[Viewpoint] On golf, wine and women’s purses

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[Viewpoint] On golf, wine and women’s purses

The price of the Chanel 2.55 bag has appeared to have gone up again. The most expensive one is over 6 million won ($5,349) now, and it will be over 7 million won next month. As the news spread, crowds bought the bags en masse before the price hike, and some stores said their 2.55 bags were sold out.

Last spring, a similar pattern of consumption was shown. Some even went to Paris to buy the bags because they are up to 3 million won cheaper in France. Such a trip is often called a Chanel investment.

The quilted, patterned bag with a chain handle is not very practical. It is perhaps proper for a lady who just carries a lipstick, a compact mirror and a wallet. It’s not really a bag for the modern day woman who carries many items including a smartphone and a tablet PC.

And yet, Korean women’s passion for the bag has reached a new peak as it became an icon of the so-called “Cheongdam-dong daughters-in-law” who found wealthy husbands.

A few years ago, it used to be a wedding present for rich families, but it is now a common gift.

With the price change, demand exploded. Although Chanel raises the price every year, the bag is still sold out in Korea at a price nearly double of that in France.

For luxury fashion houses, Korea is an easy market. Sales here are among the world’s largest, and the products sell better when their prices are higher.

There are other markets where Koreans have become a sitting target. Golf and wine are other examples.

U.S.A. Today recently reported that the foundation of the American golf industry was being shaken. No one buys country club memberships or houses despite enormous discounts, and many country clubs went bankrupt, the report said.

The report said the fall of the golf industry was caused by the changed lifestyle of the people, rather than the recession. It said the situation was better for the country clubs in the neighborhoods where Korean populations were high. The newspaper quoted country club owners as saying that their businesses would be unsustainable without Koreans.

In fact, a friend who is working as a professional in New York City told me about six years ago that butchers and Koreans were the only people who played golf. At the time, the so-called opinion leaders of New York City were enjoying their weekends yachting and taking cruises. But Koreans’ obsession is still supporting the faltering golf industry in the United States.

Koreans’ passion for and dedication to wine are also hard to understand, taking into account our tastes and culture. In the late 1990s, a friend gave me a book about wine, advising me to study it. The friend said that wine had become popular in Japan and some trendsetters in Korea are beginning to love it.

Because wine was becoming the next “it” item in Korea, she told me to study it for conversations.

At the time, wine was not a popular drink because many Koreans did not like fermented fruit drinks. Many said they didn’t like wine because it gave them headaches.

But in a few years, the very same people who worried about headaches began opening bottles of expensive wine and giving criticism.

Korea has become one of the largest markets in the global wine industry. According to a recent JoongAng Ilbo survey, wine is so popular in Korea that people still buy them at prices 2.3 times higher than the average price from around the world.

Some said Koreans were following the Japanese. They said the obsession and dedication to luxurious goods like golf and wine are a cultural phenomenon for a country with $20,000 national income per capita, and Japan had experienced the same pattern.

They said the desire to show off improved living was expressed through materialistic consumption.

But Korea’s $20,000 era has lasted for too long. The recent economic outlook showed that we won’t be over it soon.

Then how long do we have to stay in the era of luxurious goods?

The moment has come for us to ask ourselves some honest questions. Is the Chanel 2.55 bag made in 1955 really pretty? Aren’t we wasting too much time on golf? Do I really like wine?

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Yang Sunny
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