Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Only in Hong Kong?

Atypical masks for atypical pneumonia in an atypically unique city

(The following article was posted on March 27th by gweilodiaries.com We are not sure if it is fact or fiction but either way it is pretty funny.)

War may have just broken out in Iraq, and a contagious pneumonia is on the loose, but Hong Kong people can't seem to get enough of their beloved designer labels. On Saturday, Louis Vuitton in Hong Kong released a limited edition atypical pneumonia mask, specially for the Hong Kong market, in super-soft Connolly leather with a monogrammed sterling silver clasp. This luxurious and unfeasibly comfortable mask comes with a matching protective case to allow its users to store it away safely in their Kelly bags without contaminating their shatoosh shawls. At a retail price of HK$1,800 (approximately US$230), one would have expected these to be more of a publicity stunt than a serious retail proposition, but by Saturday lunchtime, all 88 limited edition masks had been sold.

Across town in the sprawling Gucci boutique, the company spokesperson said that they would be shortly releasing a designer mask as an addition to their summer 2003 accessories range. She declined to mention details, except to say that it would of course be in black and would incorporate the Gucci buckle. A Hong Kong tai-tai (the local equivalent of ladies-who-lunch) in the store at that time said that she was eagerly awaiting its release and had put herself down on the waiting list, adding "Everyone knows that black is the new Burberry". Burberry, meanwhile, has not as yet brought out a mask and says that it has no immediate plans to do so, but fake Burberry masks can already be found across the border in the Chinese city of Shenzhen, where Hong Kong people and visiting tourists go for day trips to stock up on fake goods. For just RMB10 US$1.25), one can get a surgical mask with a Burberry check trim and some functional yet rather fetching beige elastic earloops. This correspondent bought a box of twenty, and was given a free "men's hold-all", which despite its uncanny resemblance to a toiletries bag appears to be hugely popular with the local menfolk.

All this consumerism may appear to be frivolous, especially in times such as these, but it does emphasize the breathtaking speed at which the fashion industry reacts to the latest news and trends. Mainstream and luxury goods retailers are increasingly capitalizing on current affairs in order to come up with killer fads. And where else to do this than in a city full of fashionistas: as a Hong Kong advertising executive put it, "When you have a cutting edge, never-seen-before virus, you've got to fight it with a cutting edge, never-seen-before mask. Designer masks for designer viruses".

Back at Louis Vuitton, a tai-tai (lady who does lunch) who had bought two of the limited edition masks - presumably one for herself and one for her husband - wandered back into the store yesterday to say how much she loved her new mask and how jealous the other members of her lunch group were. Before speaking she of course had to unclasp the Louis Vuitton Connolly leather mask that she was wearing... and then reached down to unclasp the second Louis Vuitton Connolly leather mask that her pet poodle Benzie was wearing.

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