Thomas, the style and cultural reporter for Newsweek, takes a hard-hitting look at the world of new luxury, and argues that globalization and corporate greed have ensured that old-time manufacturing has bowed to sweatshops and wild profits to produce mediocre merchandise.
Dana Thomas is the author of Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes, Gods and Kings: The Rise and Fall of Alexander McQueen and John Galliano, and the New York Times bestseller Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, all published by Penguin Press. She began her career writing for the Style section of The Washington Post, and for fifteen years she served as a cultural and fashion correspondent for Newsweek in Paris. She is a regular contributor to The New York Times Style section and has written for The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, and Architectural Digest. In 1987, she received the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation’s Ellis Haller Award for Outstanding Achievement in Journalism. In 2016, the French Minister of Culture named Thomas a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters. She lives in Paris.
Very near the end of the book, Thomas sums up her book through the eyes of a friend.
"I see where you're going with this: luxury companies have gone mass and along the way forgotten their original mission, which was to provide the rich with truly exceptional products." The friend continues, "So here's what I want to know: What do the rich do now?"
This is not what I wanted to know. What I wanted to know was, why should I care what the rich do now, or ever did? Thomas's entire thesis seems to be "luxury companies have gone mass-market, thereby doing some damage to someone somewhere." I waded through 346 pages of earnings, percentages, and ridiculous name-dropping and pretension, waiting for the problem. What I saw was that the companies are wealthier while fashion is cheaper and enormously more widely available. In the meantime, the super-rich still buy quality custom couture like they always have. The only conclusion I can possibly draw from Thomas's objection to this is that she is enormously classist, and insulated to the point of not even realizing that her position is classist. I guess the book is a fairly interesting study in prejudice, but as an argument it fails miserably.
a good read. piles of research, interviews with the best of the luxury cast(e), investigative journalism, and fashion-magazine luxury brand wallowing-in. Ten Things I can now argue for/against: 1. Hermes bags, luggage, and scarves (for) 2. Chanel No. 5 (for) 3. fake handbags (against) 4. child labor, human trafficking, the black market (against) 5. Louis Vuitton (against) 6. the conglomeration of luxury brands (against) 7. Japanese cultural values with respect to luxury goods (against) 8. architect Peter Marino (against) [this judgement is mostly separate from the book] 9. historic, family-owned artisanal brands renowned for craftsmanship (for) 10. the role of luxury in society today (against)
I should not have read Deluxe immediately after having read Richistan. I’m a huge fan of coupling two similar books, it’s like peanut butter and jelly, or whiskey and my mouth, but this combination was unintended or at least unconscious and these true tales of Excess and Image left me in a bizarre, contradictory paradox of feeling both rich and poor. Rich in Spirit. Poor in Reality.
If there ever was a pair of prissy Siamese twins sashaying around America on their yachts clutching Hermes handbags like vultures to a carcass, it is Deluxe and Richistan. More wealth and money in America has meant more shopping and buying. Throw in some ruthless business tactics and aggressive marketing and you have sewn a gown of change. Drastic change. But contrary to the alliterate subtitle, Deluxe isn’t about Luxury Losing Its Luster. It’s about luxury losing its faint glean of pretension. A polish perhaps long overdue.
Though Dana Thomas certainly wouldn’t agree and spends 346 pages disagreeing. As she explains in her introduction, “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.” And though that may sound like some vindictive, polemical, rabble-rousing, Thomas can’ sustain her vitriol throughout the entire book. She loves the luxury industry too much.
Deluxe is a tale of Modern American Consumption, which is not about quality or practicality, or need, or even price, but about the Brand, which is a Lie. And like all the other well-marketed and perpetrated brands (lies), luxury has been masterfully sold. For the most part, luxury goods are still of superb design and style, but just mass-produced and marketed.
Deluxe is about how globalization has finally made it to the luxury industry. The “art” of luxury has been replaced by the bottom line. If you’re a shareholder in say, LVMH, that line looks very nice (the luxury goods industry is a $157 billion business). If you’re Dana Thomas, that line does not look as lustery as it used to.
Deluxe is about the reformation of a storied, elite industry historically run by artisans and craftsmen that has been taken over by capitalists with their eyes not on design, style, and luxury, but on their balance sheets. Once in power, these businessmen applied the Usual Tactics to the luxury industry with profitable results: outsource to reduce costs, market heavily in order to sell the image, status, and story of the brand, and then market to the middle class, especially with entry-level products like fragrances and handbags, and sell what’s left for a discount at outlet malls. Now that the fussy ogre that is America has been sated and is lying down for a nap, go after the emerging markets: China, India, and Russia.
This may seem all fine and well and par for the course, but what Dana Thomas takes issue with is that the Luxury Industry has lost its credibility and has forsaken its noble past. As she explains, “When luxury brands themselves go mass market, however – selling a full range of goods in ubiquitous boutiques, outlets and duty-free stores and on their own Web sites – they undermine their well-crafted message. They become an everyday occurrence, a common presence. They aren’t a luxury anymore.”
Thomas’ story is significant and interesting enough but blandly told. As a fashion writer having covered the industry for decades, she has great reverence and respect for luxury but her straightforward, journalistic approach felt flat to me. The blow-by-blow history interspersed with anecdotes failed to make me care about the loss of a little luster. That’s not to discredit Thomas’ impressive tale. Deluxe is clearly a labor of love and the result of exhaustive research and travel from someone who was already on expert on the topic. It contains a variety of opinions and perspectives but you almost wish someone told it with a smaller bias and a bigger penchant for weaving a more revealing tale.
