OPINION By Kevin Horrigan St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
On June 10, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Italian lingerie company La Perla is selling a $3,074 bra. It is made out of goose feathers.
But not just any goose feathers. Hand-dyed goose feathers, each one lovingly sewn into place at La Perla's Bologna factory into an undergarment made to the buyer's specific measurements. For another $17,000, you can get a matching hoodie.
The workmanship is said to be phenomenal. As you would hope.
Why did I read this story (apart from my enduring interest in women's haute couture)? Because it had a headline on it that read, "Who Wears a $3,074 Bra?" People have won awards for headlines that weren't as good as that.
The story did not answer a few key questions, number one being, "Wouldn't a goose feather bra be sort of uncomfortable?"
Number two would be, "What are the washing instructions?" Number three would be, "Why would the hoodie have to match? Is bras-and-hoodies a thing?" Number four would be, "Given that some women would require many more goose feathers than others, are all the bras the same price?"
These sorts of questions apparently fall into the, "If you have to ask, you can't afford it" category.
The key paragraph in this story was this one:
"Italian lingerie brand La Perla is undertaking a transformation that says a lot about the world's current penchant for ultraluxury goods. The context for this is a global economy where wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of ultra-high-net-worth individuals representing 1 in every 35,000 people, according to a recent report by the Singapore-based research firm Wealth X that was underwritten by UBS. Their wealth rose on average by $1.8 million last year to $139.4 million per individual -- so little wonder they don't bat an eye at $1,000 panties. The group's wealth is equivalent to 40 percent of the world's gross domestic product."
Now maybe you're the sort of spiteful person who thinks there's something profoundly wrong with a world where some people don't have enough to eat and other people buy $3,074 bras.
Trickle-down, baby. Think of all the goose-feather-sewers-on whom this industry supports, to say nothing of the fashion executives and models (speaking of people who don't have enough to eat) it takes to market these absurd garments. Think of all the goose-farmers. Think of all the geese whose fowl lives are ennobled by having their feathers memorialized on a $3,074 bra. All that and foie gras, too.
The key fact in the key paragraph was the one about "ultra-high-net-worth individuals representing 1 in every 35,000 people."
Take a good (but not great) crowd at a Major League Baseball stadium. Tell everybody who enters the park to empty their wallets. Take one guy at random. Give him 40 percent of all the money. Are you going to sign up for an economic system like that?
This is a version of the classic theory of justice experiment designed by the late moral philosopher John Rawls. You have to design a society behind a "veil of ignorance." That is, you can't know going in what advantages or disadvantages you'll be born into.
Students nearly always opted for an egalitarian society. The reasons are obvious. There's a 99.9 percent chance they'll wind up in the bottom 20 percent of income distribution. Not only will they never own a $3,074 bra, but chances are good they won't even get one of those coveted goose-feather-sewing-on jobs in Bologna.
Most people aren't good at math. This is why they buy lottery tickets that support education that apparently doesn't include math. Yet somehow they're convinced that one day they'll be rich. Half of them don't bother to vote, where they might actually be able to do something to even up the scales a little bit.
According to that Wealth X/UBS study, 199,235 of the world's 7 billion people are worth $30 million or more, the ultra-high-net-worth crowd. You could fit them all into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with room left over. None of them would have to hang out in the infield with the Hoosier hoi-polloi. Too bad, because a woman in a $3,074 bra would fit right in.
About 1 in every 100 of them is a billionaire, but they have so much money that they help raise the average net worth to $139 million.
Big problem ... what to spend it on?
Enter the ultra luxury market with its $3,074 bras, $1,000 panties, $300,000 sports cars, $30 million private jets and its $179 million Picasso painting sold at auction in May.
There are more billionaires and multimillionaires than at any time in history, and they have more of the world's money than ever before, and only so much stuff they can spend money on. Nothing is too ridiculous. Except perhaps for the idea of sharing.