Looting Luxury

As the unrest in the US over the death of a black man under police arrest rises, arsonists are burning police stations and looters are targeting Louis Vuitton


Portland looting

In a luxury mall reported to be in Portland, Oregon, angered rioters-turned-looters have smashed down the glass doors of a Louis Vuitton store and cleared out its merchandise. Videos of the mayhem were posted on YouTube today, and widely shared. People were seen rushing in and quickly grabbing whatever their hands could carry. One woman left with a pink bag (among others) that looked like a Capucines BB, priced above US$6,000. According to KOIN 6 News, Portland’s CBS affiliate, “multiple high-end retailers, including storefronts for Apple, Louis Vuitton and Tory Burch, were breached and looted”.

Some commentators on YouTube remarked that “this is Karma for instigated (sic) rioters in Hong Kong”. Geopolitics aside, it must be said that looting in times of social unrest is not acceptable nor defensible. The US isn’t experiencing a natural disaster and people are not fighting to survive. This is an outburst against social injustice. Outrage is understandable, rioting is not, and looting—a luxury store or any store—is undeserving of comprehension because material goods isn’t behind the motivation for social/ethnic/class eruption. This isn’t stealing food to survive. Sure, stolen LV merchandise can be put on Ebay to generate money for sustenance. But are the looters—mostly masked (as a safety measure because of COVID-19?)—despoiling so that they could buy bread to bring home to their kids?

What happened in Portland does not fall into a moral grey area. The plunderers targeted the LV store. They knew what they were going after. They weren’t just passing by and seeing what could be means of survival. They appeared determined to clear the store out. It took only a few to pave the way. This had nothing to do with supporting the unfair treatment of black people, as the protests that started in Minnesota originally was. The looting of Louis Vuitton, regrettably, shows how luxury—now easily “masstige”—have become a symbol of the accessible unattainable. From exclusive it once was, luxury is now democratic. But is it really? Were the looters being democratic or exercising their democratic right? To free action, not just speech?

The sight of the looting is disturbing, as much as the possible diminishing appeal, henceforth, of Louis Vuitton, a brand that has for a long time targeted those who “aspire” to go higher, but are struggling with their status quo. Luxury brands don’t discriminate; they appeal, regardless of where one stands on the social hierarchy.  And it is known that those trapped in greater inequality are just as keen, if not keener, in luxury. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said to the press, “There is no value [in the violence] expect the value of self and the desire to steal things and cause destruction in our community”. Moral standing, it appears, has become the luxury no one desires.

Screen grab: YouTube

Not That Rich

Forbes has bumped Kylie Jenner off their America’s Women Billionaires list. Apparently, she isn’t wealthy enough


Billionaire no moreStruck off: Kylie Jenner is no longer on the list. Cover photo: Forbes

Kylie Jenner was the “youngest self-made billionaire ever”, according to Forbes in the annual listing of America’s Women Billionaire 2018. At first, critics were appalled that the magazine described her as “self-made”, which, at it turns out, is presently the least damaging of Ms Jenner’s public-image woes. The magazine is now saying she did not make herself a billionaire. In a scathing report just published, it exposes her “web of lies” and explains “why she’s no longer a billionaire”. What a fall from reputational grace in just 21 months, of which almost six have been dominated by a cosmetics-free coronavirus.

Forbes has recalculated Kylie’s net worth and concluded that she is not a billionaire,” the magazine writes, following new information they have received and analysed, as well as the continued onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic. It even says that the Kardashian-Jenner family took to “unusual lengths” to project their youngest daughter, then not yet 21, as far wealthier than she was. This, it reports, is achieved by deceitful means, such as presenting inflated tax-return documents. It’s curious that she should be believed so easily when she had previously lied for a year about getting lip-filler injections. The shine of massive success quickly dulled when filings from Coty, the publicly-traded company that owns 51% of her company and is famously known for fragrances with celebrities such as Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez, showed less earnings than what Ms Jenner and her accountants before that apparently reported.

Adding to the hoodwinking were the family’s sense of self-importance, dramatically and tackily played out on television and through the media, as well as industry individuals who are, like Ms Jenner’s die-hard fans, enamoured with her. We live in a society with a fervid fascination of celebrities’ financial success. The quiet rich is a rare breed. Ms Jenner’s shot to the top was not only propelled by familial ambition and, to be sure, a cunning mother, but also by a mass media culture of newsiness based on the incredulous and by a business obsession with celebrities and, consequently, the banking on them.

The skincare and cosmetics, as well as fragrance business has, for a long time, not been built on need, as it once was, but on fandom


Forbes quotes an executive at Shopify—it manages Kylie Cosmetics’ online businesses—during the time when Ms Jenner’s possible billionaire status was explored: “No other influencer has ever gotten to the volume or had the rabid fans and consistency that Kylie has had for the last two and a half years.” He/she is clearly a fan too. The skincare and cosmetics,as well as fragrance business has, for a long time, not been built on need, as it once was, but on fandom. The base of followers too have become a barometer of likely celebrity/influencer success when a product is associated with them, as well as the genuineness of claims of business triumph and prosperity.

Following the Forbes report, Ms Jenner defensively Tweeted—sans capital letters at the beginning of sentences—that “i’ve never asked for any title or tried to lie my way there EVER. period”. But neither did she turn them down, or refute or correct the estimation of her worth. Rather, she basked in the victorious glory. The Kardashian-Jenner family is reportedly obsessed with appearing on the cover of Forbes, just as Donald Trump is with Times (so much so that he has a fake Times cover of himself placed in his golf clubs with sufficient visibility that the magazine asked them to be removed). It became a strategic goal. Yet, Ms Jenner added, “i can name a list of 100 things more important right now than fixating on how much money i have”. Let’s start naming then.

Forbes concluded that, after looking at “likely forged” documents, Ms Jenner is now worth “under US$900 million”, even with the “massive cash-out” of her four-year-old company, reportedly valued at US$1.2 billion at the point of sale (MAC Cosmetics was in business for 14 years before Estee Lauder bought it in 1998 for US$60 million, after similarly acquiring 51% at first). Wall Street, not usually enthusiastic of sales of upstart businesses helmed by a (foremost) reality TV star, thought Coty over-paid. Although dethroned by Forbes, Kylie Jenner will likely remain a queen of cosmetics in the eyes of her raving fans, even as just a barely-there-billionaire.