This year, the women of the happy pairs celebrating love weren’t carrying a stalk of rose or a bouquet, they were holding paper bags, big and small, with luxury brand names stretched delightfully across them
By Pearl Goh
It’s was a day when one-metre distancing did not apply, masks were preferably optional, and special occasion dressing had no opportunity to meet this annual celebration. The curious and single I thought I would venture out to see what the more fortunate were doing on Valentine’s Day, still marked by the romance-spoiling pandemic. So I went out. Do courting couples still make an effort? Was romance in the air, like the coronavirus? Did couples perform the ART before they meet? Or together—the new romantic? It was a Monday and many, I assume, will be working. Surely, the amorous would have done what they needed to do to declare their love yesterday, or the day before? I was not expecting to see that many romantic pairs out, but I couldn’t be more mistaken. When love needs a declaration, it requires a public display.
The day to celebrate love this year was a day to go shopping together. The paired-ups were holding at least one branded shopping bag between them. I don’t remember this day to be of such conspicuous consumption other than the snapping up of flowers and chocolates. Sure, in the past, gifts were exchanged, but they were, as far as I was aware, purchased earlier. But from the minute I boarded the MRT train, I sensed the rituals were different. I quickly became aware that flowers this year were noticeably missing. Sure, some women were carrying bouquets (the trend, if I can call it that, this year were those in cardboard boxes—coffins to preempt their certain demise?!), but paper bags bearing large, recognisable, crowing logotypes were saying enthusiastically, “look at me”.
At City Hall interchange, in front of me was a guy in a white tee that read, “Without style, playing and winning are not enough”. He paired that masculine maxim with black shorts. On his feet were a pair of white Crocs slides without the Jibbitz charms. On his left hand, he was holding a paper bag in an identifiable burnt orange; its visible boxed content, I guessed, for the Paige Chua look-a-like, whose dainty left hand he held—to me—rather tightly. Love is expensive, celebrating Valentine’s Day no less. A box of Teuscher truffles this year is not quite cutting it, not at a time when a PCR test costs more. As one of my friends said to me earlier, “many can afford to buy chocolates for themselves. The boyfriend has to do better”. No wonder, as I saw, even Godiva was empty. “Better” seemed to mean something from within the hallowed walls of brands whose stores you can’t just walk in as you wish.
To be sure that these were not, in fact, gifts purchased earlier, I went to ION Orchard to have a look, to see shopping as it deliriously unfolded. Sure enough, there was a queue outside LV, and at Dior and Gucci, and—perhaps a little surprisingly—Cartier. And in the line were patient pairs, mostly hugging as they waited their turns to be allowed into the temples of thousands-of-dollars spending (at Prada, a petite girl took out a credit card from her BV Cassette wallet to pay for a white T-shirt embroidered with the Prada lettering, which I later spied to cost S$1,410!). What I noted, too, was that many of the couples were young: no more than 25 (the only celebrants?), the target age group of so many luxury brands whose entry-level goods are increasingly S$10 shy of four figures!
Outside Loewe, where the entrance was a welcome sight as no one was in line, a woman was walking away with a stuffed paper bag from the brand rather in a huff. Her boyfriend, with no purchase seen on him (yet), did not put on a happy face, as he tried catching up with her. Did he overspend, I wondered, or did she? And, if so, was that so bad? Then suddenly, she said, “Stop it. It’s just a bag”. Even on a day that celebrated love, profound passion differed and surfaced publicly. Many guys don’t quite understand love, or, to be more precise, the love of luxury handbags. And the difference between love and not could be like life and death, or Chanel and Louis Vuitton. Death of a relationship by “just a bag” or the wrong one. Or, as I was witnessing, the prelude.
Missing this year, too, were those individuals on pedestrian walkways, who must thrust a stalk of rose into your face and ask for $8 (prices, like everything else, have gone up this year. A list I caught sight of, next to a makeshift stall, announced that a stalk was S$10, three for S$50, six for S$75, and nine for S$100!). Orchard Road was without these sellers; at least I didn’t see them, which really said to me that women were no longer enchanted by the red flower—any flower. It is now a well-filled paper bag from the big brand they adore. Back on the MRT train, two women were talking loudly next two me (despite the sign in front of them that encourages passengers not to). One, in a white Essentials hoodie worn as a dress, said, “Aiya, forget it. Don’t depend on them. Guys won’t buy anything I like. I gave them up long ago.” And just like that, I was reminded of a line in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, “The more I know of the world, the more I am convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much”. More.
Illustration: Just So