Brand names: The quest for a status symbol

In 2000, logomania set its sights on the world of fashion once again. The trend of displaying designer logos on one's clothing, shoes and handbags has surged since, reaching a new all-time high. Not since the 1980s has there been such a logo-obsessed society that seems not to mind being walking billboards.

"Quite a bizarre trend if you analyze it too deeply," said Shelly Vella, fashion director of Cosmopolitan UK, in the book "Fashion Victim" by Michelle Lee. "People normally associate wearing logoed merchandise with the need to advertise wealth and buying power ... In decades past, sophisticated designer-ism was about quiet elegance and style - connoisseurs could recognize the cut of a good designer garment. Somehow, in the late '90s, Louis Vuitton logo-itis caught on and everything from Macs to bags, shoes and tops bore a logo. I saw that whole trend as an attempt - very successful - by designers to reestablish the 'cult of the designer' and to market conspicuous consumption as cool."

Indeed, it has worked. Today's pop icons lead consumers into believing that these signature staples are not only a sign of status but also mildly attainable for young adults. In decades past, to own a Louis Vuitton bag was to represent a certain stature: The person toting it was either someone from the upper class or famous. These people were also older when they acquired such pricey items.

However, today's wealth-obsessed youth no longer want to wait for fame, fortune or Louis Vuitton. Celebrities in the spotlight are younger, richer and flashier than those of days past and seem to perpetuate the ideology that logoes equal status, and so society tries to mimic this trend. The media plays a large part in the attention given to these celebrities and their material possessions. Shows such as VH1's "The Fabulous Life of" and MTV's "Cribs" are geared toward exploiting a celebrity's outrageous spending habits on houses, cars and other things.

Jessica Simpson's white Louis Vuitton Murakami bag caused quite a stir last year during the course of her first season on MTV's "Newlyweds" starring herself and husband Nick Lachey. It seems the bag (and Marc Jacobs, the creative director behind the brand) got more exposure (and business for that matter) from the show than Simpson has seen in record sales. Yet Simpson should not be faulted for this alone. Music artists have become increasingly known for their lyrical name dropping and extravagant spending which neither they seem to have a problem.

"When Ja Rule wears Burberry's signature plaid in his videos, he provides the company with a free subliminal ad that reaches millions of people, without even uttering the word Burberry," Lee said in "Fashion Victim."

Celebrities are not the only ones guilty of this now. With the merger of music, fashion and television, people from all walks of life want nothing more than to be covered in interlocking G's (for Gucci), stacked LVs (for Louis Vuitton), Cs (for Chanel), Fs (for Fendi) or British plaid.

"I first started buying expensive bags when I was a senior in high school," said Erica Toliver, a senior in the School of Communication. "I believe that these bags are an investment. I will have them for years to come."

Chatney Ly, a sophomore in the Kogod School of Business, agrees.

"I'd rather buy something expensive because it's good quality," she said. "It's worth it."

But is it also worth the cost?

"You're not just paying for the bag," said Seema Setia, a senior in Kogod. "You're also paying for the service. It's a great bag but you're also paying for the individual attention you get at the store. I mean, these things have quality to them, no question. But it's also something that is exclusive. That's why they get away with selling them at the prices they do."

And for those prices college students who want to purchase a high-luxury item opt to buy the monogram style over the designer's non-signature items that are not emblazoned with any noticeable mark of distinction.

"If I could afford to buy non-logo bags I would," Toliver said, "but since I can't I have to promote the monogram."

"I'm kind of into labels," said Britney Hudnall, a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. But what puts her off is people inquiring about the cost of her items. "Some of my friends ask 'Oh how much did that cost?' I don't like when people do that."

Yet cost is a big part of the equation. The reality is that most young people cannot afford these lavish items without either the help of their parents or limiting weekend activities and meals.

"A lot of my friends are disgusted that I pay so much money for my bags," Toliver said. "Then a lot of them are motivated to get bags [because of me]."

Setia has had similar experiences.

"Some of my friends are really not into labels, but my other friends were ooh-ing and aah-ing over [one of my bags]," she said. "I've had girls that I don't even know come up to me and say, 'Oh my God I love your bag.'"

Yet the thread that links one and all logo fanatics is that there is no stopping at buying just one luxury bag or item. The overwhelming consensus was that, like a gateway drug, buying one expensive logo branded item leads to more high end logo purchases.

"My parents hate the fact that I spend so much money on these kinds of bags," Toliver said. "But they've gotten use to it."

For the most part, it seems that logo mania is purely for show. It's a manifestation of a society that defines culture, class and socioeconomic status by accoutrements. The connection between this trend and the rise of counterfeit bags goes hand in hand. For those who cannot afford the authentic bag but would feel ostracized by society without one, choose to emulate the more expensive bags by obtaining the knock-offs to appear just as stylish. However, no matter what extent you take to obtain something designer, beware: Becoming obsessed with logos may get you labeled a fashion victim.

"Wearing a logo is like wearing gang colors," Lee said. "Just as the Bloods and Crips brandish red and blue bandanas, the Fashion Victim wears the designer logo as a proud badge of membership"

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