A question of taste and counterfeiting

May 11, 2010 § Leave a comment

It would be a far better world if we all were blessed with a surer sense of our own taste.

No buyer’s remorse to follow you around like a rabid ferret fixated on your ankle and no more of the court martial review board that convenes inside your head over an outfit choice.

Taste is one of those curious abstract ideas like love, where hearing the word causes a very specific reaction despite its uncertain meaning. In the case of taste, while we may not have the slightest idea why certain things toot our tubas, the moment we are asked what we like, most of us will start babbling and it will be days before we inhale.

At its most basic, taste is shorthand for our vast collection of likes and dislikes.

Ask why people have such different tastes and you’ll get the usual explanation of upbringing and associates, of synapses and neurotransmitters, and of means and access. But if Donald Trump has taught us a single lesson, having means does not guarantee taste and conversely, Coco Chanel has shown us that upbringing and access (daughter of a laundry woman and market stall holder who lived in rural France) have very little to do with it either.

Taste has an odd relationship with counterfeiting. To say that anyone who owns a fake has taste is ridiculous, but when you consider that the sham buyers make these poor decisions covet a piece of authentic luxury, the verdict becomes a bit more muddled.

Whether or not the purchase of a luxury item suggests taste is a debate for another time, but the fact that a sham buyer has an eye for elegant engineering and craftsmanship cannot be denied.

As I was thinking about this dilemma, I read a passage from Stanley Marcus’s book, Quest for the Best. Marcus was the president of Neiman Marcus, a fine writer, a master marketer and salesman, but above all he was driven to find the highest quality in every aspect of life. One of the requisites of being the “best” in Marcus’s view was that a manufacturer has the finest method of construction.

And this is where the wheels come off the sham-wagon.

Taste requires a deep appreciation of craftsmanship. The beauty of the end product is simply not enough. We need to consider the process that builds a piece: the drawing, the stitching, and the cultivation of the material. In this sense, the product is certainly not greater than the sum of its parts.

So when you buy a sham, you deny not only the authentic product itself, but the inspiration behind it.

It turns out the patrons of the sham arts are not only tasteless, but uninspiring to boot.


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