Beauty, fashion, Muse
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In Praise of Frivolity.

Last Friday, I got a call from a client:

“Wan Wei! I bought a Agnes B bag for you as your Xmas present!”

I was happy, really happy! Until I googled the limited edition Agnes B Le Casino bag and realized that it is goddamnugly. It looks like this:


Then, I saw the price tag–220euros.

I cringed. Why would someone dear buy an ugly designer bag as a thoughtful gift for someone else for 220euros? It got me depressed for the whole of Friday. I could have gotten a grade AAA imitation for 25euros from, and nobody could tell the difference. Serious.

It’s most probably because of the brand’s storytelling. The masterpiece story probably seeped into the mind of my client, consumes and convinces her to the extent of changing her world view and perception of beauty, and made her even want to buy such an ugly gift for her friend.

It depresses me because I’m appalled at how human beings can change so much because they believe in a story. Brands do tell stories to manipulate consumer’s behavior. Yet, is it bad? If a brand sells you a story and you believe it, it tells more about YOU than the brand, isn’t it?


“Fashion is frivolity”. I used to think. “Frivolity is a waste of time and effort.” I used to think, too.

“Therefore, fashion is a waste of time.” 

I used to live in a world where hard work really matters. That world is called “Singapore”. My circle and I really worked hard in Singapore, and doing overtime work is unsurprising. We gained weight, dressed down, and let results speak for themselves. I didn’t really care about how I looked, or dressed–I wear whatever I wanted to work. Chiffon dresses, shorts, slippers sometimes…but I still made tons of sales, so nobody really said anything.

“Fashion is frivolity–I do whatever I want!” And that–most of the time–meant not giving a damn to how I look too.

But over here in Finland, I have started to realize all sorts of false assumptions that I have. In part–it’s because I see students having free education (and taking their own sweet time to graduate), I see unemployed people in no rush to get a job because they are under welfare aid, I see a pampered society largely. You get my drift about how much culture shock there had been. And these societal differences give rise to tons of hidden assumptions that worked in Singapore, but not in Finland (and probably also some other countries) And after making sense of all the false assumptions I have, I start to realize all the false assumptions others might have.

–“If that person dresses well, I don’t think he is that capable.”

–“If that person doesn’t speak well, maybe he writes really well. It has to compensate, right?”

–“If that person is really boring, maybe he is really smart.”

I cringe at the thoughts I used to have, right now as I am typing this post.

I think taking fashion marketing courses at Aalto has totally broadened my world view. I do admit to be narrow-minded–but it never occurred to me that I was this narrow-minded.

Yes, it does seem that the frivolous can tell a lot about you. Or perhaps, fashion is a mere material expression of what is inside.

I’m still a bit depressed as I’m typing this.

Why is fashion regarded as frivolous in the first place? There are so many things you can tell about a person or society by the way a person dresses. Status, class, wannabes, style, heckcarish, pragmatism, bold, fun…whatever.

When people judge you based on what you wear, it’s them being stupid. But who assumes that the world is smart anyway? Why do we assume, by default, that people are smart, rational and strategic? Life would probably be easier if we assume that we’re dealing with judgmental assholes all the time. Yours truly, included.

I boldly praise frivolity now because it gives meaning to life. I buy that rainbow sprinkled yummy doughnut because it made me happy. I went to Lapland to see Santa Claus (another myth) because it’s magical. I went to Prague to see fairies because I heard that it’s like the Garden of Eden! I pay 200euros for a designer’s umbrella because I like the designer’s world view and I like the way he lives life. Never mind the design is ugly; I want strength to go on my life on his view.

I praise frivolity now because I see clearly now, how much we as human beings want to be persuaded by a story–a whimsical, idealistic, optimistic story about how we can change and cope with this fallen world. It’s on frivolous desires that can explain why people in Japan and Korea think that putting makeup and perfume when you meet someone outside your house is considered “polite”.

“Because nobody wants to be seen with an ugly person.”

I praise frivolity now, because frivolity exposes desire. I came across this quote while doing my extremely thick set of fashion marketing readings today–

“Desire is the blood of a story. Desire is not a shopping list but a core need that, if satisfied, would stop the story in its tracks”;

And I concur with it. As long as there is desire, and unfulfilled, longing desire, the story goes on.

Would you want the story to stop? No, you wouldn’t. Fashion feeds that story, that song…in your heart.

Will my client read this? She won’t; we only have a professional working relationship–but most importantly, because she’s simply too busy. She works 24/7, almost, and shuns digital media like the plague! Yet, even if she does–I will with all my heart–praise that ugly, frivolous bag that I’d gotten from her as a gift, because it showed me the power of storytelling. And as a marketer I welcome it. This gift taught me more than what a classic Ted Baker bag would have. I am grateful.

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