Louis Vuitton and a modest proposal to end the crisis in Darfur

Only yesterday Hg and I were talking of Jonathan Swift‘s pamphlet A Modest Proposal: For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland from Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making them Beneficial to the Publick. This classic work of satirical economic genius can be downloaded for free as an ebook or audiobook.

We were saying, Hg and I, how relevant Swift’s work is today, and nodding sagely over our coffees, as one does. Or, to be accurate, I nodded over my coffee and he over his glass of water.

This morning I discovered just how hip and happening Swift remains. After all, you can’t get much more hip and happening than Louis Vuitton, now can you. Here, as exhibit A, is the current picture on the international page of their website. I record it below merely because the levels of their hipness and happeningness are such that their images are probably frequently changed.

luxury leather luggage, French fashion designer

See the skull there on the table? we’ll be coming back to that later. But for now note the hint of Africana in the zebra-skin patterning of the shirt.

Louis Vuitton seems to have an affinity with Africa. Perhaps the best exposition of this is my friend Koranteng‘s post Bags and Stamps which explores, in all its glory, the iconography of this particular desirable designer article:

The significance of the logo or stamp of approval is iconic in expressing authenticity, legitimacy and belonging, demarcating the boundaries separating countries at once, and luxury status symbols delineating the rich from the poor.

That was a year ago and, as we know, fashions change fast. However Louis Vuitton’s interest in things African has not waned. The company recently discovered an image called Simple Living made by Dutch artist Nadia Plesner and sold on t-shirts and posters to raise awareness of the Save Darfur campaign. All the profits from their sale go to Divest For Darfur:

poster.jpg (JPEG Image, 1181x1589 pixels) - Scaled (46%)

My illustration Simple Living is an idea inspired by the medias constant cover of completely meaningless things. My thought was: Since doing nothing but wearing designer bags and small ugly dogs appearantly is enough to get you on a magasine cover, maybe it is worth a try for people who actually deserves and needs attention.

If you can’t beat them, join them. This is why I have chosen to mix the cruel reality with showbiz elements in my drawing.

The aphorism “if you can’t beat them, join them” is obviously not one to which the legal team of Louis Vuitton subscribes and in a letter to Nadia the director of the company’s intellectual property team requires that Nadia confirm by return fax that she will discontinue distribution and promotion of the products.

Although we applaud your efforts to raise awareness and funds to help Darfur, a most worthy cause, we cannot help noticing that the design of the Simple Living Proucts includes the reproduction of a bag infringing on Louis Vuitton’s Intellectual Property Rights, in particular the Louis Vuitton Monogram Multicolore Trademark to which it is confusingly similar. We are surprised of [sic] such a promotion of a counterfeit bag.

Nadia is refusing to cease and desist and now apparently faces a lawsuit filed by Louis Vuitton claiming more than $20,000 per day if she continues with the project.

Clearly Louis Vuitton have made a regrettable blunder. An individual art student is quite obviously not going to be in a position to provide them with the $20,000 per day they require. This is where my modest proposal might help. Not only will it furnish the company with the income it obviously so desperately needs but it will also, at the same time, end the crisis in Darfur!

Consider these two facts. Firstly the fact that, as book-binders have long known, human skin makes excellent leather:

They found human leather to be relatively cheap, durable and waterproof.

The second fact is that there’s already a developed market for human skin luggage products! This particular fabric is of course merely a pale and man-manufactured (as opposed to grown) imitation of the real thing, comparable to a cheap plastic knock-off of a genuine Louis Vuitton bag.

The war in Darfur is an ethnic crisis with predominantly nomadic Arab militias tacitly backed by the Sudanese Government against a group of non-Arab, pastoralist ethnic groups. So if the non-Arab ethnic groups no longer existed the conflict would be resolved, right? Right!

And what better way to bring about this happy state of peace than to find a really good use for all the children which would take them right out of the unpleasant conflict zone! Their parents could be paid to look after them carefully until the optimum age, taking care they don’t get burnt, scarred or in any other way sustain serious dermal damage. Then the older generation could use the payments to retire somewhere well away from the stresses of armed conflict.

It is almost as if the geniuses at Louis Vuitton have been planning for the solution I have proposed. Does the small skull in the picture on their web page hint at the future? For already they have a range of goods in “Nomade” leather which is, appropriately enough, of a pale brown colour. All they require now is a complementary range of genuinely agriculturalist origin and a delightful contrasting dark brown colour. The name for the new range is easy too. “Anthropodermic” is too clinical-sounding despite the benefit of accuracy. However the term “Pastorale” with its echoes of classical music and its terminal “e” mirroring that of the French word nomade would be ideal and bring to mind associations with the great corpus of delightful European pastoral literature as well as referencing its pastoralist origins.

