I’m not adverse to luxury. In fact, looking around at any strata of society, one would be hard pressed to find someone who is. People have always been fascinated by the rich and famous, jet setting across continents, staying at the most established hotels, sailing in private yachts.

Oops. I think I elicited a sneeze there. Private yachts. Art pieces costing millions of USD. Birkin bags. Lots of Birkin bags. The catch, is, of course, at whose expense?

The Malaysian and international collective consciousness has, over the past few years, been assaulted by the biggest financial scandal the country has ever known. With the recent elections and the peaceful and democratic toppling of a kleptocratic government, memes and essays about the corruption of the former first lady and her minions have been swirling around in a scurry of smartphone and social media messages. Her notorious collection of Birkin bags, all 284 boxes of them, is only echoed by the Philippines’ Imelda Marcos’ vast collection of shoes in relatively recent world history, symbolic of a flagrant abuse of power in the hands of a few, at the cost of the many.

Just what is a Birkin bag, anyway? Legend has it that in the early 1980s, the diary of French actress Jane Birkin spilt out of her bag along with other contents in an airplane across the path of French designer house Hermès CEO Jean-Louis Dumas, and the result was a designer bag bearing her name that was to become one of the most desirable and coveted fashion items in history. Its cousin, the Kelly, is named after the glamorous actress Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco in the 1950s, who fell in love with the bag while filming on set, and, as the story goes, used the bag to hide a pregnancy she was not ready to announce from the cameras, and the rest is history.

Each bag is hand crafted by a single artisan, taking up to one work week to make, from the bellies of around 3 farmed crocodiles. There was controversy over the ethical treatment and killing of the crocodiles which resulted in Ms Birkin wishing to withdraw the right to the use of her name on the bag. It died down eventually as the designer house reassured her that their farming practices were ethical and that the video made by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) was of an isolated incident, and the accessory remained her namesake.

The house of Hermès was established in 1837 by Thierry Hermès, born of a French father and a German mother, to cater to the horse and carriage needs of the European nobility. The reins of the eponymous brand were passed down the family until the mid-20th century where in-laws groomed to take over stepped up following the death of Thierry Hermès’ grandson. Among the high quality products the company consistently produced, exclusive rights to use the zip in leather goods and clothing were conferred, making Hermès the first company to use the fastener in France. Their trademark square scarves were so ubiquitous amongst the elite in the country that they became a part of French culture.

With this, Hermès is one of the last high-end labels in the world to remain independently run, stubbornly resisting buy outs and turning its nose up at what it calls “mass market techniques”.

Which leads us to the “masculine possessive” bit of this article: histamines (an allergy to puns, anyone?):

Histamines are more famously known because of antihistamines, a commonly available anti-allergy medication. Indeed, histamines are organic nitrogenous compounds (proteins) that are involved in the body’s immune response as well as acting as a neurotransmitter and a vasodilator. It is produced by specialised cells of the body’s immune artillery called mast cells and basophils. Allergic reactions trigger a chain reaction of different proteins working together to expel the irritant.

Much like the GE14 elections. As the rakyat has asserted, temptations of kleptomania by the higher ups had better be reined in and thought at least twice over before they choose to scratch that itch. Malaysia has been suffering a chronic illness for the most part of sixty years under Barisan Nasional in a broken and corrupt system rotten from the top down. On the historic May 9 landslide victory of opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan, the country rallied round like an immune system in a triumphant attempt to flush out, perhaps not a foreign body (although with its elements – shady foreign deals like submarines?), but a slow-growing yet increasingly malignant cancer. The surprise win of the opposition sent the former government into a state of anaphylactic shock (a dangerous allergic reaction that can cause death). The opulent lifestyle of the former first lady that endorsed the Hermès brand and made it widely known amongst even the most simple of rural folk in the far reaches of Malaysia tainted the brand, making it almost synonymous with cronyism and incredulous greed.

Another fashion embarrassment to the name of Hermès within the space of three years (the incident with Ms Birkin occurred in 2015) has occurred. How will the designer house react? Will they even react? How can a brand turn negative press into a positive opportunity? Will they issue a statement? Or come up with a new ad campaign? Go by the old adage that bad publicity is still publicity? Considering the disdain that the brand has for “mass marketing techniques”, this crème de la crème of designer house labels may even consider itself above responding to this scandal. It’s all about carriage and deportment, darling.


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