Filipino Dubai: Les Poseurs – Of Fakers, Fabwhores, and Brand Victims
by Nicholo Jallores
“This above all: to thine own self be true.” – William Shakespeare
We are often told, “Fake it till you make it.” True enough, there is great value in knowing how to project an image of success in a world that is obsessed with image and celebrity. A crisp business suit, a perfectly choreographed handshake, and a calm but confident demeanor can mean all the difference between landing that elusive plum job or having to pack your bags for a 30-day stay in Kish. Never mind that you lived the life of an indoor plant in the Philippines – in Dubai, you can present yourself as a marketing honcho, an entrepreneur, a fashion designer, a respected “international” blogger, or even a magazine writer (hah!). The possibilities for personal reinvention are quite endless, hence many ambitious denizens have made perfectly good living out of exhausting the possibilities. Every so often you will encounter and be inspired by a kabayan with a genuine success story: one of honest-to-goodness hard work, patience, and diligence. But to get to the truly triumphant, you will have to wade through an ocean of fakers, fabwhores, and brand victims – those who fake it, but never make it. They live in a made-up world of smoke and mirrors, powdered noses held high, haunting the city’s most prestigious gatherings looking smug and mouthing off words that they do not truly understand, like “quadruple bottom line,” “silhouettes,” and “fabulous.” Dubai is the playground of the ambitious. It is also a circus of pretenders. Ladies and gentlemen, Les Poseurs.
“What to do yanni? What to do!?!”
The corporate world can be a coldblooded place – the corporate ladder, a slippery slope designed to cull the weak and eviscerate the spineless. There are those who thrive in this environment because they have the right knowledge, discipline and training for the job; then there are those who manage to survive and ascend the ranks due solely to charm and sheer chutzpah. You might have encountered one or two fakers in your office; they fumble from one task to another like headless chickens and you wonder how the hell they bagged the job in the first place. This has become a widespread phenomenon in the cutthroat career-hunting arena of Dubai, as hyper-competitive expat jobseekers have become more cunning and sly in playing up their strengths and hiding their shortcomings.
According to Vagelyn Tumbaga Federico, Human Resources Director of Dusit Thani Dubai, “You cannot confirm the potential of an applicant through his CV or the way he presents himself in an interview because those can be rehearsed or faked.” It will be foolhardy for any employer to assume the best of an employee out of face value. The worker’s real worth comes out in the daily grind. “ The best thing for an employer to do is to conduct a reference check with previous employers.”
“Fabulous, darling! Fabulous! Can I borrow your phone? Wala na akong load.”
Fashion has a curious way of turning people into egotists and braggarts. Of all the manifestations of the visual arts, it tends to be the most divisive. Fashionistas cannot just collectively call a nice coat a nice coat – appreciating a nice coat has to be a loud display of expertise and insider know-how, enunciated in a slightly high English accent reminiscent of Gloria Vanderbilt. Rare are the true devotees who come to fashion shows purely to observe passion and artistry. Most people attend simply to be seen and be heard trumpeting their own conjured up sartorial authority. And it’s ever so easy too, as fashion, obviously, is not theoretical physics. You don’t need a degree in fashion design to sound like you know what you’re talking about. No one needs to know that you used to be a slob in Manila, or that you can’t properly pronounce Comme des Garçons to save your life: all you need is a nice dress, a laptop, a bit of 5th grade English and voila – you’re a fashion blogger. Learn how to hold a martini and voila – you’re a socialite.
At its purest, Fashion is Art. At its sleaziest and most vile, Fashion is the lazy thinker’s indicator of wealth, influence, and social status. That’s where it becomes cringe-worthy. One can affect an air of success and power simply by faking a devotion to fashion. Talking about it has become the intellectual realm of pretend-pundits and insta-experts. Dubai is overflowing with Anna Wintour’s.
The Brand Victim
aka “Kit-kit kuko”
Ideally, a person gravitates towards the brand that fits his lifestyle; but any savvy mass communicator knows that the most gratifying exercise in marketing is to convince a person to fit his lifestyle around the brand. In this model, the product sets the agenda, not the consumer – and the best agenda is always the one that appeals to aspirations. It’s a sleazy snake oil salesman kind of tactic, but it works brilliantly in a place like Dubai, amongst impressionable and gullible kabayans who are always on the lookout for ways to prove that they are bigger, better, and more moneyed than their neighbors. Ladies would splurge on designer bags and go home to gnaw at their nails for the lack of better food. Guys would buy expensive basketball shoes named after their favorite players and then sleep in bunk beds at night with 10 roommates. With every Apple release, social media explodes in a giant fireball of anticipation – as people start applying for loans and credit limit extensions to herald the arrival of the newest-model smartphone.
There is nothing wrong with buying the things that you love, granted that you can truly afford them. But when living the life that you want turns into living beyond your means, you fall victim to a brutal cycle of consumerism designed to make you part with your money as quickly as possible, and keep you going after a dream that is, for all intents and purposes, unattainable. You can never have the best bag, the best phone, the best shirt – but corporations want you to keep trying. This is the raison d’être of branding.