Since the company is clearly extremely protective of its intellectual property rights it seems appropriate to prevent any unscrupulous tanners getting their hands on the LV hides so I further suggest that young children are early tattooed with the famous monogram, or the Louis Vuitton “stamp” used to such effect on the plaid bag pictured above, to prevent any use by a rival firm. The tattoos would, of course, have to be quite small to allow for subsequent growth but I have no doubt that dermatological research will provide the appropriate tattoo dimensions to result in patterning after the tanning process of exactly the right size.

10 Replies to “Louis Vuitton and a modest proposal to end the crisis in Darfur”

  1. Fab idea! And I’m thinking LV could tie-in with the Body Shop (aren’t they owned by L’Oreal now?) for a line of luggage-care ointments, to keep your skin-bag supple, which could be made out of body fat! Because, heck, we’re worth it.

  2. (Not a comment to post, just a personal introduction.)
    Hi, Rachel,
    I just left a comment on your very excellent Swiftian satire and wanted to let you know who I am. I found your blog through Krista Kennedy of “Thinkery,” –we both live in Minneapolis, MN, USA. I used to write geography reference books for kids, including on one Sudan, and recently Krista told me I should read you. And she was right! SO–thanks, nice to meet you.
    (Oh, and I also followed up on your friend Neha and used one of her sad and lovely Flickr photos of Douglas Adams’s grave, with her OK, on my blog GuGeo (short for Guerrilla Geography, a name someone else was using). So thanks for that too, indirectly.)
    Fresca (Francesca)

  3. Hmmm… Did you see this?
    “Louis Vuitton’s links with Vichy regime exposed,” by Kim Willsher in Paris, The Guardian, Thursday June 3 2004 http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/jun/03/france.secondworldwar

    From the article:
    A spokesman for LVMH said last night: “This is ancient history. The book covers a period when it was family-run and long before it became part of LVMH. We are diverse, tolerant and all the things a modern company should be.”

  4. Fresca – you’re a genius! Body Shop is indeed owned by L’Oreal. The ingredient for the luggage-care ointment could be harvested by setting up a programme to combat the epidemic of obesity in the developed world. Special clinics could charge competitive rates for performing radical liposuction procedures. Thus the acquisition of the main constituent of the bag-buffing-formula would actually generate income rather than cost money!

    Meanwhile L’Oreal is 25%+ owned by… Nestlé! And the two companies collaborate in the field of “cosmeceuticals“. I’m sure there must be a potential synergy here. Surely Nestlé could provide a cosmeceutical baby milk powder specially formulated to optimise the skin quality of the babies in Darfur? It would have to be emollient-rich, and what better source than the surplus fat drawn from the obese west!

  5. OMG! No, you are the genius! I was thinking of the body fat of the harvested children, but they probably wouldn’t generate much–certainly not as much as even your average person in the developing world.
    And, get this, I know who we could get to back your new and improved Darfur-saving AND obesity-reducing business plan:
    Robert Mugabe!
    Did you ever see his Obesity Tourism scheme?

    He could link these Zimbabwean Obesity Farms for rich Westerners to the L’Oreal bag-buffing liposuction procedures. I’m thinking this might rpovide incentive to him to clean up some of his least-popular actions (or else Westerners won’t want to patronize his farms), thus curing the Zimbabwe problem as well as the Darfur and Obesity ones.

    I didn’t even know of the Nestle link…
    It boggles the mind.

  6. Hot, hot, hot damn. That is sheer, unadulterated GENIUS! I can’t understand why nobody’s come up with this before – but since it’s us I think we need to be nominated for some kind of peace prize. It would look good as an illustrated flow chart wouldn’t it. I’m wondering if there’s any way we can solve the China-Tibet problem while we’re on a roll… maybe if Louis Vuitton started making meditation mats?

  7. Didn’t they stop Stephen Fry reading ‘A Modest Proposal’ at one of the early Comic Relief or LiveAid things years back, as not being compassionate enough and too tasteless? Whereas a bunch of celebrities parading their egos and getting publicity from other people’s misery wasn’t…

  8. The possibilities are endless.
    I am sending your name to Sweden today.
    When you win, you can take me out to dinner for my humble role in your scheme to, really, save the world. Bless you.

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