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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.
*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
Top customer reviews
In assembling all this information, parts of the book seem disjointed, and even though Thomas weaves a loose thesis it's an easy book to put down. For instance, Thomas squeezes as much excitement as she can from the founding of the great European luxury houses like Hermes and Gucci but the endless parade of founding fathers and grandfathers can get a bit dull.
Overall, it's a largely enjoyable read for the casual reader interested in fashion or business in general.
The big transformation of the luxury industry in the past two decades has simple roots: the industry went public (as in, stock market public), and once you go public, it's all about making money (read, optimizing profits). The book covers a lot of ground: the history of popular brands, the rise of mega-companies such as LMVH, outsourcing strategies, the lucrative business of brand licensing and accessories, and much more.
The title of the book is evocative and I'm sure many will love to dispute it - just mention the title to anyone who's into fashion and watch their reaction! That said, perhaps a more straightforward description is that it's an industry in transition, like any other. The "luxury" of the past is being reinvented, in some cases commoditized, and replaced by new brands and companies. And you know what, that's a good thing!