Designer Quality…Or Legal Scam?

Designer brands absurdity

At some point in time, designer brands and high prices became more important than genuine quality. I suspect this tracks closely with an overall decline in IQ levels. That’s the only thing I believe can explain the current obsession with brand names.

As if today’s world wasn’t complicated enough, the consumer products manufacturers have made everyday life even more complex by taking everyday staples and jazzing them up with unnecessary features or replacing them with fancy brand names.

And to make matters even worse, whereas brand names used to mean quality, now they just mean style. It may fall apart after three days, but boy will you ever look good until then!

Have you noticed that the harder it is to tell the difference in quality, the more likely you’ll see brand, or “designer”, labels? Just go into the supermarket and note how many different brands of water are on the shelves.

Water! What could be a more generic product than that? Yet, you’ll have to choose between six or eight brands, and the next time you’re in a restaurant, listen to how many people order water by brand name. This is the ultimate absurdity. Do you really think anyone could pass a blind taste test for their brand of water?

And does that $5 cup of burnt-tasting Starbucks coffee really taste that much better than the $1.50 cup at Dunkin donuts?

Perhaps the ultimate example for drinks is wine. In my opinion, there’s nothing worse than a wine snob, especially since there are so many examples of so called experts ranking a cheap wine as excellent in a blind test.

My favorite example of the absurdity of wine is the 2001 test done by Frederick Brochet of the University of Bordeaux. He asked 54 wine experts to test two glasses of wine, one red and one white. Using the typical snobby language of wine tasters, the panel described the red as “jammy” and commented on its crushed red fruit.

Here’s the absurdity: the critics failed to spot that both wines were from the same bottle of white wine! The only difference was that one had been colored red with a flavorless dye.

So be careful – the $200 bottle of red wine you buy to impress your friends might not even be red wine at all. And you probably won’t know the difference.

Not only do you have the brands to contend with, but you also have several contradictions when it comes to certain products.

For example, while poundage used to mean quality, now the rule is the lighter the product, the more it costs. Shoes and bicycles are good examples.

To take this to the ultimate extreme, look at cell phones. When they first came out, they were as large and heavy as a brick. Then they became progressively smaller. And the smaller they became, the more expensive they became. It was considered cool to have a cell phone you could hide in the palm of your hand!

Then, along comes the iPhone, where screen size all of a sudden became a necessity to surf the Internet. Since then, screens have become gradually larger. Paradoxically, the reality now is that the larger the screen, the more expensive the phone!

Or take beer. Remember when beer brands used to advertise how big their brand was? But with microbreweries the rage now it’s how small – and expensive – your brand is. Ideally, the microbrewery is located next door to the bar and only brews its beer for that one bar. Pretty soon everyone will have their own personal brand of beer.

What for years was common, commodity products are now being loaded up with extra features to differentiate a brand. Let’s take the humble razor blade as an example (both men’s and women’s). Can’t get more basic than that, right?


Do a search on Amazon for women’s razors. It returns over 2,000 results. For men’s razors, over 10,000 results. For a razor! Just how many ways can there possibly be to shave hair?

Here’s an actual description for one: “Designed with Comfort in Mind and Built to Last – Our 5-edge Artificial Horn Razor with Luxury Handles – outstanding balance and exceptional performance! Jag 5-Edge razors for men with stronger than steel blades stay sharper longer, the handle of our 5-edge shaving razor is made up of metal, wood, and antique in different colors which makes it more durable. Its advanced Micro-fin skin guard helps and supports stretch your skin & prepares your hair to be cut.”

‘Outstanding balance and exceptional performance’? Who knew you needed these to shave your face?

The price? $49.99. I kid you not.

Or, also on Amazon, you can buy a pack of 18 disposable Gillette razors for $14.97, about 83 cents each. Just like with water, I seriously question if you could tell the difference in shaves in a blind test.

And don’t even get me started on designer brand personal care products. Take perfume as an example. Did you know that for a $100 bottle of perfume, the cost of the ingredients is only about $2? The other $98 goes to marketing, profit, paying for celebrity endorsements, commissions, and middleman overhead.

Check out this article if you want to know the truth.

Yes, if you knew how the mix the ingredients, you could produce your own fragrance for probably less than $5! Of course, it wouldn’t have a snobbish bottle and label with which to impress your friends.

My point here is that many basic, commodity-type products now have an upgraded version, frequently with a celebrity or famous designer’s name attached. For many people, the perceived value is not the product but the brand name.

True story. Many years ago in my younger days, I worked at (no longer in business) Bullocks Wilshire – a snobbish department store along the lines of Nordstrom, only much more expensive.

There were two women’s shoe departments in the store. The Women’s Shoes department on the first floor, and the “Designer Shoe Salon” on the second floor. As you can guess, the first-floor department was nice but basic, while the Shoe Salon had luxurious furniture and decorations, along with more personalized service. And far higher prices.

Here’s the thing. Several styles in the first-floor department were identical to ones in the Shoe Salon. In fact, they came from the same factories in Italy and Spain. The difference – and I mean the only difference – was the sock lining on the inside of the shoe. In the Shoe Salon, it was a famous designer label, and in the shoe department, it was the basic Bullocks Wilshire brand.

The Shoe Salon version was almost twice the price of the shoe department version – which was the same shoe! Not surprisingly, the designer version was the best seller.

This sort of pricing model permeates the fashion industry, just as it does almost every other industry. High prices and famous brands may convey (perceived) prestige, but too frequently not quality.

So, drink your Perrier Water and shave with your $49 razor. I’ll be drinking my Costco bottled water (which tastes great) and getting a close and comfortable shave with my 83-cent Gillette disposable razor.

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