it seems that many Singaporeans still care deeply about what people think of the quality and hipness of their attire and accessories.
They may not care as much whether the brand of a particular product is identifiable, but try asking any upwardly-mobile young OL if she bought her dress from This Fashion and see her face fall.
What was quite telling in the survey was the finding that while 73% of the respondents claimed they were making luxury purchases based on their own opinions rather than the views of others, that was rather because they thought recognition counted only when coming from people in similar social circles.
What this means, basically, is that nobody cares about impressing the tissue-selling uncle or the staff at McDonald’s, but they do care about the opinions of the other young professionals they see at Boat Quay.
People don’t really know as much about quality as they think
59% of people claimed they bought luxury products because of the better quality, but one wonders about their ability to measure quality in the first place.
While it is obvious that a $1,000 Goyard wallet should hold up better than a $20 knock-off from Bugis Market, how sure can you really be that it will offer more utility than a lookalike from Aldo? The Goyard one might be tougher, but since you can’t even bear to place it on a food court table, it’s not as if the wallet is ever going to be tested.
You may pay for slightly better quality when you buy luxury goods, but a large part of what you spend on goes into marketing, design, real estate, maintaining the prestige factor and so on—which other companies can copy at a fraction of the price. Even fashion industry folks admit it.
In addition, let’s face the fact that most consumers do not do research into whether a material or production process is of high quality.
And yes, there are designer items that turn out to be of inferior quality.
Luxury is now very accessible in Singapore
More and more middle class Singaporeans are able to afford luxury goods these days.
Young people usually live with their parents till well into adulthood, usually until marriage, and so do not have to worry about paying rent. This gives them more disposable income to spend as they wish, even if their salaries aren’t that high.
In addition, the median wage in Singapore is now on par with or exceeds that of many countries in the developed world, meaning a pair of Ferragamo shoes is now a lot more accessible than it was 30 years ago.
In fact, it isn’t just well-heeled businesspeople and professionals who are buying luxury goods now, but their secretaries.
Given the accessibility of luxury items, being seen as someone who hankers after brands is starting to be looked upon as a negative, unsophisticated trait which nobody wants to admit to. It no longer means you’re rich and can afford nice things.
Chances are, some of the respondents figured that just because they thought LV and Gucci monograms are tacky, they didn’t fall into the same camp as the 1990s ah lians and ah bengs with their JPG wallets and could therefore declare they weren’t brand conscious.
But mainstream society is still very much obsessed with status and prestige—not just in the clothes we wear and the products we use, but also in the schools we got to, the work we do and where we go on holiday.
Do you think Singaporeans are brand-conscious? Tell us in the comments!