Contentment is natural wealth; but luxury is artificial poverty, Socrates once declared. But spending a Sunday afternoon to buy a luxury product gives hedonistic pleasure to many. And today after all this while, I am starting to wonder why this should be the case. Why my favorite branded lipstick costs more than an Italian wine? Or why am I being charged several thousand dollars for a mass-produced handbag?
Luxury was once available to rarefied and aristocratic world of royalty. It offered a history of tradition, superior quality and an ultimate buying experience. Today, however, luxury is a product packaged with fancy and shimmering wrappers and finally sold by multi-billion dollar companies that are focused on growth, brand awareness, visibility, advertising, and, above all making profits! In the midst of all these things, I digged into my personal library to read Deluxe: How luxury lost its luster by Dana Thomas. The book digs deep into the gloomy side of the luxury industry to uncover secrets of Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada and Burberry which we don’t know and how far these acclaimed fashion houses have moved from their roots.
Luxury brands, once a family owned business that originated for royalty, have now been gobbled up by large conglomerates. Luxury was something that came from tradition and provided nobility of superior goods. “Superior goods and not “LOGOS”!
“With the fall of monarchy and the rise of industrial fortunes in the late nineteenth century, luxury became the domain of old-moneyed and elite American families. Luxury wasn’t simply a product. It denoted a history of tradition, superior quality, and often a pampered buying experience.”
True luxury was a legitimate and made in small quantities only for elite class. It wasn’t something that people could mass produce and made readily available in stores for the common group.
Diana Vreeland once said “Very few people had ever breathed the pantry air of a house of a woman who wore the kind of dress Vogue used to show when I was young.” When Givenchy dressed Audrey Hepburn for her role in Blake Edwards’ film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, luxury was exclusive, the distinct provenance of the refined social elite. Wearing couture specially tailored to her slim and graceful frame, Hepburn exemplified the allure of luxury as she played a character who could only dream about it. With this Dana Thomas said, true luxury started to die in the 1960’s when large corporate financiers and tycoons saw potential in making “luxury” available to mass market. She documented on how once a niche industry that provided the finest handmade goods has re-casted into a global cash cow. Is it really a good thing?
The book takes us back to the time when Louis Vuitton, a trunk maker whose distaste for standard luggage made him design and launch what has now become the world’s finest luxury line; how Coco Chanel’s N05 started selling in every 30 seconds and how Miuccia Prada and Giorgio Armani made memorable walk-on appearances.
Mass marketing has permanently changed the purpose, meaning and the function of luxury. Today you pay million dollars for the label and not for luxury itself. Luxury is no more a private and privileged experience. Today, we all know this that what we are buying is not an experience but an image, not quality but illusion. And luxury brands also knows this, which is why they plaster their logos all over. LVMH designer March Jacobs once said, “When you look at [Louis Vuitton], “you see it is mass-produced luxury. Vuitton is a status symbol. It’s not about hiding the logo. It’s about being a bit of a show-off.” Thomas says, “Vuitton is the McDonald’s of the luxury industry…and has a logo as recognizable as the golden arches.”
Much of the charm behind luxury goods is on the assumption that they are handmade by skilled European craftsmen. But facts shoot down this mystique. Hermes has openly outsourced the sewing of scarves to Mauritius. Armani has embraced Chinese laborers. Louis Vuitton, a $3 billion a year industry, has announced plans to build a shoe factory in India. The book authors how the counterfeiting market has moved. Some, like Prada, claim not to outsource manufacturing-but close inspection of certain Prada products reveals cleverly hidden “Made in China” labels. Some designers do manage to keep the manufacturing in Europe but rely on illegal immigrant labor to keep costs down. The terrifying raid on Chinese sweat shops described how they made luxury goods for designers who sworn that all their products are handmade in Europe. Dana obviously doesn’t name the designers but she definitely saw a good made on an assembly line for about $120, and later sold for 10 times that amount in a Hong Kong department store. Shocking?
But, honestly speaking the market of cheap luxury goods is so strong that fakes have gushed their way in major retail outlets. Walmart has been sued by major brands like Fendi, Gucci, Tommy Hilfiger and Louis Vuitton and e-commerce sites like Amazon and eBay are well known dumping spaces for counterfeit products. But haven’t we sold our souls for an impossible dream and that’s the reason behind the products being sold overpriced.
This book has surely made me know the difference between true luxury and high street fashion. I will never see Louis Vuitton as special anymore, but merely as the McDonald’s of the luxury world.
Surely, “The luxury industry has changed the way people dress. It has realigned our economic class system. It has changed the way we interact. It has become part of our social fabric. To achieve this, it has sacrificed its integrity, undermined its products, tarnished its history, and hoodwinked its consumers. In order to make luxury “accessible” tycoons have stripped away all that has made it special. Luxury has lost its luster.”
Grab your Deluxe: How Luxury lost its luster by Dana Thomas Now!