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Europe’s lucrative joke on the rest of the world

Actress Sydney Sweeney with a Gucci shoulder bag: “this stuff is tat, isn’t it?” Mat Hayward/Getty

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the Bulgari Serpenti watch, says Janan Ganesh in the FT. “Gold, steel and diamond”, the strap coils around the wrist three times, “in case someone misses it on first or second glance”. Then there’s the Gucci Marmont Matelassé shoulder bag. It has two big golden Gs on it and – “that being insufficient gold” – a gold chain. And what about a simple Givenchy t-shirt? You can tell it’s Givenchy because it says “GIVENCHY”. I am no arbiter of taste, so it’s with some hesitation that I make the following argument: “this stuff is tat, isn’t it?”

There are lots of bad arguments against the booming European luxury goods sector. “No, it isn’t immoral” – LVMH employs people and pays taxes. Nor does it matter remotely that US tech, say, is more “serious”. All economies have a specialism, and it’s absurd to say Europe should neglect its own until it builds a “Silicon Riviera or whatever”. These arguments miss the central issue: the “intrinsic ghastliness of the products” and the ease with which France and Italy, mostly, foist them on the gullible rich of Asia and America. The whole trick relies on an odd feature of geopolitics – the “ingrained deference to Europe on certain questions of taste”. As the “global south” has rapidly developed, its overclass has made a priority of being seen to consume the “best” Old World brands. And LVMH boss Bernard Arnault has been only too happy to sell them, at a price. I don’t think we ought to be embarrassed. Europe is playing a “very remunerative joke” on the world. “More power to it.”