February 7, 2008

Review: Deluxe – How Luxury Lost Its Lustre (Dana Thomas)

Posted in review tagged , , at 4:25 pm by classyaction

Deluxe - How Luxury Lost Its Lustre

For those who miss the day of old-style Hollywood glamour – the elegant Garbo gliding through a film or a perfectly coiffed Grace Kelly offering a quiet smile at the cameras – there are still others who jettisoned celebrity to the masses through popular culture today.

Deluxe is Dana Thomas’ exploration on how the fashion industry has changed: from the stark beginnings of LVMH as a quiet couture brand to the massive powerhouse today; how Givenchy launched their brand name successfully through clever Hollywood positioning in once-unknown Audrey Hepburn.

Some not-so-secret-yet-not-scandalous-enough-to-be-gossiped-about trade stories are divulged. LVMH, for example, is the majority holder of those tax-free Duty Free Shops you commonly see in travel. They transcend former boundaries. No longer are DFS restricted to airport settings: under the helm of skillful management, the DFS Galleria opened to great fanfare in the shopping district. The tales of brand management evolve, the backstabbing world of artistic conflict, and the story of Rachel Zoe’s inexplicable popularity amongst the stars are explored.

It is the Japanese who can be credited with changing the look of the industry as we see it today, with their voracious appetite for seeking name-brand items. It is a curious socioeconomic phenomenon with Japanese custom, Thomas offers. As a ‘classless society’ that prizes conformity, it is argued that their high end purchases are a sign of the Japanese desire to elevate their country’s social status. Despite the psychological hoo-ha behind it all, there’s no denying their purchasing power and how their demand for quality has changed the industry’s attention to detail.

An excellent exerpt from the book follows:

Back in the 1980s, when [Chanel Japan’s president, Richard] Collasse worked for another luxury brand, a Japanese woman brought a dress in and said it had a defect. Collasse looked and looked and finally saw a two-inch thread dangling from the hem. It was absolutely unacceptable to her. Collasse exchanged the dress, bowed repeatedly, and sent her a big bouquet of flowers. Then he decided to do a test. He took the dress to a French woman. She tried it on, liked it, saw the thread, and said, “I can cut it.” He took the dress to an American woman. She tried it on, liked it, and never saw the thread.

Is it any wonder than North America’s most popular retailer includes Zara and H&M, the so-called ‘fast fashion’ stores that rip off cheap copies of runway looks within two weeks? Our society’s current fascination with fashion and luxury seems cheap, shoddy, and superficial in comparison to the hushed, secretive and utterly lush couture houses of the past. Where it once seems to have been tacky to discuss where couture was to be found, large brands including Louis Vuitton and Chanel are now banking upon the young nouveau-riche (or simply pampered) 14-year olds to trot around unassumingly with branded diaper bags, real or not.

It’s well-worth a quick perusal: there’s no groundbreaking news, but for fresh-faced and cynical fashionistas alike, there’s something to be enjoyed. Don’t knock the masses for craving luxury goods.  If Joan Somebody can’t afford to fork over $82,500 for a bejewelled purse, we’ll take the next best thing if it nudges the decimal point 2 places over.  If nothing else, it helps redefine what Moschino may have meant by ‘Cheap & Chic’.

And afterwards, you can take your fake Prada purse to the mall with you indulge in some cheap retail therapy.