Thomas is at her best when she departs from bemoaning the loss of abstract, nebulous ideals and focuses on the legitimate social and economic ramifications of this industry’s massive evolution. One of the most interesting elements of the book was Thomas’ investigation into the widespread counterfeiting of luxury goods that has risen from luxury brand’s outrageously high demand. As Thomas notes, “The industry’s marketing plan had worked: consumers don’t buy luxury branded items for what they are, but for what they represent. People don’t believe there is a difference between real and fake anymore.” But before you buy a fake Fendi bag to satisfy your lust for status and image, please, please read this book. Counterfeiting is a dark, detrimental black market and before you know it you’ll believe that commercial that insisted that smoking marijuana contributed to terrorism. Counterfeiting contributes to terrorism too by the way. So buy from your local grow house. And buy a real bag. After reading this book, I can tell. I can. See that stitching?
But what was really interesting was learning that Gucci uses a special machine developed and used exclusively by them to cut cowhide that uses water jets moving at twice the speed of sound. As Thomas observes, “The water jet is remarkable to see because, in fact, you can’t see it. All you see is the leather cut, as if by magic, and a mist from the water jet dissipating to the sides.” Isn’t that NEAT?
The gist of the book is that luxury products are no longer luxurious because, in order to reap in profits, they have been cheapened so they can be marketed to middle income consumers instead of the high-rollers they used to exclusively cater to. Thomas does not really suggest what, if anything, is to be done about this situation, or why anybody should really care. Actually, the disturbing thing is that while she does seem concerned about product quality, what appears to bother her more is who is consuming those products. She seems to have a particular issue with the Asian consumer, as though the very fact the Japanese and Chinese customers are scooping up these items (rather than the wealthy Western consumer of yore) is what cheapens them. She even seems to look down her nose at the Western middle class or nouveau-riche consumer, even though her background does not suggest that she is a member of European royalty or an old family of American aristocrats. I'm not saying that mass-consumption of overpriced "luxury" goods is something that everyone should aspire to, but the very fact that the author seems to have a problem with it shows exactly what the problem is with these kinds of goods: that they have no place in an allegedly democratic, egalitarian society like the United States. Beyond my ideological problems with the book, I found that most of the pages were filled with over-detailed descriptions of the histories of various fashion houses, and a repetitive and typo-ridden prose that could have used another proof or two (or three). (Full disclosure: I read the Kindle version, which probably made the typo situation much worse than in the hard copy... but the writing still needed help.) For me, the most interesting part was reading about the process of making an Hermes handbag, which I'd be very curious to see in real-life. In any case, it's a short read, so waste a day or two of your life... or don't!
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.)
I confess, I know barely anything about the world of high fashion, and so of course especially know nothing about the highest end of it all, the so-called "luxury" brands like Prada, Gucci and Hermés that charge just insane prices for the stupidest little stuff (a hundred dollars for a handkerchief, five hundred dollars for a t-shirt), sold specifically to members of the nouveau riche with self-esteem issues and platinum credit cards. Ah, but see, that right there is part of the big problem with the luxury industry these days, or so argues Dana Thomas in her brilliant but unfortunately long-winded new exposé Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster. You see, explains this veteran fashion journalist, back in the 1700s and early 1800s, the beginning of the Industrial Age when all these prestige brands were born, they became prestige brands precisely because it was...you know, prestigious stuff, objects that became known as "luxury items" precisely because they were truly luxurious; it's only in our modern (er, postmodern) times that the effort to even produce high-quality items has been dropped from these companies, when the "brand" part of "luxury brand" has suddenly become much more important than the "luxury" part.
For a whole variety of complicated reasons, Thomas successfully argues here, the entire luxury industry has recently become a dangerous shell game, something that now relies almost entirely on marketing and public opinion, on selling an idea rather than an actual product; sure, it made these companies just obscene amounts of money throughout the go-go '80s and '90s, but Thomas argues that it's a house of cards about to fall apart, that it was Americans' unending willingness to go into deep debt for no good reason in those years that essentially fueled that industry more than anything else. It's a highly intriguing theory to be sure, one that Thomas factually backs up over and over throughout the manuscript; it's just too bad that, you know, sometimes she takes forever to actually make her point.
Because that's the ironic thing, that my biggest criticism of Deluxe is actually Thomas' glowing credentials as a journalist; based in Paris for most of her adult life, she's been Newsweek's head fashion writer for a dozen years, the French correspondent for the Australian Harper's Bazaar, contributes regularly to such places as Vogue and The New Yorker, and was even a journalism professor for several years. This all comes shining through in the finished book, but that actually turns out to sometimes be a problem; this hard-news, magazine-based writer in fact sometimes has a difficult job figuring out how to trim her stories to make for a good full-sized book, with it sometimes coming off more as simply a collected series of magazine articles than as a cohesive 350-page manuscript. And in fact, part of this is the same problem I've noticed with a lot of fashion veterans who try writing something critical of the fashion industry, that they tend to simultaneously worship the very things they're being critical of, and in that annoying pink-hued "Sex in the City" way I find just so distressing and terrible. ("Oh, isn't it such a crime that the market's been so falsely manipulated, these companies can now charge $25,000 for a leather purse? And now, twelve pages on how those gorgeous little babies are made!")
Because make no mistake, Thomas has a devastatingly effective criticism to lay out here regarding the so-called luxury industry; that there is simply no luxury left in the industry, that a series of soulless marketing-oriented corporate executives have taken over and conglomerated all these companies over the last thirty years, turning the entire thing into an excuse to charge outrageous amounts of money for things that simply no longer cost very much to actually produce. And in fact this is the best thing about the book, is that Thomas' argument is just so unshakable and so backed up by numerous facts, laid out chronologically in a fascinating way that calls on history, economic theory, the emerging global marketplace and more. See, back in the early Industrial Age when all these companies started, it was impossible to mass-produce items of actual high quality; the only stuff that could be mass-produced in the 1700s and early 1800s was cheap crap, making the services of such artisan craftmasters as Mr. Gucci and Mr. Vuitton legitimately valuable, making their finely-crafted goods legitimately worthy of their reputation and price. That's how we come to have a luxury industry in the first place, after all; it was a legitimate need during a period of history when factories were able to churn out nothing else but cheap mass-produced crap.