La Vie Authentique
Do you live authentically, or do you live a life of never-ending fakery? Authentic living means that you are in tune with your true self, and you are able to hold on to the core of your identity amidst a constant tidal wave of external stimuli. You stay rooted to who you are. Fake living means that you are caught in a web of fiction, desperately trying to be what the world tells you to be. Your life is a perpetual struggle for recognition and validation. You will not be good enough until the world says you are good enough – and it probably never will, so you stay in a constant state of hunger. Your time and focus are wasted on desperately seeking approval.
When you are not faithful to your authentic self – the “awareness”, the “you” that reads this article – you find yourself feeling inadequate and unworthy. You find that it’s easier and less troublesome to just play the roles that the other people assign to you, instead of living in your own terms. And when the world fails to recognize your efforts, you sulk and coil in resentment, asking why no one ever appreciates you.
Take it from Shakespeare: to thine own self be true. Find your true self and run with it. Authentic people are passionate, creative, refreshing, and essential. Why be run of the mill? There’s only one “you” in the universe – do not let yourself forget it.
Viva la vie authentique.
On brands and faking it
Our fashion and branding experts have their say –
You can make it without faking it, because it not about the brand you wear or have, it’s not about how expensive the clothes, shoes, bag or jewelry you have! It’s all about you how you present yourself. Even if you’re wearing a million dirham price tag, if it does not look like it’s a million dirham on you, then it’s useless. If you can wear a 10 dirham white shirt and jeans but you carry it with grace and panache that’s class.
While wearing branded and signature clothing becomes a status symbol for many who can afford it, it’s fair to say, that there are those who can carry inexpensive clothes and project an almost perfect total styling at par with signature clothes. The key is simple, if you can afford designer clothes, there’s no need to flaunt it. If you cannot afford it, don’t flaunt fakes, as if they are original. We must remember, it’s not only the branding that matters. Fashion can be spelled as – originality and creativity. Fashion is an expression of one’s self. We cannot judge based on brands. Branding is not a necessity for fashion to be recognized, for people to be popular and admired, and to be looked up to. No barriers. Less is more. Be simple. Be yourself. No pretentions. Just the way you are.
Brand is important to me but it doesn’t rule my life. I like brands I can relate to – brands that have the same values, ways of looking at life and those that are carefully created to achieve perfection. In some ways it defines you because when you patronize their names, you basically support their values. Perhaps, some people purchase brands without knowing why, just because they see it as pricey or feel that it elevates their standing within their peer group. I have seen a few of those self- proclaimed fashionistas who are lost in the crowd. Whenever I can afford, I go for brands that give attention to details, the craftsmanship, and the intellectual association and put emphasis to elegance.
At the end of the day, it all boils down to how we all live our lives. Do we live with class, integrity and courage? Do we respect ourselves enough to be authentic to whom we really are? No matter how much we drown ourselves with high-end brands if our homes are dirty, cars are messy and hygiene is neglected, no brand will ever be sufficient to hide who you really are. So, the big question here is – what is your brand? What are you? I guess it is important that we first know what we stand for before we allow brand affinity to affect our decision-making.
I’ll be a hypocrite if I say I wouldn’t drool over a classic, timeless Prada hand bag. For me brands are a luxury, an indulgence, but never a lifestyle, so NO, it’s not that important to me.
We should not let brands affect us, especially on decisions like – “should we save or shop?” As the Pinoy stereotype goes, some can live in crowded apartments and be tight on daily expenses. But when the new Iphone hits the mall, they max out their credit cards. Or when the “winter collection” of a favorite brand hits the store, the next day, they flaunt their brand new knee-high boots even if it’s 35 degrees outside! It’s okay to indulge and have a bit of luxury sometimes, but we should know our boundaries. And for those who can actually afford luxury brands, know that wearing expensive items does not always make you look fashionable. On the other hand, I have high respects for people who can dress in simple jeans and t-shirts and still convey poise and elegance.
AGNES STOTT BRIGGS
Our clothes are our outer image that sends a signal to the world before we have a chance to speak. Admit it or not, we all like wearing brands and there is nothing wrong with that. Brands represent an image, social status, in addition to quality, of material, workmanship, consistency of sizing, pricing. You invariably pay extra for the privilege of wearing a brand to be distinctive. The big question is – are we wearing the best brand we can afford? Are we wearing a brand that is consistent with our social status? Are we wearing a brand that conveys the message we want to convey? Are we wearing a brand that reflects our image? Or are we wearing a brand just for the sake of it, to show off that we can afford it whether it suits us or not?
Don’t let the brand rule the brain. Expensive brands do not always represent the best in you. The brand that best represents your image is the one that you can afford. Sometimes even if you can afford it, you do not want to be seen extravagant and careless with your finances as it reflects your judgment and values in life. The key is to strike a balance between style and substance.