Dana Thomas began her career writing for the style section of The Washington Post and served for 15 years as the European cultural and fashion correspondent for Newsweek in Paris. She is a contributing editor for T: The New York Times Style Magazine and has written for The New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, and the Financial Times. She lives in Paris.
As cultural and fashion editor for Newsweek in Paris, Thomas is well positioned to provide an in-depth business history of the luxury goods industry, including its modern evolution. Owing to corporate greed, globalization, and excessive brand licensing across diverse product lines, small family-run ateliers that furnished exclusive products to elite customers have all but disappeared along with the artistry, quality, and personalized service associated with these items. The only distinction between luxury and mass-marketed goods now may be the label, which itself drives the price. Despite the current profit-driven environment, Thomas recognizes that small new companies offering impeccable craftsmanship continually sprout up to serve select niches, yet how long these enterprises last before succumbing to the lure of great profits associated with mass production and consumerism is debatable. Besides being a fascinating read suitable for public libraries, this book is a valuable resource for special libraries collecting in the luxury goods and related industries for better understanding previous business and marketing strategies and their outcomes.-Caroline Geck, Kean Univ. Lib., Union, NJ Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
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 Hermes 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 Garcons. 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 2007 Reed Business Information.
The Devil Wears Herms (He Bought It at the Caesars Palace Mall in Las Vegas)
By MICHIKO KAKUTANI
Skip to next paragraph Back in the late 1980s, the Prada backpack made out of black or tobacco-brown parachute fabric trimmed in leather became the it bag for many would-be fashionistas. It was hip, modern, lightweight and at $450 expensive, but not as expensive as the stratospherically priced bags made by Herms and Chanel. According to the fashion reporter Dana Thomas, that Prada backpack was also the emblem of the radical change that luxury was undergoing at the time: the shift from small family businesses of beautifully handcrafted goods to global corporations selling to the middle market a shift from exclusivity to accessibility, from an emphasis on tradition and quality to an emphasis on growth and branding and profits.
With Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, Ms. Thomas who has been the cultural and fashion writer for Newsweek in Paris for 12 years has written a crisp, witty social history thats as entertaining as it is informative. Traveling from French perfume laboratories to Las Vegas shopping malls to assembly-line factories in China, she traces the evolving face of the luxury goods business, from design through marketing to showroom sales.
She gives us some sharply observed profiles of figures like Miuccia Prada, who was a Communist with a doctorate in political science when she took over her familys small luxury goods business in 1978, and the business tycoon Bernard Arnault, who relentlessly built LVMH into a luxury monolith with dozens of brands (including Louis Vuitton, Givenchy and Dior)sold around the world.
Ms. Thomas peppers her narrative with lots of amusing asides about everything from how orange became Hermss signature color because it was the only color widely available during World War II to the money-saving benefits of raw-edge cutting, which has been marketed to the public as a cutting-edge, avant-garde innovation.
But her focus remains on how a business that once catered to the wealthy elite has gone mass-market and the effects that democratization has had on the way ordinary people shop today, as conspicuous consumption and wretched excess have spread around the world. Labels, once discreetly stitched into couture clothes, have become logos adorning everything from baseball hats to supersized gold chains. Perfumes, once dreamed up by designers with an idea about a particular scent, are now concocted from briefs written by marketing executives brandishing polls and surveys and sales figures.
With globalization, Paris and New York are no longer exclusive luxury meccas. Ms. Thomas notes that a gigantic 690,000-square-foot luxury mall called Crocus City (featuring 180 boutiques, including Armani, Pucci and Versace) is flourishing outside Moscow, and that a group of high-end boutiques will be part of a luxury complex called Legation Quarter, scheduled to open in Tiananmen Square later this year.
Approximately 40 percent of all Japanese own a Vuitton product today, she says, and one recent poll showed that by 2004 the average American woman was buying more than four handbags a year. With more people visiting Caesars Palaces glitzy Forum Shops each year than Disney World, Las Vegashas made shopping synonymous with gambling and entertainment, even as outlet malls have brought designer clothing and accessories within the reach (and budget) of many suburbanites.
High-profile luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, Herms and Cartier were founded in the 18th or 19th centuries by artisans dedicated to creating beautiful, finely made wares for the royal court in France and later, with the fall of the monarchy, for European aristocrats and prominent American families. Luxury remained, writes Ms. Thomas, a domain of the wealthy and the famous until the Youthquake of the 1960s pulled down social barriers and overthrew elitism. It would remain out of style until a new and financially powerful demographic the unmarried female executive emerged in the 1980s.
As both disposable income and credit-card debt soared in industrialized nations, the middle class became the target of luxury vendors, who poured money into provocative advertising campaigns and courted movie stars and celebrities as style icons. In order to maximize profits, many corporations looked for ways to cut corners: they began to use cheaper materials, outsource production to developing nations (while falsely claiming that their goods were made in Western Europe) and replace hand craftsmanship with assembly-line production. Classic goods meant to last for years gave way, increasingly, to trendy items with a short shelf life; cheaper lines (featuring lower-priced items like T-shirts and cosmetic cases) were introduced as well.