And this worked fine for a long time; until the 1960s and '70s, in fact, when suddenly in our late Industrial Age you precisely did start seeing the mass output of items actually high in quality, coupled with an all-consuming countercultural revolution that suddenly made the entire concept of high fashion impossibly square and passé. It was this period that almost bankrupted many of these luxury companies, which is what allowed a series of European corporate conglomerates to swoop in and purchase them; and this just happened to occur a few years before Reagan and the sudden boom again in upper-middle-class Americans, a re-emergence of high fashion and an entire culture that almost religiously encouraged spending beyond one's means. These corporations realized that there was a ton of money at stake by selling these luxury goods to the teeming masses of middle-class Americans, all of them clutching Visa cards with insanely high credit ceilings; that's when you saw the rise of such "low-end" items as handbags and sunglasses, the proliferation of luxury goods in such previously unthinkable locations as malls and airports and Vegas casinos, the impeccable service and genteel elitism of the old big-city boutiques replaced by the gaudy blarings of tacky touristy "Total Consumer Environment" superstores.
This, Thomas argues, has then created a vicious cycle within that industry that these companies are finding harder and harder to break out of: that is, when you suddenly base your entire business plan on mere image, on mere public perception of your brand, on deliberately overcharging people for items not much higher in quality than at any other store, your entire strategy suddenly becomes one of high-volume sales, quick turnaround, flashier and flashier gimmicks in order to be the "hot item" among Hollywood celebrities for yet another six-week manufacturing cycle. And again, this worked fine for awhile, for the vast majority of the '90s when so-called "bling culture" first emerged (think Paris Hilton, think gangster rappers); but now you're starting to see a whole series of dents in that armor, things that chip away at this finely-designed haystack the industry had previously built. With the rise of luxury outlet malls, for example, suddenly the idea of instant hotness for a new item becomes even more important than ever; with so much of this stuff being manufactured now in China, suddenly the industry has a forgery crisis on its hands too. And not just forgeries, which is bad enough; these are the actual luxury goods that are being sold at the boutique superstores for tens of thousands of dollars, simply snuck out the back door of the factory instead of the front door and being sold off the back of a truck for a third of the price. That's the problem, Thomas so successfully argues, when you suddenly base your product line off of a logo alone, off of public perception alone, instead of the actual handmade exquisite craftmanship that built that public perception; now that these companies' actual products are just like anyone else's, they're subject to the same problems as everyone else's, even while being sold to the public in a dramatically different way.
If Deluxe had been 250 pages instead of 350, it would've blown my freakin' mind; as it is, I consider it still pretty good indeed, just with one too many tedious parts, parts that will appeal to existing fashionistas but almost no one else. And in fact, this is a general piece of advice I give to all magazine-journalist veterans, that a full-length book is simply a different creature, that there is a natural flow and rhythm needed in a large manuscript that can't be achieved simply by bunching together twelve magazine articles and calling it a day. That said, though, it gets a big recommendation from me today, an utterly fascinating look at how late capitalism combined with postmodernism has become the utter downfall of an entire industry we used to take for granted. This is exactly the kind of expansive, sweeping stuff I like to see journalists take on when tackling a full-length book; although flawed, I definitely suggest giving it a try anyway.
Well-researched and written, but I was hoping for more criticism of the industry itself, especially in regards to cost-cutting and the declining quality of these goods. I got the sense that as a fashion writer, the auther still holds these brands in such high regard to really see things with a clear eye. An outsider perspective (or a real industry insider) would have given this more edge.
This book I had wanted to read since it came out, and it was great. Humorously, not long after I read it, I saw that it was for sale at the Kitson warehouse sale, alongside marked down Habitual jeans and Michael Kors wedge sandals in an unheated, hangar-like space (where no, I didn't buy anything -- though I did score at the similar Lisa Kline sale). On this same trip, I also saw the (awesome) Takashi Murakami retrospective that notoriously included a Louis Vuitton boutique in the middle of the exhibition -- which definitely makes you think (about dropping a grand for a somewhat ugly bag, but also about you know, the relationship between art and commerce!). Anyway, this book was quite well done. It combines the narrative about different aspects of the luxury goods trade with detailed histories of different houses, and in general is very compelling. After reading the chapter about counterfeiting, you would never, ever want to buy a counterfeit handbag (and not just 'cause you're fooling yourself that you think people can't tell the difference -- trust me, we can, and that thing looks like crap).
On the flip side, you may come out of it really wanting to buy an Hermes bag. The interesting thing is that the author in no way dislikes luxury goods -- this isn't a Juliet B. Schor or James Twitchell kind of academia-lite read, the author is a fashion journalist. She kind of loves snobby stuff, and revels in anecdotes about like, how good the service at Christian Dior used to be like twenty years ago before they re-did the store. Rather than a diatribe against the massification of luxury and its consequences for the masses (debt, "affluenza", etc. -- though there's a bit of that in there, especially in the chapter where she goes to Vegas), it is more about how these things have lost their specialness for the very wealthy (although really for anyone who buys them). So it is sort of weird. The book ends up at that ridiculous store in Brazil, Daslu, and her talking about it like it's an uneqivocally good thing, which came off sort of weird for me. But in any event, the book is quite entertaining, and you learn a lot of stuff -- plus aside from okaying Hermes and Chanel, it really does take the air out of a lot of one's other handbag ambitions.
