Paper offerings in the shape of designer bags sold in shops at Red Hill. Photo: SOTD
Gucci’s brand management team in Hong Kong must have had a lot of time in their hands. And they weren’t going to sit around to swat the proverbial mosquitoes. Last week, according to a BBC report, Hong Kong shops that retail paper products as offerings to the dead received warning letters from the Italian house to inform the addressees of the possibility of intellectual property violation. Was Gucci annoyed by perceived counterfeiting or were they spooked by the likelihood of some unholy spirit carrying a paper Dionysus GG Supreme over there?
According to a statement by Gucci’s Hong Kong office quoted by the BBC, “We fully respect the funeral context and we trust that the store owners did not have the intention to infringe Gucci’s trademark.” That sounds to us like a teacher telling her charges, “I fully respect your propensity to play and I trust you’ll behave yourselves when I step out for a moment to the principal’s office.”
SOTD happened to be in the Bukit Merah area where a couple of shops sell paper offering that, in the weeks leading to the qing ming (清明) festival, are usually displayed with the flair of the visual merchandising of a Metro sale. Now, the selection wasn’t terribly wide, but there were many things those in the afterworld could possibly need, including some clothing in rather contemporary style, as well as digital must-haves such as the iPad. We asked an elderly shopkeeper if he sells brand name (名牌) clothing, accessories, and shoes to offer to the dead, he pointed to clear packages in the shape of east-west totes hung from the ceiling, just above him.
Each plastic bag contained a paper handbag and a pair of matching shoes. We couldn’t make out any Guccis, but we did take note of one handbag with what appeared to be Burberry checks and a charm that comprised of two letters of the alphabet: B and R. Below that was a bag that was conspicuously labelled COAGH and under that, an unmistakable Lady Dior that was branded DIORR! We were certain we could hear the Dior Singapore office go “Grrr.”
We asked the man, by now irritated with our questions, if he has received any warning letter from brand owners. He said he didn’t understand what we meant. Undeterred, we enquired if there were any customer who specifically asked for a Dior bag (we were careful to say it in Chinese 迪奥), but, again, he didn’t know what we were referring to. We were quite persistent, asking if customers requested for the latest fashion. He replied with no hint of humour, only annoyance, “If you love to be fashionable when alive, you’re the same when dead.” (“活着爱时尚，死了也一样。”）
A handbag with a logo that perturbed Gucci Hong Kong. Photo: BBC News
It’s a simple logic and it is not far from those applied in antiquity. We’re quite sure that the ancient Egyptians, who were buried with hoards of treasure, began their journey into the afterlife with the regalia that they were used to when alive. In fact, it’s hard to imagine that those preparing the burial would not have wanted to include the best clothes for the dead. The Chinese desire of wanting the departed to continue to enjoy material wealth in the hereafter is, in many ways, not dissimilar to the Egyptian’s. In present times, seeing how ubiquitous designer goods are, it is not unexpected that there’s the wish for the deceased to continue to take pleasure in what was available in the world of the living.
When our bodies end in this world, do they begin in another? What sort of physique do we retain? And if it’s a physicality that we are familiar with, is it a stretch to think we’d like to wear the same clothes (and brands) that we did when breathing and walking? Will we still want what we used to like in this otherworldly skin? Gucci probably doesn’t know, but they decided that they won’t take chances. If counterfeiting is pervasive here, now, among us, let’s not make it the same there, then, among them. Since paper handbags can be burned to reach the dead, surely a lawyer’s letter too can be set aflame to serve notice to the unrepentant, fake Gucci-totting spirits? Strangely, Gucci did not see the irony too. These paper handbag offerings, like those counterfeit cousins when found and confiscated by the authorities, have only one fate: destruction, whether by fire or the force of a bulldozer.
It is understandable why Gucci is protective of its logo. In the hands of the brand’s current designer Alessandro Michele, the logo is making a splashy return after years of hiding when minimalism stayed ahead. As reported by the Telegraph, Gucci’s president and CEO Marco Bizzarri said at last month’s New York Times International Luxury Conference that the brand’s newest designer has made the Gucci monogram “an ode to joy, not something worn by the devil.” It is rather clear then that Gucci, therefore, cannot be associated with anything as fiendish as death.
Still, a week after what many considered a PR faux pas, Gucci Hong Kong issued a letter of apology. “We regret any misunderstandings that may have been caused and sincerely apologise to anyone we may have offended through our action,” it said. Anyone? How about those from the other side?