x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

The Chinese secret of that 'Louis Vuitton' bag

For the mass-produced stuff, it is hard to get away from the stigma associated with items made in some countries, in terms of quality and durability.

Old stigmas die hard, especially geopolitical ones. Here's a simple example: I wanted to buy some blush and a new shade of lipstick and I happened to be in Al Wahda mall, so I went into the Inglot store. I tried on the funkiest colours, just for kicks, like green eye shadow and purple lipstick. "Very nice," said one of the beauty consultants. Yeah, right, I thought. "So where is this make-up from?" I asked casually. "It's European," she said. Curious, I flipped over the lipstick and saw that it was "made in Poland". This was the third time I had come across Polish products in the UAE, but no one would actually admit that they were Polish. Instead they were described as "European" or "German". I understand that it will take time before people get used to seeing former communist-bloc countries contributing independently in the both the economic and global political arenas: and even more time to set trends. I still remember communist Poland in the Soviet bloc, with its rough and grey toilet paper, bulky appliances that broke down regularly and drab, colourless clothing that leaned towards the practical rather than the fashionable; the stereotypical waiting in line for fresh bread from dawn; the meagre selection of products and food; queues for everything. But those days are over. Poland is a different place now and is catching up with the rest of Europe. The same international brands that you find everywhere have been transported there, and everyone wears, uses and even talks about the same things. And even though two items of clothing may have the same brand name, that doesn't make them the same. For example: I bought a shirt from a Mango store in Saudi Arabia, then my mother bought me the same shirt from Mango in France as a gift. The shirt bought in Saudi was made in Turkey and the one from France was made in Spain. Of course, the minute you tell someone you bought this from Saudi and the other from France, they tell you the French one looks better. "The stitching is better," said one of my cousins. Maybe, but overall it didn't look that different to me. I am sure you have heard people complaining about how, "before", everything was better made and lasted for longer. My mother swears by this ugly old hairdryer that she bought from Germany decades ago. My longest lasting hairdryer survived for two years. Of course, they bear the same name, and sort of looked the same, but were made in different countries. I still have my first pair of Puma sneakers that I bought when I was about ten: they lasted for ever. Whatever type of sneakers I buy now, they last a year, maximum. One of my French cousins came to visit me the other day. She was wearing French clothes, Italian shoes and a Russian scarf, and carrying a Chinese bag. "These days, everything is made in China, so why not get a 'Louis Vuitton' from there for a cheap price?" she argued. I have to admit, I couldn't tell the difference - again. And of course, my cousin would never tell anyone it was made in China. "Let them think it was made in France," she said. There is a kind of prestige that certain countries' exports and products exude, and with good reason. They have built reputations for themselves, some dating back hundreds of years, and the newcomers on the market have to compete with that. During one of my summer trips I made a point of trying out coffee in every city and country I visited, more than a dozen countries in just one summer. The winner was a caffe latte sprinkled with shaved walnuts that I drank in a tiny village in Germany. Everyone expected me to say Italian or French coffee was the best. Once, my mother wanted to teach a lesson, and put out samples of chocolate that she had collected from around the world. We sat and tasted the chocolates and rated them, and we each had favourites. Mine were made in Saudi, my father liked the Swiss, my sister liked the Polish ones, and my brother liked those made in Morocco. The lesson? "Don't judge anything by its cover, always look inside," said my mother. Personally, I love it if something is made in a country whose name I can't even pronounce. Despite the many jokes associated with Russian perfumes, I still bought one and it remains one of my favourites. It has a unique aroma. But for the mass-produced stuff, it is hard to get away from the stigma associated with items made in some countries, in terms of quality and durability. So the next time you are out shopping, browse around and check out the labels: you might be surprised where some of the stuff is made. @Email:rghazal@thenational.ae