AT THE TRANG TIEN PLAZA shopping mall in Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital, on some evenings a curious spectacle unfolds. Couples in wedding finery pose for photographs in front of illuminated shop windows, with Salvatore Ferragamo, Louis Vuitton and Gucci offering the sort of backdrop for romance more usually provided by the sea or the mountains. The women are not wearing Ferragamo’s Vara pumps, with their distinctive bows, or toting Vuitton’s subtly monogrammed handbags. They cannot afford them. Tran Van Cuon, who assembles mobile phones at a Samsung factory, posed with his fiancée in a brown suit and bow tie that cost him the equivalent of $US150. Some day he hopes to become a customer in the mall. Until then, he will proudly display the photos in his home. To stumble across an outpost of European luxury in a relatively poor and nominally socialist country is not all that surprising. Luxuries such as silk have travelled long distances for many centuries, and even modern luxury-goods makers have been pursuing wealth in new places for more than a century. Georges Vuitton, son of Louis, the inventor michael kors clearance of the world’s most famous luggage, showed off the company’s flat-topped trunks (better for stacking than traditional round-topped ones) at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. The oil-rich Middle East has been a magnet for expensive foreign trinkets since the 1960s. The Japanese became insatiable consumers in the 1970s. Today, two in five Japanese are thought to own a Vuitton product. And now it is China’s turn to lap up luxury. As luxury-goods sales have expanded geographically, they have also spread across the social scale. When Coco Chanel created her No. 5 perfume in the 1920s she reserved it for her best michael kors handbags couture clients, but in the following decade she sold it in smaller bottles so that more women could afford it. Cartier’s “Les Must” jewellery in the 1970s put the brand within reach of consumers who could only yearn for Panthère necklaces and Tank watches. Many other brands followed Cartier’s sortie du temple (descent from the temple), seeking to broaden their appeal while retaining their cheap michael kors cachet. Not all succeeded. Over the past 20 years the number of luxury-goods consumers worldwide has more than trebled to 330m, according to cheap michael kors handbags Bain & Company, a consulting firm. Their spending on expensive jewellery, watches, clothing, handbags and so on has risen at double the rate of global GDP. Most of these new buyers are not the very rich but the merely prosperous, with incomes of up to EUR150,000 ($US188,000). Shares of listed luxury companies have far outperformed those of other companies (see chart).

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