Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster
By Dana Thomas
The Penguin Press, New York: 2007
I picked this book up as a companion to Elizabeth Cline’s Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, which turned out to be the perfect progression. As urgent-but-approachable Overdressed felt, Thomas takes the curious reader a step deeper in Deluxe.
She travels all over the world to see the rise, fall, and shifts of modern luxury, interviewing people in Japan, Hawaii, Los Angeles, France, Mauritius, China, Brazil, and others. Visiting everything from haute couture headquarters to sweatshops, and centuries-old artisans to back-alley counterfeiters, Thomas crosses all boundaries to share her in-depth investigation of what luxury used to mean, what it means now, and its potential future. Yet despite all this movement, the book stays focused, and incisive.
From interviews, Thomas recaptures the exclusive shopping experiences of earlier decades and the development of personal style, and the shift to the “must-have,” brand-plastered trend buys of today. She traces the origins and history of craftsmen and artisans that created Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, Armani, Hermès, and Louboutin, as many (but not all!) passed to the management of businessmen in the global economy. The people she interviews are those in the best position to reveal all, and they don’t disappoint: Bernard Arnault (chairmain of LVMH), Alexander McQueen, Tom Ford, Miuccia Prada, Giorgio Armani, Anna Wintour (editor-in-chief of Vogue), and Jean-Claude Ellena (Hermès’s nose), just to name a few…
One of my favorite sections is when Thomas explains how one goes about ordering a Hermès bag, proceeded by a visit to a workshop (note: not a factory!) where she details the construction process of Hermès’s handbags.
While it’s unlikely I’ll have the income for a purse that costs thousands of dollars, or that I’ll be in the market for a haute couture garment, I dread the loss of artistry as small industries– like the French flower farms in Grasse, or the Antico Setificio Fiorentino, the oldest silk factory in Italy– which face a yearly struggle for survival. And I mourn as Thomas notes how “designers—once the founders and owners of luxury companies—are now hired hands that are as disposable as the clothes and handbags they create.” (322)