Social Climbing Super'Nova' Style

I DON'T typically poke my nose into other people's spending habits and lifestyle choices. After all, what they do with their hard earned money is none of my business. That being said, the massive multi-million peso Hermès bag collection of Ozamiz Vice Mayor Nova Parojinog has social media buzzing, so it is kind of hard to miss.

She’s also a public figure; making her visible on mainstream media too. The bag-fetish drama is an aftermath of her father’s controversial bloody death, along with several others who support him. He is the late Aldong, the deceased Mayor of Ozamiz, Misamis Occidental.

It's in the bag!

Sharing Nova’s spotlight are two other bag lovers from the same province: Elsa Navarro (ex-mayor of Clarin, now married to the current mayor, David) and Kathleen Tejada (former councilor in Sinacaban and common-law wife of current Mayor Cris Mahilac). All three girls have the same out-of-this-world love for high-end designers like Prada, Valetino, Chanel, YSL, Givenchy, etc.

They also share the same penchant for world travel, designer shoes and clothes, and selfies. Their grandiose Imeldiffic lifestyle is on display in their social media accounts for all and sundry to fawn over.

It is not surprising that majority of the ordinary Filipino are up in arms over their ostentatious flaunting of their wealth. Some contend that most of their riches are supposedly ill-gotten from the people's coffers or allegedly from narco-trading. No less than the President has tagged them as such!

But, they're supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, right?

Nevertheless, some assert that even if they did earn their income through proper legitimate means, is it even morally sound for a public official and his kin to display such extravagances when the majority of the masang Pinoys who they serve struggle with "isang kahig, isang tuka" kind of everyday living? There’s just something callous, insensitive, and thick-skinned about that kind of conspicuous consumption for people in government.

Hermès-merized!

The most popular bag in the three girls’ collection is the Hermès Birkin. The bag is named after the 1960s icon, Jane Birkin. It is highly coveted because of a legendary waiting list, despite its being ultra-expensive.

The basic price with ordinary leather can fetch for half-a-million pesos. Those with exotic skin like ostrich, lizard, or crocodile can cost multi-millions of pesos. Trust me. A modest house is probably cheaper to build than those Himalaya Niloticus Birkins with palladium hardware that’s encrusted with diamonds!

And here’s the thing: just because people have money to burn doesn’t mean they’ll be offered by a Sales Associate to purchase the elusive Birkin. Yes, the word here is offer. Most luxury brands are good at creating a perception of scarcity and exclusivity. After all, if something doesn’t seem special or rare, why would there be a need to pay a premium? In this aspect, Hermès is a master!

Willing to pay the price

Many in the upper-echelons of society don’t mind forking out their hard earned dough for “quality” products. Hermès bags are crafted by French artisans using the finest leather and are now considered investment pieces. Buying that bag has to do with the extraordinary sensory feeling of being part of something excellent.

For instance, one can drive a cheap standard old car or another can own a Ferrari. The car connoisseurs will say there is an enormous difference! The same applies to most expensive things. Once someone has experienced a certain level of quality (and can afford it), it is harder to settle for anything less.

In addition, the need to belong is a natural feeling that’s why humans engage in social interaction. There’s this adage that demonstrating success actually attracts success. An expensive watch or bag on a lawyer can clearly indicate that he is good at what he does. That’s why, at times, people aspire to live up to some sort of standard. These are part of non-verbal cues that carry information. After all, it only takes a second to make a first and lasting impression.

And in this day and age, success is measured in terms of material wealth people have amassed and not with the services rendered to fellowmen. Owning the most lavish possessions seemingly boost people’s stock and social status.

Sticker Shock

To the uninitiated in the world of luxury goods, these prices may sound atrocious, ridiculous, and insane. A purse costing as much as a low-cost house is rather difficult to stomach. Other bags even cost so much that they could literally feed thousands of starving children.

That being said, I honestly don’t see anything wrong if a person who can truly afford it purchases a status handbag. The devil is not Prada! It’s their money, and they can do what they want. As long as: they don’t go into debt for it, they don’t hurt others with the purchase, and they don’t think they’re better than the rest then it’s all good.

At this point, I have to admit that I did invest in one Hermès bag. I thought it was a dream bag that would make me happy for days on end. But after the purchase, I felt rather empty. The joy that material things bring is only ephemeral and fleeting. I also realized that I don't pay with merely money, but I pay dearly from the hours of my life that was used to earn it. True happiness for me now only comes from investing in relationships with people I care for and sharing experiences with them. In life, everything boils down to choice.

Let’s face it: a Birkin, LV, Goyard, or Givenchy is just a bag! Its primary function is to carry stuff. It will have to endure rain, dust, and other yucky gunk if we actually use it. A person’s real worth is not measured by what’s in the crook of her arm or what’s dangling off her shoulder. Someone can also wear the biggest diamond but it will not give her good breeding.

When people die (or land in jail like Nova), would we tell our loved ones: please surround me with my expensive bags, jewelry, and my latest cell phone? Certainly, all the money in the world can never buy a person love, intellect, respect, class, and depth of character.

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