One Last Splurge before I Save

By Reddy, Sameer | Newsweek International, February 23, 2009 | Go to article overview

One Last Splurge before I Save


Reddy, Sameer, Newsweek International


Byline: Sameer Reddy; Reddy is the editor of The-Comment.com, and a fine artist based in Berlin.

If I could just have that Ettore Sottsass glass-top table, then my future would still be bright.

It's been tough to ignore the alarming cries--first from economists, then politicians, and now retailers--that the sky is falling. Retail sales reports reveal that many consumers have already gone into lockdown mode, eliminating even small indulgences--a new lipstick, a double Caramel Macchiato--from their spending patterns. Others, however, find the shopping habit harder to break. For the top-tier wealthiest, there's no need; the financial meltdown hasn't pushed them anywhere near the brink of bankruptcy, maybe reducing their millions to double rather than triple digits. But even those who have lost prestigious jobs and fat portfolios are not quite ready to cut up their AmEx platinum cards. On the contrary, there is a powerful urge to go on one last spending spree before reality kicks in. The emotional rationale seems to be that they're not going down without one last affirmation of status.

Historic price reductions in the world of high-end fashion retail contribute to the sense that one can't afford not to splurge. The day after Thanksgiving, Saks slashed prices up to 70 percent--a markdown that, traditionally, would have occurred only after the holiday shopping season ended on New Year's Day--forcing the rest of the city's premium retailers to follow suit. As a result, a friend of mine who works as an editor at a prominent international fashion trade magazine went on a spending rampage, racking up a major credit-card bill in the middle of a recession. Plenty of others had the same idea; although it was only early December, my friend complained that the racks at Barneys New York were already picked over, leaving only the least desirable sizes and styles. By the time I made it to the store a week or so before Christmas, it resembled the final hours of a warehouse-clearance sale: silk and cashmere scarves spilled off a display table like cotton-poly mufflers at T.J. Maxx, while Yohji Yamamoto pants languished on the floor, victims of a frenetic effort to find the best deals. Like squirrels at an acorn sale, customers were stocking up on luxury goods that, even in the best of times, might have been out of their financial reach. Then they retreated back home with their new purchases, ready to settle into consumer hibernation mode.

In India, though the Sensex exchange has lost more than 50 percent of its value, leading fashion designer Maharaj Raghavendra Rathore is pressing forward with plans to launch a fine-jewelry line. Rathore argues that jewelry is "a better investment than clothes, which are perishable." The local market bears him out; while India's diamond exports to countries like the United States have been dented, the domestic market, according to De Beers Group India, remains unaffected. …

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