It wasn't that I didn't like this book, but that I didn't really learn anything that I didn't already know. But, on the plus side, the author was very factual about what was going on in the world of luxury. I didn't feel that it had a overwhelming biased bent. I thought she would point out repeatedly how silly it is to spend 2K on a bag that everyone owns that's covered in a logo (hello, it's free advertising, what are we girls? A billboard? I think not!) I (obviously) would have berated the logo toting reader until they had no choice but to punch me in the face. I appreciated this, because it really allowed me to reexamine my feelings about luxury brands. In the end, I actually found myself appreciating store such as H&M and Zara, because at least they are honest about their product, and not trying to fool their consumers that they are "buying a piece of magic." Wow, this review just made me go up a who star in my rating. I've VERY convincing. Beep Beep.
4.5 stars, rounded up because this is a must-read: for those who believe in the transformative power of shopping and those who don't; for people who consider themselves unaffected by advertising and for those who notice the dramatic decrease in the quality of clothing they buy.
A quotation I found (which didn't make it into the book, but encapsulates the message of at least a large portion of it) comes from Jean-Louis Dumas, the late chairman of the Hermès group from 1978 until 2006: "We don't have a policy of image, we have a policy of product." (Source: a Vanity Fair article - http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2007/0... )
The book is about masstige vs. old-school luxury, changing self-perception of social classes, cynical creation of needs by companies such as LVMH, the behemoth of the luxury industry. Dana Thomas taught me to see past the advertising used by luxury brands, cured me of the remainders of my perfume snobbery, gave me numbers proving that buying fakes of any kind means supporting organised crime and terrrorism. Also, I will never shop at Sephora again.
Thomas contrasts LVMH, too strongly at times, with representatives of the last big fashion houses - those independent ones and those with a significant degree of independence - and 'fashion refugees": designers and perfumers who refused to play the game and deliver perfectly crafted, unique products. A great book to set your consumer priorities right.
The title of this book is somewhat misleading -- Dana Thomas doesn't really make the case that luxury -- by which she means luxury brands -- has "lost its luster" -- clearly for the millions of people who lust after and are willing to spend time and energy on acquiring luxury brand items, luxury is still very much an ideal towards which they aspire. Rather, the book demonstrates that the word "luxury" means something entirely different when combined with the term "brand." Luxury brands are about the prestige of associating oneself with a well-known name -- not about the experience of high quality objects and high-touch service experiences, which is what distinguished the products produced by the founders of companies that now exist in the "luxury market." Towards the end, the book shows that that kind of luxury is still around -- although truly inaccessible to anyone but the truly wealthy. I'm hardly poor, but the day will probably never come when it seems reasonable to me spend $800 on a bra, no matter how perfectly fitted.
I enjoyed reading the book, but I would have found it more interesting if it had spent more time really articulating the difference between luxury objects and luxury brands, and less time piling up the details about how much middle-market business the "luxury brands" are doing through the mass-production of logo-embellished items.
I am very interested in the psychology of selling and advertising. How are people mentally manipulated and why do they all want the same thing? This book tells how the old family "luxury" brands changed to do this. And how their glamour fuels endless counterfeiting. And how, even if the tag says Made in Italy it probably wasn't.
I probably shouldn’t review this book, as I’ve never actually been in possession of it. I read or skimmed through about 50-70 pages of it while going to Barnes and Nobles at lunchtime. In any case, the book traces the development of the luxury brand corporations, all the while lamenting the loss of fine artisan craftsmanship that once characterized brands like Louis Vuitton or whatnot. The author focuses a lot on the founding of various large fashion corporations, and the profit-driven motives that led them to become the mass market giants that they are today. While presenting plenty of information, the author ends up jumping around a lot and listing tons of dates, events and people without drawing a compelling narrative (a similar weakness of Fast Food Nation). However, what was more annoying was the author’s own snobbishness about conspicuous consumption, as she constantly laments that the luxury products once finely made for the aristocrats are no longer available. She’s ultimately still interested in upholding the social status that luxury brand products can confer to their owners, rather than dissolving the mystique and the power that they hold over us. In any case, maybe worth skimming but definitely not worth buying, and for me at this point, probably not worth hunting down from the library.
In the beginning there were clothes. They were at your service – they performed for you, practical, reliable, appropriate. Still, we are thoughtful creatures, driven to art and individuality – and so clothes became fashion, and eventually, fashion became couture. No longer strictly practical, this new rank of clothes represented something more than just a cover. They were luxury: costly fabric impeccably tailored to be durable, classic, and stylish. But what is luxury now? Dana Thomas’s book Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster is the culmination of several tears of work, collaged journalism, and covert interviews. This sometimes brutal chronicle of the luxury fashion industry is both history and commentary and invites a re-evaluation of all things haute.
Primarily a Eurocentric account, Deluxe moves through the history of luxury brands from their humble beginnings in France and Italy to the global conglomerates they have become. From family-owned couture houses to fashion luxury groups, Thomas’s main thesis is clear: high-end fashion has been watered down for mass consumption. She mourns this unwelcome dilution without subtlety, freely using war imagery to describe the violent takeover of fashion’s most beloved houses, “where dreams, desires and beauty are manufactured.”
Thomas marks the beginning of the decline of couture in the 50s, coinciding with the rise of the middle Markey and the start of fashion licensing. Since then couturiers have been replaced by ready-to-wear luxury designers who churn out assembly-line products with a luxury price tag – a price tag reflecting the desirability of the logo rather than the item itself. Companies once private and dedicated to product integrity are now public, driver by ego and shareholder greed; quality, once the hallmark of couture, has been obscured by the incessant demand for profit.
