The same way those with fierce allergies carry an EpiPen, the rich need to get ahold of their Epi leather.
On Saturday afternoon, Gstaad saw its first bit of sunlight after a long week of heavy snowfall. Almost two meters of snow came down on the Apline ski town, and while most Swiss locals and visitors from the Schengen zone were taking advantage of the Eggli gondola and world-class ski conditions, others took to fulfilling their lockdown needs: Louis Vuitton and Loro Piana.
Last Wednesday, Switzerland announced that as of Monday, January 18th, there would be a nationwide shutdown of non-essential businesses. The Swiss also extended current indoor dining restrictions until March. Scares of the COVID variant shook the European nation after a British tourist was blamed for the cancellation of the famous Lauberhorn ski race, the longest downhill run in the world, which occurs annually in the idyllic high Alpine town of Wengen. Swiss contact tracers say the British tourist is responsible for at least 27 known cases after staying in a Wengen hotel over the festive season.
Travelers and inhabitants of Gstaad began planning accordingly after the lockdown news. Coop, one of Switzerland’s largest supermarket and retail chains, is located in Untergstaadstrasse, roughly 400 meters from the Hermès store. At 2pm on Saturday afternoon, it was empty. A walk along the resort’s famous promenade showed where priorities lie: long lines outside of a Cuban cigar shop, Louis Vuitton, and Maison Lorenz Bach, a high-end clothing boutique with labels like Saint Laurent, Bogner, and Fendi skiwear.
In April of last year, McKinsey & Company published a white paper on the perspective for the luxury goods market to withstand the global pandemic. They highlighted that, even before the pandemic, luxury goods retailers and American department stores were struggling — largely due to e-commerce.
But the case of the Gstaad Louis Vuitton store queue is curious. The French retailer has a vast e-commerce site, and everything on display in the Gstaad pedestrianised promenade’s store window is available for purchase online. So, why the line?
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Perhaps this is the luxury version of panic buying — or ‘Hamsterkauf’ as it’s known in German, a word created as an ode to hamsters filling their cheeks with food, or in this case, leather handbags. In many instances, retail therapy and panic buying is a control mechanism for free-floating trauma and anxiety. But maybe the lengthy luxury queues are a sign of real fear that the opulent goods supply chain will once again be interrupted by this current viral surge and new wave of lockdown measures. More than 40 percent of the luxury goods production happens in Italy, a country hit especially hard by the COVID crisis in 2020. On January 18th, Italy’s Lombardia Region will also change its status to red, meaning non-essential businesses will be shut as well as recreational skiing.
Fears of the new variant disrupting the luxury supply chain could be sending the upper class into yet another spiral of retail therapy, and grasping for their Damier Ebene in hopes of familiar creature comforts.