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How Luxury Lost Its Luster

September 3rd, 2008 at 06:09 pm

Some of you might recall a discussion we had a while back on luxury items, particularly designer handbags.

I just finished a book called _Deluxe:How Luxury Lost Its Luster_ that had an interesting discussion about "entry-level" fashion items like designer bags and perfume.

I'm not sure it completely explained the conspicuous consumption thing better than say, Thorstein Veblen did all those years ago, but it's an interesting look at marketing--especially to young women. Her analysis of the "it" handbag both made me sad and mad.

It's an interesting read--and happily for me--at the very budget-friendly public library.

3 Responses to “How Luxury Lost Its Luster”

  1. Broken Arrow Says:

    Er, the chances of me reading it is fairly remote.

    Would you like to summarize it for those of us who are too lazy I mean busy to do so? Big Grin

  2. disneysteve Says:

    I haven't read it, so I'm not sure if this is related, but there is another book called "Trading Up: The New American Luxury" that talks about how Americans have embraced luxury items that were out of reach not all that long ago. Stuff like Victoria's Secret where average folks go to buy $5 underwear rather than the 6 pack for $5 that they used to buy, or high-end toys like American Girl dolls. They discuss how companies have created "new luxury brands that appeal to the mass-market consumer."

  3. my english castle Says:

    It's a bit like that, Steve. It's also a bit of the other side--showing how formerly "luxurious" items are now not really the special things they used to be--and how marketing took over couture designers etc.

    I'm pasting in the reviews from the Amazon site. What I found particularly appalling were the stories of young women in deep debt to buy the designer bags, and even a tale of young Japanese women entering prostitution so they could afford these items. But I guess it's not a new story--I'm thinking Lily Bart in Edith Wharton's _The House of Mirth._ Still it's very sad and misguided.

    Editorial Reviews
    From Publishers Weekly
    Newsweek reporter Thomas skillfully narrates European fashion houses' evolution from exclusive ateliers to marketing juggernauts. Telling the story through characters like the French mogul Bernard Arnault, she details how the perfection of old-time manufacturing, still seen in Hermès handbags, has bowed to sweatshops and wild profits on mediocre merchandise. After a brisk history of luxury, Thomas shows why handbags and perfume are as susceptible to globalization and corporate greed as less rarefied industries. She follows the overarching story, parts of which are familiar, from boardrooms to street markets that unload millions in counterfeit goods, dropping irresistible details like a Japanese monk obsessed with Comme des Garçons. But she's no killjoy. If anything, she's fond of the aristocratic past, snarks at "behemoths that churn out perfume like Kraft makes cheese" and is too credulous of fashionistas' towering egos. Despite her grasp of business machinations, her argument that conglomerates have stolen luxury's soul doesn't entirely wash. As her tales of quotidian vs. ultra luxury make clear, the rich and chic can still distinguish themselves, even when Las Vegas hosts the world's ritziest brands. Thomas might have delved deeper into why fashion labels inspire such mania, beyond "selling dreams," but her curiosity is contagious. (Aug.)
    Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

    From Booklist
    *Starred Review* Thomas has been the fashion writer for Newsweek in Paris for 12 years and writes about style for the New York Times Magazine and other well-known publications. She traces the origins of luxury from the mid–nineteenth century, when Louis Vuitton made his first steamer trunks and custom-made clothing was strictly the province of European aristocracy, through the fashion boom of the 1920s, when names such as Dior, Gucci, and Yves Saint Laurent came into prominence, and buyers with expendable income could afford exquisite clothing and perfume. Sadly, today most of the well-known names are owned by multinational groups, and luxury items have become commodities, where buyers crave name brands for what they represent rather than their inherent quality of manufacture and design. Thomas takes us into the streets of New York, where counterfeit items are sold that look so much like the real thing that it takes an expert to tell them apart, to the Guangzhou region in China, where children make knockoff goods under appalling conditions. She manages to remove the veil from the fashion industry with a blend of history, culture, and investigative journalism. Siegfried, David --

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