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Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster Paperback – July 29, 2008
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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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
*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 midnineteenth 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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
One big thing about this book is that it is big on history. Many famous houses' histories are detailed in this book and while you might feel it a little boring at times, I think it contributes very much to the bigger picture.
If you are trying to become a more conscientious shopper like myself, also watch the documentary "The True Cost".
This book is FASCINATING! Thomas has access to all the major players in fashion and provides details on how some of the most iconic brands got their start. Names like Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Versace etc., and how they have evolved into today.
Many of these brands started out very small with lots of attention paid to detail and quality. Only the most richest people of society could afford some of these brands until there was a marketing explosion during the 80s and 90s in which most of these brands were bought out by corporations.
Anyway, that's when the decline started happening and some of these brand names actually have stuff produced and made in China, but assembled in Italy or France so that they can still carry the "made in Italy or France" label.
It's really interesting how Thomas traces these brand names from their respective family owned businesses to when they were bought out by corporations.
She also discusses the issues of buying fake bags and counterfeit goods. Many think that buying a knock-off version of an expensive bag is a victimless crime, but it is not. You'll find out why in this book.
Also, even though the "crossover" of luxury brands to the masses is a good thing -- meaning more people can afford to own one or two luxury items even if they aren't millionaires -- the downside is that now the quality has gone down, and since there must be a high turn over rate of selling more and more, nothing is made to last, unlike items that were made a decade or so ago.
I would definitely recommend this book if you buy brand names like Chanel, Vuitton or the like, or even if you don't because this book will have you rethinking the whole idea of what luxury is.
I entered the world of luxury goods last year for an Italian brand that even it's "epicenter" store is elusive without the name of the store on Rodeo Drive. What Dana Thomas has written about the luxury brands is eye opening and condemning. From the factories in China, Santee Alley in the Downtown Los Angeles and the country side of France, you get the insiders view on how indeed luxury lost its luster. Once considered lavish and extravagant, we now see what luxury brands have done to diminish the quality and service of these high end stores and at great cost. No one walks into Gucci and buys a $2000 handbag expecting it to be made by an under paid teenager in China only to have the tag changed once it is in the companies possession to "made in Italy" for adding a handle. Small couture brands exist that retain a sense of dignity by continuing the art of exclusivity, style and hand made products that are still created and made where the tag states they're from. Even Hermes, a brand that continues to grow steadily, has retained its heritage and luxe by hand making made to order handbags and saddles.
Aside from the investigative interviews and reports on luxury's current state, you also get history lessons on the birth of luxury from Alexander the Great's wardrobe, how Chanel No 5 came to be and the creation of the "Birkin" bag for Jane Birkin by Hermes. Witty, insightful and damning, you can't help but feel drawn into this book hoping that it never ends. But all good things come to an end and what I was left with was a sense of doubt and a bit of anger. As I stand in floor full of runway dresses, shoes and bags I wonder how much are these really worth? When a client complains in the future about her bag falling apart in a few days and asks, "What are your bags made in China?" in the back of my mind I will think yes it indeed could have been made in China.
This book should be prescribed reading for anyone studying or working in any field of marketing, and anyone and everyone consuming luxury goods - which basically means all of us - because we are all partaking in some element of the story, whether it's a branded lipstick, a perfume or more. And as for those who purchase counterfeit goods, this book is mandatory reading for you.
The currency of the subject matter and the incredibly engaging and interesting writing style of Dana Thomas, mean this book will appeal to readers of any age, gender and interest. Don't hesitate - buy this book, and buy it for others as a gift. You wont be disappointed.