Monday, May 26, 2008

Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Lustre

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


Tracy said...

I'm adding this to my wish list! This is a title right up my street, investigative, behind-the-scenes-look at things. Great review! I can't possibly afford a Prada bag or anything like I try to make my own version of luxury. :o) Happy Day ((HUGS))

Tina Vaziri said...

That sounds like a fantastic read! I'll have to pick it up.

Anonymous said...

hello and welcome back. I have been reading but not commenting (probably too overcome with jealousy about your paris trip :)
I can never understand why people want fakes - it just doesnt make sense. I am not in the income group for luxury items so Id never thought about them swindling people. im astonished by their behaviour! (actually Im not really - its pretty much to be expected these days). Im more keen on real luxuries - access to nature etc

Sarah said...

Wow, that is really interesting! I've always heard the old saying, "You get what you pay for", and I just always assumed that these high end luxury good were made to be the best of the best, thus allowing for the ginormous price tag. I mean, I would have thought that companies like Prada wouldn't want to tarnish their imagine by selling crummy products... but I guess I was naive! I definitely am not in the market for such luxuries. These days a nice dinner away from children is a real luxury to us... but that really does make you realize that people will shell out big bucks for a label. Pretty sad...

so, I think I saw that you're coming home in June? Do tell! I'd love to see you!!! I'd love to have you over to see the house and my pre-raph paintings and my one French tapistry... my little luxuries ;o)

M.KATE said...

Hi Margaret :)

Always knew that, just dont know the details of how's it done. Like Nike was made in India at one time, and child labour was even used. Guess what, these people were paid pittance and those stuff were overpriced and sold to thousands. I couldn't part with the thousands (...and as if i have lots of that) to buy a piece of luxury. I always wondered how these people.. LV, valentino etc. lived the lifestye they always do, so now it's cutting corners to maximise profit and there are still tons who will buy them. On the bright side, you can easily get a fake LV for a couple of bucks here (no kidding)but of course, the one can spot the difference in quality in a jiffy. I'd like to hunt that book and read it too :)

Gillian L. said...

This is a fantastic article and I really want to get his book and read it!

We are such a consumer society and the cost is high to people and our environment. I really like the idea of supporting smaller companies or individual artisans as much as possible!