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Personal Trumps Political

In areas such as the Middle East, Russia and China, fashion and luxury goods bearing the stamp of the U.S. are being challenged more by the emotional tug of brands from Europe than by any negative association with America's world policies.

In areas such as the Middle East, Russia and China, fashion and luxury goods bearing the stamp of the U.S. are being challenged more by the emotional tug of brands from Europe than by any negative association with America’s world policies.

It’s the older heritage of European brands that appears to be posing stiffer competition for American brands in Asia and Russia, for instance, than the sometimes wide gulf between political opinions in those regions and in the U.S., observed Suki Larson, chief executive officer of Provenance, the luxury goods arm of ad agency M&C Saatchi. “Asia and Russia are still looking to Europe for fashion, luxury, food and wine,” Larson said. “Ralph Lauren represents a romanticized view of what’s good about the U.S., but I don’t think tastemakers would put it on the same level as a European luxury house.”

People tend to make their own personal interpretations of brands, said James Intriligator, co-director of Bangor University’s Centre for Experimental Consumer Psychology. “If you have made up your mind, any information that goes along with that will be seen, heard and affirmed,” Intriligator said.

In Dubai, Ziad Matta, ceo of Boutique 1, a store that carries American brands such as Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera, Marchesa and Rock & Republic, said, “Our customers are very fashion-focused. That’s not to say they don’t care about politics, but [a purchase] is more to do with whether they fall in love with a piece and they have to have it.”

Dubai is also the home base of Mecca Cola, a brand described by its chairman, Tawfik Mathlouthi, as representing “a protest against American foreign policy.” Mecca’s logotype is similar to Coca-Cola’s Spencerian script, as are its red and white labels.

Its political stance has not kept Mecca from offering its drinks at some college campuses in the U.S., however, and the company would like to find a nationwide distributor there.

“Mecca Cola is not against American brands. We want to send a message that we want peace,” Mathlouthi said in a phone interview. People in 64 countries have bought more than 1 billion liters of the brand’s cola since its launch in 2002, and about 20 percent of the brand’s net profit is being donated to charities, about half of them Palestinian, according to the company’s chairman.

This story first appeared in the November 28, 2007 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.