Stay Classy Louis Vuitton

When it comes to being fashion conscious, I’m pretty much in a coma. When I need to buy new clothes, I go to Target, although I am slightly excited that H&M will be opening its first store in Colorado here in Denver on November 10th adding a cheap chic element to my uninspiring wardrobe. Given my lack of fashion knowledge, I may be well behind the curve on this one, but the other day, I just happened to glance at the back cover of the current issue of The Economist to see a full page Louis Vuitton ad featuring Angelina Jolie. Apparently, the ad has been running internationally since June, but this was the first time I ever saw it. You may be thinking to yourself; whats the big deal about a Louis Vuitton ad featuring Angelina Jolie? Normally, not much, but something about this ad made me do a double take and got me thinking.

Most of you have probably heard of the work Angelina does on behalf of human rights groups as a high profile celebrity goodwill ambassador for the UN, using her celebrity status to highlight the plight of refugees around the world. This is a noble cause and she has spent a lot of time and money helping people. If this were an ad promoting her good deeds or raising awareness of a problem, that’s great but its not. Its an ad promoting ridiculously expensive luggage and to me, the setting of this particular installment of the luxury brand’s Core Values ad campaign, Cambodia, strikes me as being in poor taste.

A lot of people who see this ad have probably never been to Cambodia. Most of the advertising and marketing team at Louis Vuitton have probably never been to Cambodia. Most people who buy Louis Vuitton merchandise have probably never been to Cambodia and if they have, they probably stayed in the most expensive hotel in Siem Reap, cut off and isolated from the real Cambodia. I have been to Cambodia and to me, parading around while displaying lavish material possessions like Louis Vuitton luggage is an insult to the friendly, hospitable and impoverished  people of Cambodia.

After a quick scan of some online retailers, I found that on the cheap end, Vuitton bags sell for several hundred dollars and prices easily creep into the thousands. Now lets compare that to the situation in Cambodia where the average wage for someone working in a garment factory is $0.33 per hour. If someone is fortunate, they might work in a factory where there is a legally established and enforced minimum wage set at $45 per month. The average per capita income in Cambodia is $2,000 per year, but most workers are lucky to bring home half that. In the rural areas, it is much, much less. It would take someone years of saving, all while forgoing the basic costs of living, to be able to afford a Vuitton handbag and the price of just one of their mid range items at retail could support a Cambodian family for a year.

Don’t get me wrong, Angelina has done a lot more than I have to directly help people, but this ad wreaks of Louis Vuitton trying to take advantage of her celebrity status and her charitable endeavors in an effort to make you, the consumer, contribute to their bottom line. I can’t help but feel they are taking advantage of the plight of people in Cambodia and around the world to dupe people into buying overpriced bullshit.

I didn’t spend much time  on the Louis Vuitton website, there are enough flash and motion graphics to crash your computer and give you a seizure, but in the time I was there,  I saw no mention of any efforts or links to charitable giving on Vuitton’s part. Maybe there is a philanthropic element to the company, but if there is, it’s buried deep within the fine print of the website and certainly not highlighted. If is an Angelina Jolie Vuitton collection, with proceeds going to charitable causes in Cambodia, I couldn’t tell. Reportedly, Vuitton paid Jolie several million dollars for the campaign, and to her credit, it’s rumored that she gave a large portion of that money to charities she is affiliated with, but again that information is unsubstantiated and certainly not incorporated into the ad campaign.

At a minimum the ad is misleading and potentially dangerous… traveling to Cambodia with a Louis Vuitton bag slung over your shoulder absent the security entourage likely present around Angelina Jolie will probably get you and your husband, boyfriend, etc. mugged. Not that Cambodians are evil, desperate criminals; the same thing can easily happen in any major US city, but lets face it, if I saw someone walking down the street with what basically amounted to a backpack and that backpack alone was worth more than I made in a year, I’d be tempted too.

I don’t know, maybe I’m overreacting but it is certainly possible to take away the wrong message from this ad and they could have done a better job. You be the judge… comparatively,  the astronaut ad is straight forward and non-controversial.