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The luxury brand Oscar de la Renta is known for high-quality pieces embedded with history and the fashion know-how to allow the ODLR customer insight, and perhaps even pertinence, into the upper stratum of society. My goal in conducting the ODLR haul was to consider the implications of a college student owning luxury products and the way that this translates in the hierarchy of consumer culture and brand communities.

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The first product I chose is a small tube of perfume called Esprit D’Oscar. Interestingly, while Oscar himself is Dominican and the brand is decidedly an American fashion staple, the French named perfume provides an added layer of exoticism which enticed me to purchase said object. In considering the ritual dimensions of consumption as depicted by Celia Lury, rituals such as the daily grooming of using perfume “make visible public definitions of what is judged valuable by general consensus.” Therefore, by purchasing into the ODLR brand in even a small way, I am exhibiting my support of the brand on a daily basis. As ODLR becomes more of a lifestyle luxury brand (they have expanded into children’s wear, beauty, home wears, etc.), we might consider the ways that this perfume contributes to my personal habitus. It might feel natural for me, for example, to put on perfume every day because my mother and grandmother have always done so and in my experience, a more expensive or coveted perfume is a sign that a woman takes care of herself. Perfume brands itself to be the marker of a transition from girl to woman and there is the common conception that all women should have a signature sent. In choosing to make mine the Oscar fragrance, I am commodifying my place in society, expecting to have risen in the ladder because of my higher cultural capital choice.

 

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The second item I chose was a pair of Oscar de la Renta booties from the Fall/Winter 2012 runway show. They were purchased at a sample sale for a fraction of their intended cost, as were the other two garments that follow. While a brand community might defy geographical borders, it is difficult to conceptualize the idea of all purchasers of a brand becoming a community, especially in the luxury sector. Myself, a college student of limited means but with a great interest in fashion, is not necessarily placed in the upper tier of the ODLR brand community solely because I own a few pieces of the product. My purchases into the brand thus far have been distinctly entry-level as I am the aspirational customer of such a luxury brand, not a member of the typical client base. Although I might mention the brand often on social media, and even interact with the ODLR social media outlets, I do not feel as though I am in the same category as the Oscar customer who walks into Saks Fifth Avenue, is on first-name basis with the sales people, and leaves with a $10,000 bill. These shoes represent my foothold in the brand, the small part of it that when I say, “these shoes are Oscar de la Renta,” provides me with a certain credibility; they are not, however, indicative of my general shopping habits, as much as I would like them to be.

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Interestingly enough, I own a pair of Oscar de la Renta sweatpants. They are great quality and were a discard from a Resort collection several years ago, making them the only pair of these pants in existence. As mentioned before, I purchased these pants at a sample sale but being that they were my first Oscar purchase, they remain my favorite. Lury delineates a concept called the “consumer attitude” which indicates that people view life as a series of problems that can be solved through purchasing. Undoubtedly, these pants represent such an attitude. Before I bought these pants, I put them on hold for several weeks, trying to decide if I should spend the $75 on sweatpants that it would cost to obtain the garment. Compared to the average ODLR price point of $900 for pants, it could have been a no brainer but, as mentioned, this seemed exorbitant for my financial situation as a college student. Ultimately, I bought the pants because for those weeks I would think every day about owning them- about owning a part of the brand that I admire more than any other. I chose to purchase them because I would picture myself wearing them and imagine nothing but happiness; as unrealistic as it sounds, I only saw happiness when I imagined my ownership of this piece. Another aspect of this purchase was the idea that I could own such a fashion-forward ODLR piece. I am fascinated by the concept of increasing omnivorousness and feel that this example defines such a quality in consumerism today. In a study conducted in 1992, it was found that this process was evidenced through “status-group politics” or the appropriation of “high-brow” culture by “lower” class and vice versa. The conceptualization of status-group politics in fashion today is paramount in understanding the existence of high fashion street-wear and typically low cultural capital factors, like hip hop, on the runways. The idea of luxury sweatpants is the sort of dichotomy that we are presented with as the gap between high cultural capital and low cultural capital lessons and the lines between the two are blurred.

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The final ODLR piece I chose was this jade velvet pencil skirt, also a runway sample from F/W 12. If it is true that to maintain high cultural capital one must consume creatively and intellectually, I see this skirt as HCC purchase. Social scarcity is found in the uniqueness of a skirt that has been worn by a famous model, walked down the runway and immortalized for posterity in the form of publication in Vogue and WWD. I have to admit that all of this occurred to me in my decision to purchase the skirt. As Oscar himself becomes older and closer to abdicating his fashion throne at the company, he has worked to make the brand a beacon of exclusivity. His most recent fashion show’s guest list was cut by more than half of the usual amount. It is absolutely a status symbol to understand the history behind the garments one purchases and this is why I maintain such a connection to my pieces, whether purchased on sale or not. While I might not fit in directly with the typical Oscar customer, owning his clothing allows me to propel myself up the ladder of my own social group which some might consider more significant than pertaining to the greater brand community. If nothing else, it is high cultural capital, and the individualism, eclecticism and authenticity that define it, at work. 

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