Several outlets carried the news today that luxury clothing line Burberry has reported strong sales figures in the second quarter. The Washington Post carried an AP story with the headline "What crisis? Luxury brand Burberry reports strong sales gain despite tough economic times." It would seem surprising to hear that a company that sells $800 sweaters would be pulling ahead in such a bad economy -- if the media hadn't already pointed out the paradox more than a few times. Luxury goods were hit hard in the recession, and in late 2009, the media noted that they were leading the recovery. As time has gone on, they've continued to note it. In February, USA Today's Gary Strauss writes:
Wealthy Americans seem to have decided that it's OK to splurge again -- a hopeful sign for an economy mired by slow growth, stubbornly high unemployment and depressed home prices.
Then, in July, a Bain & Company report predicted rising sales among luxury goods, bringing more coverage of the luxury market into the news (including coverage by The Atlantic Wire.) CNBC wrote a post on their web site entitled "Rich Americans Spend More on Luxury Goods" and continued:
Wealthy Americans, who are expected to increase their spending on luxury items by 8 percent to $359 billion this year, are no longer embarrassed at flaunting their wealth despite an economic slowdown which has caused hardship on many who have lost their jobs.
Even later to the punch, the New York Times wrote in August, "Even Marked Up, Luxury Goods Fly Off Shelves," which similarly registered its surprise, writing:
Even with the economy in a funk and many Americans pulling back on spending, the rich are again buying designer clothing, luxury cars and about anything that catches their fancy."
Indeed, all of these stories fit neatly into a larger narrative the media has been telling since the recovery began, one that points out the unbalanced way the recession spared the nation's rich and hurt its middle class. (See, for example, The Atlantic magazine's September cover story by Don Peck, "Can the Middle Class Be Saved?") What better way to succinctly and concretely demonstrate this than to contrast the struggles of Wal-Mart shoppers with the eagerness of $800 shoe consumers, pegged to yet another strong quarter for the luxury shoe maker? Still, perhaps the trend has been noted enough times now, that we shouldn't be surprised to find signs of growing income inequality in our headlines.