What do we imagine luxury is? The fulfillment of the senses – touch, sight, smell, taste – the sound of the garment rustling as you let it drop over your head, or as you walk within it. How does it feel? Today, Thomas laments, luxury is brand – the “cult of luxury.” It is no longer about the quality of the product, the stimulation of the sense, but about profitability – how to cheapen the foods and sell them to the widest audience possible. The product is secondary to what it represents, and its quality is a consideration low on the list. Thomas depicts this new industry as an unstoppable global force and even Louis Vuitton, the historic couturier credited with the first fashion show and first name-brand logo, and a house long respected for integrity and quality of design, is ultimately referred to as the “McDonald’s of the fashion industry.”
Deluxe is a memorable read, including accounts of the birth of consequences of Chanel No. 5 (did you know that every 30 seconds of every day, there is a bottle of Chanel No. 5 sold somewhere in the world?) and the innovative production of the Gucci handbag. There is also an amusing and fascinating introduction to Miuccia Prada, Poli-Sci Ph.D. and Mime understudy. Thomas invites us to join her in the presence of the fashion mavens. She never fails to detail the mannerisms, hesitations, and of course dress of these personalities that have shaped the world of luxury fashion.
With an easy, yet structured style, Thomas manages to remind without repeating, presenting her information in an orderly, but not necessarily prescriptive way. The frequent (sometimes bordering on excessive) use of statistics may threaten to become wearisome, but this is balanced by allowing the reader to approach each chapter independently. Divided into three parts Deluxe first sets the global stage: the formation of luxury groups, public stock offerings, and globalization. The book then breaks down the luxury industry by item (handbags, perfumes, textiles, shoes) and places each into a historical, social, and political context, lending an unexpected depth to the discussion. Finally, it takes on the contemporary mania with brands, from knock-offs to mass luxury as seen in the success of such chains as H&M and Zara. Thomas’s ability to rephrase and revisit the key elements in her study complements her research in such a way that even the most distracted reader will be able to follow along, or skip forward or backward to the most interesting subjects. With the introduction of such notable terms as “democratization of luxury”, “bipolar shopping disorder,” luxury refugees,” “fast fashion, and “Parasite Singles,” Thomas’s prose is both stimulating and evocative.
In the end, Thomas exhibits a certain nostalgia for an earlier, more refined expression and experience of taste and style. But while her book is most certainly a lament, she chooses to exit the discussion on a hopeful note, concentrating on those, like shoemaker Christian Louboutin, who have remained committed and loyal to the idea of luxury as exceptional quality, service, elegance, and authenticity: “Luxury is not consumerism. It is educating the eyes to see that special quality.” (reviewed by Rachel Melis)
Dana Thomas has been a fashion writer for years, so she is well qualified to talk about the dramatic changes that have taken place in the luxury fashion industry over the last few decades. Once the exclusive realm of the uber-rich, small fashion houses previously dedicated to craftsmanship and quality have been gobbled up by multi-national corporations bent on increasing their shareholder's bottom lines. Towards that end, the majority of these houses have ruthlessly sought to cut costs by using cheaper materials and outsourcing labor to developing nations while simultaneously pimping out their brand on everything from t-shirts to sunglasses in effort to rake in dollars from the much larger "middle market" customers who long to own a small part of the luxury dream.
Thomas' exploration of these changes and just how they came about is exhaustive, sometimes too much so. In covering all facets of the luxury scene, from the history of all the major houses, to brand obsession in conformist-oriented countries like Japan and emerging nations like China, to the ins and outs of the counterfeiting trade, Thomas sometimes goes into far more detail than is truly necessary. But if you are able to skim over, for example, the personal histories of every single founder of every single fashion house, you'll find a fascinating discussion that touches on everything from art and creativity to globalization and corporate culture to relentless marketing and how it affects us.
Дещо розтягнута, але в цілому інформативна книга про розвиток ринку розкоші (а саме одягу, взуття, аксесуарів) від часів зародження, коли це були унікальні речі для королів та аристократів до повної демократизації 20 і 21 століття. В цій книзі розповідається про утворення великих корпорацій, які скупили більшість люксових брендів та зміну бізнесу після цього - від концепції унікальних речей вийняткової якості до концепції речей для статусу. В цій книзі є багато цікавої інформації про історію та сучасність всесвітньо відомих будинків моди, таких як Шанель, Діор, Луі Віттон, про зміну у виробництві певних товарів, таких як дизайнерські сумки, тканин, таких як шовк та шерсть для люксових колекцій, а також щодо патернів споживання в різних націях, наприклад, в Японії.
Extremely well-researched. Full of fascinating behind the scenes details and personal one-on-one interviews with the Executives and movers and shakers in the Luxury industry. I think my favorite part was the sly passive aggressive adjectives the author would occasionally slip into a sentence to show you how she really felt about a particularly person or design house. If you are into the fashion industry, luxury or just like to shop, you will enjoy this read.
This book is interesting to read. I set out with the preconception that I would discover why people behave like sheep. Why do individuals feel emotionally secure carrying a ‘luxury-label’ branded handbag? The stock answer is to feel part of a tribe: however that is powerfully contradicted by the so-called ‘tribe’ with which one doesn’t so much as pass the time of day, let alone invite the brand-bonded ‘blood brother’ stranger home for dinner? Has the power of visual communication now overcome the power of social interaction between individuals? I enjoy buying a product that has been well thought out, engineered to fulfil its function, and which is both a delight to use, is beautiful to look at, and doesn’t fall apart within ten years
Dana Thomas has written an intriguing book here. Too many so-called ‘luxury’ brands have descended to milk the massive riches of the mass-market by focussing on quantity to the detriment of the quality which lent them the ‘luxury’ tag in the first place. The story of that downfall is comprehensively, fascinatingly and well told by the author.