Although this volume quotes Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue, saying such changes mean that more people are going to get betterfashion and the more people who can have fashion, the better, the author reaches a more elitist and pessimistic conclusion. The luxury industry has changed the way people dress, she writes. It has realigned our economic class system. It has changed the way we interact with others. 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.
"New York Times", 8/21/07
Luxury, and How It Became Common
HARRY HURT III
WANT to buy luxury products like Louis Vuitton handbags? Gucci shoes? Prada dresses? Theres no need to comb the fashion alleys of New York, Paris or Milan in search of the brands boutique stores. Just zip over to the nearest mall, where high-end department stores hawk luggage, footwear, apparel, jewelry and virtually every other designer-label item that ever appeared under the klieg lights.
But be prepared to see scores of fellow shoppers already wearing the exact goods you covet.
Therein lies the cruel commercial irony at the core of Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, by Dana Thomas, a Paris-based culture and fashion writer for Newsweek (Penguin Press, 375 pages, $27.95).
Ms. Thomas documents in entertaining and sometimes heart-wrenching detail how the luxury industry evolved from a proudly diverse array of family-owned houses into a $157 billion-a-year mass market whose products now lack the exclusivity and in many cases the quality craftsmanship that formed the basis for their cachet in the first place.
Along with changing the way we dress, the luxury industry has realigned our economic class system, Ms. Thomas asserts. It has changed the way we interact, she says. 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.
At first lip-blush, that might seem like merely an elitist complaint. Ms. Thomas shows, however, that the repercussions of democratizing luxury have had dire effects across the globe, and on almost every socio-economic level.
The corporate quest to reduce operating costs, for example, often leads to the creation of sweatshops. Along the way come an array of related crimes ranging from fraudulent labeling and counterfeiting to embezzlement and even prostitution paid for with luxury goods in lieu of cash.
If the corporatization of luxury is new, the flaunting of wealth through acquisitions is not: It dates at least as far back as the ancient Greeks and Etruscans. The ancestry of modern extravagance traces to the Bourbons and the Bonapartes. (After France earned $15 million selling hundreds of millions of acres to the United States, Napoleons wife, Josephine, spent half of the money on clothes in 10 years, Ms. Thomas reports.)
Ms. Thomas argues that luxury not only indicates our tastes in fashion, it also defines our political, social, and economic standing and our self-worth. In America, the prevailing standards of taste and style were once set by new rich industrialists like the Vanderbilts, Carnegies, Morgans and Rockefellers.
Luxury wasnt simply a product, Ms. Thomas writes. It denoted a history of tradition, superior quality, and often a pampered buying experience.
Luxury was a natural and expected element of upper-class life, like belonging to the right clubs or having the right surname. And it was produced in small quantities often made to order for an extremely limited and truly elite clientele.
Enter the villains of Ms. Thomas book, the 35 leading luxury brands that now control over 60 percent of the global market. The list includes Prada, Gucci, Giorgio Armani, Herms and Chanel, all of which have revenue in excess of $1 billion a year. But the Mr. Big of the big luxury is LVMH Mot Hennessy Louis Vuitton, an $11 billion conglomerate whose labels also include Dior, Fendi and Berluti.
Some of the best-written and most damning passages in Deluxe recount the rise of LVMHs chairman, Bernard Arnault, considered by his critics to be the Machiavelli of luxury industry finance. Ms. Thomas describes how Mr. Arnault forced out the founding Vuitton clan in a vicious battle fueled by accusations of espionage and public smear tactics.
a What Fast Food Nation did for food service, this book does for fashiona
a"Los Angeles Times"
a A crisp, witty social history thatas as entertaining as it is informative.a
aMichiko Kakutani, "The New York Times"
a Globalization, capitalization, class, and culture . . . A fascinating book.a
aFareed Zakaria, "Newsweek"
a What Fast Food Nation did for food service, this book does for fashion, exposing the underbelly of the $157-billion luxury industry and the lockstep consumer psychology behind its glamorous veneer.a
a"Los Angeles Times"
What Fast Food Nation did for food service, this book does for fashion
"Los Angeles Times"
A crisp, witty social history that s as entertaining as it is informative.
Michiko Kakutani, "The New York Times"
Globalization, capitalization, class, and culture . . . A fascinating book.
Fareed Zakaria, "Newsweek"
What Fast Food Nation did for food service, this book does for fashion, exposing the underbelly of the $157-billion luxury industry and the lockstep consumer psychology behind its glamorous veneer.
"Los Angeles Times"
? What Fast Food Nation did for food service, this book does for fashion?
?"Los Angeles Times"
? A crisp, witty social history that's as entertaining as it is informative.?
?Michiko Kakutani, "The New York Times"
? Globalization, capitalization, class, and culture . . . A fascinating book.?
?Fareed Zakaria, "Newsweek"
? What Fast Food Nation did for food service, this book does for fashion, exposing the underbelly of the $157-billion luxury industry and the lockstep consumer psychology behind its glamorous veneer.?
?"Los Angeles Times"