I'm forever moaning about the demise of luxury--true luxury--which to me means hand crafted products made by people who are passionate about their art. And so, when I saw Dana Thomas being interviewed on Canada's Fashion Television about her new book Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Lustre, I knew I had to read it! I bought it for the trip home from Paris and finished it in one sitting.
In the book, Thomas takes her readers on a tour behind the scenes of the world's best-known luxury brands. In the process, she reveals that many of the brands we associate with luxury and quality are actually anything but. Thomas details how luxury manufacturers cut corners to fatten up their bottom line through techniques like using cheap thread (Prada), shortening the sleeves on their suits, manufacturing goods in third world countries and then tearing out the labels and replacing them with ones that read "made in Italy" (Valentino) and making the uppers of their shoes in one country and the bottoms in Italy so that their products can legally read "made in Italy"(Prada again).
While Deluxe is critical of cost-cutting measures like having goods made in China, Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH) mastermind Jean Arnault comes across as the villain of the book for his aggressive business tactics (he routinely engages in hostile takeovers of family-owned businesses) and his way of re-invisioning luxury as focused on branding, rather than quality.
Thomas is particularly harsh on Louis Vuitton, Valentino and Georgio Armani , although very few luxury brands escape her critique. The one brand that seems to escape relatively unscathed is Hermes: their products may be overpriced, but they have held fast to their commitment to creating quality handcrafted objets d'art.
Dana Thomas also explores the world of fake luxury goods. In a world where brands are more prized than true quality, fakes are inevitable. People want a piece of the image they feel wearing a certain brand creates. Unfortunately, there is a real price for buying fakes--money from the sale of counterfeit goods supports organized crime and terrorist organizations like FARC in Colombia. Moreover, conditions in the factories where these goods are produced are MUCH, MUCH worse than in legal factories--since manufacturers are already breaking the law, there isn't much incentive for them to provide their workers with clean, safe working conditions. There was one truly horrific account of a counterfeit luxury manufacturer in Thailand who had broken the legs of his young workers when they said they wanted to go outside to play.
Deluxe is a must read for anyone who has ever wondered whether $700 shoes are really worth it or not (they aren't--and they probably aren't even really made in Italy). Her book proves that very few so-called "luxury products" deserve their exorbitant price tags. So, next time you are wishing you could afford couture clothes, pick up this book--you'll be glad you did.
cover image courtesy amazon.com