It is unfortunate that Ms Thomas did not choose to select the most choice and apt examples of evidence to justify her thesis rather than flinging everything she’s discovered at her reader; arrogantly assuming that her reader enjoys the luxury of time, and lots of it. Her thirteen page introduction sets an objective, of sorts, for the remainder of the book. On page 13 she states; “In order to make luxury accessible, tycoons have stripped away all that has made it special.” That could have been stated on page 1, and saved the trees required to make the other twelve pages.
Perhaps her profession as a journalist accounts for her distressing tendency to pile up the descriptive evidence? On finishing this book I felt cheated: I wanted to read more about her conclusions and ideas for changing the status quo.
My principle gripe with this book is that the author’s thesis appears to be misplaced. The title of the book, “Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Lustre” is technically incorrect. It is not 'luxury’ that has lost its lustre; Ms Thomas’ clearly stated argument is that it is individual products, and an awful lot of them, once cherished, now lie badly tarnished through mass production, exploitation of labour markets, and crime.
In Chapter 6 the author illuminatingly describes the highly skilled (and time-consuming) manufacture by hand of Hermés bags. In Chapter 11, “New Luxury”, she discusses and praises the comprehensive and cossetted - by invitation only - shopping experience at Daslu, in São Paolo, Brazil. With apparent unconsciousness she implies, but does not state explicitly, what is ‘now’ (in 2007) considered ‘luxury’: TIME.
So what’s new? Throughout history, TIME has always been valued above almost all else. TIME is luxury, not goods. The very rich have always had paid assistants/servants (& before that, slaves) to do their bidding, merchants chasing their custom, and artists seeking their patronage. There is nothing new in that. If Ms Thomas had recognised this, even at the most basic level, why, at the very least, did she not apply a more apt sub-title to her book?
The list price for this book was US $27.95. I bought this book for £2.00 from a charity (thrift) shop. Good value, I thought, for three days’ reading; and recyclable back to a charity shop.
Great, thoroughly researched book tracking the explosion of masstige in the 90s--the players, the haters & the globalisation. All your fashion subjects are represented.
Geography: There is just enough backstory for the fashion-addled with ADD: the politics behind the rise of China as a manufacturing giant, new money in Russia & buying power in India.
History: among the first to understand the importance of branding are the social climber & legend Gabrielle Chanel & ruined genius Paul Poiret.
Forecasting: my only criticism is here. LVMH & frenemies have reached their acquisition pinnacle, spreading the gospel of the double-C's & Burberry check worldwide. Now what?
One tidbit i will not forget: #1 source of funding for global terrorism? Designer counterfeiters--that's the fake Dior sunglasses on canal street, people. (the last time i buy a fake). We are perilously close to a recession. Stocks of luxury brands are in decline, (except Coach, thanks, Reed) & chavs are saturating the bad taste market. Remember when Jay-Z threatened to delete all mentions of Cristal after a spokesperson from the brand said publicly, thanks, but no thanks to all you rappers & your shout-outs? That's the luxury backlash in action. Only it's too late for all that. Have the barons of luxury (Arnault, et al) killed their babies?
Immediately engaging. THE book I would ask a genie for at this moment, but instead found on the tables of Barnes and Nobles. A fascinating and incredibly relevant read. Luxury culture is perhaps one of the most discussed of current events, and will continue to be. To be savvy on this topic is invaluable. I've been reading fashion magazines for years, so I knew most of the names and references and could appreciate the gossip, but it would be clear and interesting for everyone. It will inform all of my decisions as a consumer in the future. Dana Thomas is experienced, aware, and talented. I could not put it down.
Do you remember the old movies in which the hero and/or heroine are about to depart via ocean liner and rushing about are porters with carts stacked high with trunks? Lots of trunks and that is what the first of the notable designers worked on - Louis Vuitton starting in 1854 as he redesigned the travelling trunk with flat tops which could be easily stacked with custom canvas and expanded into other pieces. In fact, even today, there are 450-500 special custom orders received for handmade steamer bags, handbags and other transport pieces.
And that's only the beginning of Thomas' exploration of the luxury trade. From perfumers to shoemakers, custom handbags and accessories to shirts, dresses, gowns and suits. All the names that today's fashionista would be familiar with and the devoted would save up to purchase just one. How the early designers managed to survive two world wars that devastated supply availability as well as skilled artisans lost in battle. Expansion into other countries and eventually into the Far East where Japanese tourists would flood into European designer stores and purchase whatever they could in order to sell back home, fulfilling the yearn for designer clothes and accessories just as the Western world wanted. The handbag is the easiest way to buy into luxury by the middle class.
Distinct individualism of luxury brand stores transformed and became homogenized to the point that the same boutique designer was being used across several different companies felling that it showed their 'impeccable taste' while it only showed a lack of innovation. It didn't matter where the shopper went, most retail stores - from Paris to Las Vegas to Tokyo, they all looked alike and the only difference was the name above the door - if there was one. And then there is the premium outlet stores which if far better than either burning the product or sending off to discount stores which will then reap the profits.
In the 1980's - 1990's, the European luxury brands were being consolidated as the founders and first generations were dying off and the cost of expansion, skilled artisans, government business costs, finding the next design that appealed to the buying public.
Of course, then there are the stylists that dress and help accessorize their celebrity clients even as the designers recognized the advantage of "free' publicity of celebrities wearing their goods. Unfortunately, stylists began to make demands - vacations, trips, liposuction, even cash - in order to present a designer's goods to their celebrity client. Now, celebrities have caught on and demand clothes, jewelry, shoes, gift certificates for thousands of dollars, custom trips to pricy vacation spots.
Thomas eventually talks of the perfume industry - a scent that is developed to hit certain 'points' - men, women, teens, European, American, Far East, bold, subtle, strong, feminine, old, classic and on and on. All those perfumes that your favorite celebrity releases and sponsors is quite lucrative but has a sales life of about 3 years.
