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Just up from the Louis Vuitton store in Beverly Hills, CA - a name brand store that sells one tea item

Dayton Way, just up from the Louis Vuitton in Beverly Hills, California

Online dictionaries define “name brand” as follows:

 A product or item made by a famous maker or manufacturer, as opposed to by a generic manufacturer.

 “Brand name,” on the other hand, has a slightly different description:

A product having a well-known and usually highly regarded or marketable name.

“Brand name” possesses a connotation of subjectivity.  Only English-as-a-second-language (ESL) speakers like myself would look up these definitions.  The not-so-significant difference in the two compound nouns allows interchangeable use of both terms.  (Native English speakers could correct me if they deem “name brand” and “brand name” more “noun adjunct” than “compound noun.”)

Prada

In 1913, brothers Mario and Martino Prada founded their imported leather goods business in Milan, Italy.  Not until 1979 did Prada introduce its signature black nylon bags, designed by third-generation Miuccia Prada, Mario’s granddaughter.  Prada’s porcelain tea set with two cups is priced at $360, while the coffee set with four cups is priced at $595.  So it’s tea for two and coffee for four at the house of Prada.  Fabric design firm Backhausen, established in 1849, supplied the teaware’s geometric patterns.

Louis Vuitton

The stackable canvas trunks were the main product line when Frenchman Louis Vuitton opened his first Louis Vuitton, or LV, shop in 1854.   Today the Monogram Afternoon Tea Box (dimension: 17.9 x 23.4 x 18.9 inches) has a price tag of bewildering $53,000.  Last year LV opened its first-ever café in Osaka, Japan – what took LV so long?  The fashion house often collaborates with notable art-world figures.  I have not seen anyone carrying the Jeff Koons collection on the street, have you?

Colorful rabbit holding a handbag and other holiday decorations in the LV window

LV holiday window display

Gucci

A few months ago I unfollowed Gucci on Instagram.  Maximalist Alessandro Michele’s recent campaigns aim to fluster amateur fashion observers like me.  Incessant presentations of models in outlandish attire and wacky hair style and makeup lead not to haute couture revolution but bombastic, presumptuous visual experience.  Gucci was founded in 1921, in Florence, Italy, by Guccio Gucci, said to have worked once as a porter at London’s Savoy.  Those who have not heard of Gucci must have seen the ubiquitous double-G logo, introduced in 1964.  Gucci’s porcelain teapot, hand-crafted at centuries-old Ginori Manufactory and priced at $620, is adorned with the elegant Herbarium motif, which Alessandro Michele showcased heavily in the 2016 Cruise Fashion Show when he was a more humble, grounded second-year creative director.

Chanel

Gabrielle Bonheur “Coco” Chanel’s life story is worth reading even for those who have no interest in fashion and consider name brand products superfluous or decadent.  Every year the Lowell’s Pembroke Room serves Coco’s Haute Couture Afternoon Tea during New York Fashion Week (NYFW).  There are of course teas named after Coco Chanel.  During the pandemic, actress Kristen Stewart had the best seat at the ‘Le Château des Dames’ 2020/21 Métiers d’art ShowChanel’s design is timeless also because of investment value:  Chanel handbags’ prices increase steadily every year, while resale seldom depreciates.

Tiffany & Co.

Although Tiffany & Co. was acquired by the French conglomerate LVMH (which also operates LV) this past January, it remains the quintessential American luxury brand.  The Color Block collection includes two bone china mugs and No. 727 Tiffany Tea – a Chinese black tea blended by Bellocq Tea Atelier in Brooklyn.  

Many people could not fully enjoy “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” due to Mickey Rooney’s portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi.  Why can’t Paramount Pictures which owns the rights edit extraneous Yunioshi out of the film?  (Not to worry – the original will remain accessible, and will not be destroyed.)  As a fan of both the movie and Audrey Hepburn, I have mixed feelings about a possible remake.

Some years ago I took my tarnished Tiffany silver teardrop necklace to a SoCal Tiffany for polishing.  The middle-aged blonde associate gave both the necklace and me the same thought-provoking glance.  I happened to be in a playful mood and said, “You can double-check its authenticity.”    

 “It’s not real Tiffany,” said the associate, after examining for a short five seconds the necklace I had bought at Manhattan’s flagship Tiffany.  No mask-wearing mandate back in the good old days – I remember trying not to snicker, not to retort.  On my way out, two other associates stopped me to compliment my blue agate cameo pendant featuring a girl examining a hummingbird, which led to a pleasant chat on the purchase history.  Having highlighted my hair blonde last week, I am tempted to repeat the exercise at the same Tiffany, while wearing a mask.

Hermès

Consumers should never have to go through extensive trouble to procure a product like Hermès loyalists do to acquire a Birkin, a Kelly, or a Constance.  An equestrian goods store established in 1837, Hermès’s tableware design can only be appreciated as an acquired taste?

Ferragamo

“Indifference” describes my view on name brands.  Have I “wasted” hard-earned wages on handbags, shoes, whatnot?  Yes, I have.  When asked to pick a favorite, I choose Salvatore Ferragamo, founded by Salvatore Ferragamo (1898 – 1960), a shoemaker born in poverty.  It will be fun to attend a Ferragamo-inspired afternoon tea event!

Conclusion

Rags-to-riches journeys weave the history of high fashion and luxury goods.  The next time you step inside a Chanel or LV store, or notice within the span of hours a fifth person carrying a Gucci in the same style as the previous four, you could ponder these establishments’ humble beginnings in addition to sniggering at the price tags, vanity, and fellow humans’ inscrutable desires.

Images provided and copyright held by author

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