Andrew’s recent article on branding awakened a frustration within me that I had long concealed. As a successfully detoxed label-hunter I know full well the apparent attractions of wearing other’s brands; my previous naïveté in this regard is somewhat embarrassing and consistently mystifying. When I rifle through old collections of sweaters at home I cannot comprehend why I purchased so many with emblazoned brands. I remember my mother accompanying me on shopping trips, encouraging me, sometimes imploring me, to purchase alternative items of equal quality but comparative plainness; bizarrely, I went for the billboard.
Ever since I realised my folly, I have been a strong critic of shameless branding, mainly from the point of view of an aesthete. As each year passes I seek greater distance from the brands which I purchase. Not because I am ashamed of my patronage but because the whole point about purchasing something someone else has made is that you are buying an item of quality and/or design that you alone do not have the resources or invention to create. Any quality or design is denigrated by the presence of overt branding. Branding symbolises ownership and alarmingly, it is not that of the wearer but the brander; ranch rules still apply.
Branded luggage has become a nauseating vulgarity. For much of the supposed ‘luxury’ luggage market, little design or quality is exhibited. Antique Vuitton trunks are certainly things of beauty but their modern replacements are purchased for the canvas with its cluster of golden interlocking ‘LVs.’ A particularly tasteless relation of mine stated that they were disinclined to purchase the anti-logo (and anti-theft) versions as ‘No one could see it was Vuitton.’ I stated this was desired as nearly everyone would think Vuitton luggage not being carted around the world by private jet was counterfeit. The worst thing about the mass-market lusting of Vuitton was that any designer with half a brain saw their own marketing opportunity to manufacture cheaply made luggage with their own logoed ‘canvas.’ Although not as wildly popular as Vuitton, these dubious wares were lapped up by a credulous brand-obsessed public.
Valextra are an altogether different proposition. An old Milanese brand, though not as ancient as Goyard or Vuitton, Valextra was rescued from the unloving clutches of Samsonite by Emanuele Carminati Molina in 2000. Although it sounds more like a patented lab-tested material than a luxury leather goods brand, Valextra has, in the past 10 years, returned to doing to what it does best; simple elegance. The bags are blissfully logo free, beautifully made and extraordinarily exclusive – even the sales assistant at Harrods, their only point of sale in the UK, spoke about the products with a hushed reverence that mirrored the subtlety of the bags’ designs. The leather is stiff, plain and of outstanding quality. Unlike the neo-Edwardian aesthetic of Goyard and Vuitton, the appeal of Valextra is firmly mid-twentieth century; a nod to the birth of air travel. Available in a range of colours including black, bright blue, Hermes orange and an incredibly impractical white, Valextra is almost perfect – until you look inside the pocket for the well-concealed price tag.
Unfortunately, as beautiful as a Valextra is, it isn’t worth the money being charged. I examined the lovely briefcases, laptop cases and overnight bags with care but struggled to see how the breathtaking prices were justified. Leather is by no means a cheap material but nigh on £4,000 for a non-croc leather briefcase is a hefty price; I don’t care how many ‘Italian artisans’ were involved. “Valextra”, as the man in Harrods keenly informed me, “will last longer than Vuitton.” A brave assertion but what, I wonder, could he be referring to? The product itself or the brand? As a brand it is earning itself a reputation as ‘celebrity endorsed’ with Victoria and David Beckham, Katie Holmes, Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie as admirers. Whether such associations advance or hinder the brand, in the long run, is unknown.