mercredi 16 juillet 2008

When luxury loses its luster

Deluxe: How Luxury has Lost its Lustre by Dana Thomas has just come out in paperback! That's great news as I think its one of the most interesting books to come out on the fashion industry.
Deluxe gets off to a running start with the evolution of the luxury industry. It traces its beginnings from the nobility period when craftsmen were proud to make and present the best of their wares to royalty. At that time luxury had noble aspirations. However, the inevitable rise of the middle class gave birth to a new phenomenon whereby the newly rich could now afford the very things that used only to be within the reach of the very rich. And this fact was very cleverly seized by businessmen and launched the new era of luxury where it was made available and indeed, accessible to everyone.
From there, the book goes on to detail the activities of several high fashion groups and the way they run their empires. It is especially interesting to learn about the designer, who we normally know only by their name, or by their bag, shoes or clothes, as an actual person. For instance, Miuccia Prada is described as “a woman who had been raised in haute bourgeois society, with servants and grandeur and politesse. Unlike her competitor, Donatella Versace, who came from nothing, Prada’s airs are not airs at all: her snobbery is in her bones.” Flattering or unflattering, such descriptions gives a sense of the person behind the label and how such personality reflects on the house designs.
The author likewise takes pains to detail how luxury shopping has encircled and continues to encircle the globe. And it’s very funny to read detailed chapters on the spending habits of several different countries. One realizes just why people are limited to a specific number of items when shopping and why when walking down Champs Elysee, you could get asked to buy a bag for someone. It seems that shopping habits have been studied with as much intensity as global warming, if not more so.
Reading this book, one is lead to ask whether there is anything wrong with making luxury as accessible to everyone, as much as possible. What is wrong with the democratization of luxury and the derivation of profit? As Thomas points out, Bernard Arnault and other luxury group stockholders certainly can’t and indeed don’t complain. And the ever expanding prosperous middle class and newly minted millionaires of developing countries are among the first to welcome such development. Certainly there is nothing wrong if we don’t consider that we are losing a more genteel, rarefied way of life. And even more certainly, there is nothing wrong with thinking that we are all entitled to luxury. And does it really matter that the proliferation of so-called luxury products in our every day life has all but erased the distinction between what real luxury is and the mere appearance of it. What is wrong with buying into the dream? Nothing except if you consider the fact that it is now a business and a multi-billion dollar one at that. The very antithesis of what it used to be. Luxury is no longer the experience of having something produced out of genuine passion and waiting to be able to acquire such a thing; where the waiting enhances the experience and becomes as delicious a moment as having the actual object in one’s hands. It is about having something of beauty that lasts more than its allotted shelf life and getting a glimpse of eternity. That is what we are all entitled to but paradoxically in today’s world is now as rare as real luxury. It is in losing such experience that luxury has lost its luster.

Question: What's your take on the fashion industry and the way it impacts our society now?

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