Then there is the outsourcing - specialty weavers of fabric or leather workers. Silk is now woven in Mauritius with assembly of those luxury goods being done in China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Bangladesh. On-line selling and shopping.
And of course, the counterfeiting of goods - from DVD's to drugs - was estimated in 2004 at $200 billion U.S. dollars along with the equivalent lost tax revenue of $20-24 billion with criminal groups and terrorist organizations getting most of the profits. Which is a surprising destination for illegal gains. Never though that your fake Prada was providing money to buy guns for the latest terrorist group.
It's an interesting review of the luxury industry that started so many decades ago and for many, managed to survive. But, in turn, many have focused on appealing to 'everyone' that they have lost what really made them so luxurious - the dilapidated stale burger instead of a steak grilled to your specifics. You'll be fed but your taste buds may not appreciate your choice or in this case, you'll have a handbag with the 'right name' but it will have lost it's preciousness.
The story felt scattered and the thesis was blurry, and that was only exacerbated by the poor-quality writing (a good editor would have been useful). Though I learned a lot about the luxury industry, the book drags on in many places and gets into details that are unnecessary. I came away overloaded with information but unclear on why it mattered or what the point was. Overall, I’m coming away with a disgust for commercialism and the luxury industry as a whole. I’m giving it two stars since the author snags some high profile interviews so kudos to her for that.
Ps was this supposed to be some sort of expose on the luxury industry? If so, it was only partially successful since the author is enamored with luxury brands.
El libro nos permite conocer la historia de las compañías más famosas que se han dedicado a la manufactura de artículos del lujo, a la vez que nos muestra la evolución de este sector, que nació para satisfacer a muy pocos, a convertirse luego en la gran industria internacional que es actualmente masificando los productos del lujo. Llevando a cabo la paradoja de usar el consumismo capitalista para llevar el lujo de las clases más ricas a las menos favorecidas económicamente.
El libro comienza hablando de los inicios de tal vez la mayor compañía del lujo, que es Louis Vuitton. Nos muestra su historia desde sus humildes orígenes hasta convertirse en una gran empresa internacional y los cambios de dueños que ha tenido. Cambiando totalmente la definición del lujo en el mundo del siglo XXI. Siendo Bernard Arnault un hombre clave, un monstruo de los negocios literalmente hablando. Le quitó con tretas la compañía Louis-Vuitton a la familia Vuitton y luego la convirtió en un grupo corporativo que devoraba todo a su paso, la LVMH.
También se habla de otros grupos grandes como el grupo Richemont (Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Dunhill, Montblanc, Chloé, Piaget, etc) de Anton Rupert y el grupo PPR (Pinault-Printemps-Redoute) del multimillonario François Pinault, que llegó a comprar la mayor parte de acciones del gigante Gucci. Ahora el grupo PPR cambió de nombre a Kering.
Hay todo un capítulo acerca de la dinámica del lujo en Japón que es un mercado muy valioso y curioso debido a la especial sociedad japonesa diferente al resto del mundo.
Luego en los capítulos siguientes se enfocan en determinados sectores dentro de los artículos de lujo contando su historia y su presente. Vemos los vestidos y ropa de lujo y la forma como ha cambiado su dinámica de venta y publicidad desde las actrices en los años dorados de Hollywood hasta el surgimiento del oficio del estilismo, diseñadores, y el mundo de las celebridades que sirven como medio para la publicidad de marcas, sobre todo usando la premiación de los premios Oscar.
El mundo del perfume y su industria es explicada, desde los perfumistas de la corte real francesa a las actuales esencias sintéticas de ahora. Nos muestran el proceso del perfume desde los campos de flores italianos a su fabricación por grandes laboratorios suizos o alemanes hasta su distribución y venta por las grandes compañías del lujo. En este capítulo se traza una breve biografía de Coco Chanel y uno de sus productos más clásicos el perfume Chanel Nº5.
Otro capítulo se enfoca en el artículo sobre el que descansa la mayor parte de las utilidades de estas industrias: el bolso de mujer. Conocemos el origen de los bolsos Hermès, la mochila Prada, la tecnología Gucci. Y nos presenta al bolso como todo un fenómeno social, el bolso convirtiéndose en un claro ejemplo de la globalización. El cambio de la manufactura de Europa o América a China.
Otro producto estrella son las prendas de punto de seda. Artículo de lujo desde la antigua China, su apogeo italiano en la edad media hasta el siglo XX. Y vemos como desde fines del siglo XX las industrias de la seda prácticamente han regresado a China por sus costes más baratos de manufactura. Y aunque solo Armani reconozca que fabrica sus artículos en China, en realidad son muchas más compañías las que hacen lo mismo pero no lo divulgan o usan trucos de exportación para que sus productos no terminen con el sello made in China.
Vemos el proceso de masificación, los outlets, las tiendas virtuales de internet, las modas por temporadas cada vez más cortas, las tiendas de lujo en las Vegas y otros lugares de EE.UU., la moda bling bling de los raperos y como ha degenerado el mundo del lujo al masificarse.
Se nos enseña el mundo de la falsificación de productos de lujo, a nivel mundial, desde los vendedores ambulantes en Los Angeles, los talleres clandestinos en Nueva York, hasta las factorías enormes en China que son las grandes surtidoras de la falsificación en el mundo. Lo que las empresas han hecho para combatir la piratería, y sus efectos en la sociedad. Incluso se acompaña a la policía china en redadas a falsificadores y se presentan casos desgarradores como el de Tailandia donde se usaban a niños esclavos y se les rompía las piernas para que solo se dediquen a la confección de ropa pirateada.
También el mercado del lujo en mercados nuevos o distantes como en China, Rusia, India y en el Brasil por medio de la tienda más lujosa del mundo: Daslu en Sao Paulo. Al final se nos ofrece una mirada más actual sobre las nuevas tendencias de los ricos en el mundo del lujo y una reflexión a que el lujo ya no es lo que era. A palabras del famoso diseñador Tom Ford: es como el McDonalds. Las compañías de lujo al poner como prioridad a las ganancias masivas y someterse al mercado accionario internacional hicieron que los artículos de lujo perdieran el brillo que tenían antaño, haciéndolos más accesibles a las clases no-ricas.
El libro es un gran trabajo de investigación, tanto histórico, empresarial y periodístico. Se hacen entrevistas a gente importante del sector como los diseñadores Tom Ford, Karl Lagerfeld, o cabezas de la industria como Miuccia Prada. Se presentan datos concretos y hasta las reflexiones que se hacen se pueden usar para elaborar un estudio sociológico del comportamiento de masas y el cambio de tendencias tanto en los negocios como en los hábitos de consumo de ricos y los no-ricos.
I'm still not sure what this book was trying to say - yes, luxury is no longer represented by a handful of top quality items available to the smallest percentage of the hyper-rich, but the author doesn't really make any tangible conclusions about whether this is something to regret or not. On the plus side, this turned out to be a solid and engaging history of several big luxury brands, and given that I didn't know much about any of them I found it to be a fun and interesting read.
3.5 stars - It was more novel like than I wanted it to be but nonetheless interesting and entertaining. Personally, i do think it could have been shorter though, as the message was clear: Luxury has gone mass and the shift from quality and exclusivity to mere profit margins has ruined brands DNA and undermined the luxury industry overall.
it seems like thomas's thesis about the big 90s shift in the fashion industry is now common understanding — good for her. lots of details in here just like in gods & kings, some juicy reportage (miuccia comes off SO disinterested lol), but ... just like in gods & kings ... she settles for the easy narrative every time.
Wow! What an eye opener! “Deluxe” gives us insight to the business of luxury. There are so many stories to be told, from the luxury houses to the lowly factory worker. From the business up and downs to worries of the future. It was a book I couldn’t put down! I must read for all who love luxury!
I'm be no means a person who is obsessed with luxury goods, but this was a fascinating read that explained the culture around such products, the companies who produce them, and the key players in the industry. Like most people, I recognize the names (i.e. Chanel, Gucci, Prada, etc.), but couldn't for the life of me tell you who their designers are or what their image/reputation is (i.e. Hermes is the epitome of classic style while other lines are known to be more daring).
Thomas did a superb job walking her reader through a brief, yet thorough, history of each house and included interesting tidbits that I would have never dreamed even existed (i.e. Louis Vuitton collaborated with the Nazis during the German occupation of France; they supported the Vichy regime which was repsonsible for the deportation of French Jews to German concentration camps. They even had a factory dedicated to producing artifacts glorifying Petain, a Nazi leader, including the creation of over 2,500 busts in his likeness.) Most houses started off as small shops where the focus was on the craft; the clientele was limited, personal service was paramount, and the business was a family affair. As corporate America began to get whiffs of the profit potential on luxury goods, many of the companies were eventually sold to corporate entities and huge luxury conglomerates were formed. At this point, the houses answered to stockholders rather than their elite clientele and the focus shifted from the art of the product to the bottom line. Shockingly, many of the luxury goods that are mass marketed (i.e. logoed purses, ready wear, small leater goods like wallets, etc.) are now made in China by machines and inferior materials rather than being hand-crafted by artisits in Italy or France. Interestingly, the disclosure requirements for the "Made in ______" labels are much more lax in most other countries and it's not uncommon for luxury good companies to rip off the made in China labels and replace it with a made in Italy or France label in order to avoid alienating customers.
Thomas covered not only history and the coroprate-ification of the industry, but also how Hermes makes its purses (which there is a perpetual waiting list for; all are handmade with superb quality products by craftsmen and cost $$$$) vs. how other luxury companies do. She examines perfume, working conditions now that many companies have production facilities in emerging countries, counterfeting, the globalization of luxury, mass marketing, and a myriad of other topics. At the core, the ever-present question is "Are mass marketed items really luxury?" which begets the follow up, "How will the luxury industry evolve when the elite want something more exclusive?"
This book was interesting on so many levels - I would definitely recommend it. Below is a list of random factoids from the book, for your enjoyment.
- The Japanese buy half of all luxury goods - Perfume is considered entry-level in the industry; it's relative inexpensiveness is a good way to let people feel like they're "buying into the dream" - Cleopatra had the sails of her ships perfumed - Louis XV doused doves with perfume before parties so when they flied around the would scent the around - Napoleon used 2 bottles of cologne every day - Eau de toilette is the most diluted for of perfume containing only 6 - 12% of perfume/etract; eau de parfum contains 8 - 20% - A bottle of Chanel No. 5 is sold every 30 seconds - Coco Chanel got the nickname "Coco" when she was a young cabaret singer; the 2 songs she was most well-known for included the words "coco". When she created Chanel No. 5 and entered into a production and distribution agreement, she only received 10% of the profits - It's estimated that 11% of the world's clothing and footwear is fake - The International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition on Washington estimates that up to 7% ($600B) of today's global trade is counterfeit goods - NYC loses $1B in tax revenue annually due to the sale of counterfeit goods - People don't believe there is a difference between real and fake anymore. Consumers don't buy luxury branded items for what they ARE, but what they REPRESENT. And good fakes now represent socially the same thing as real. - Chrisitan Laboutin remains a small independent company. When asked how much he does in sales annually, he gave the interviewer a blank look and said, "I have no idea."