March 11, 2010

book review: deluxe - how luxury lost its luster

I was finally able to read "Deluxe - How Luxury Lost its Luster", after the poor book had been sitting in my bookshelf for more than a year, waiting for me to find some time for it. And boy am I glad I finally found the time: I loved it!

Deluxe is a book about fashion, about logos, about designer stuff and all the ugly secrets behind the pretty handbags. See, the author, Dana Thomas is first of all a great writer, but for the intent of this book she also traveled around the world, to listen to stories first hand and then report them back faithfully. She sat down and talked to the Vuittons, Prada, the Hermes people, and big business men like Bernard Arnault.

This book, in fact, is not about how gorgeous is that Luis Vuitton bag, but more about how people like Bernard Arnault have taken that bag and made it a luxury business and a very profitable one for themselves. Unfortunately for us, the middle class buyers, all we have become is a target, and most time at the cost of quality and of our pockets.

There are many fascinating facts in the book, like the story behind Luis Vuitton canvas colors, how it was originally red and beige and later changed to the signature brown and beige. Also, did you know that it was Georges Vuitton, Luis' son, that designed both the Damier pattern and came up with the monogram pattern of interlocking LVs and diamond, stars and flowers in response to counterfeiting?

But there are also many other stories about money and big business men taking over fashion brands and collecting them for their portfolios, uncaring about the original values of those fashion houses, like Mr. Arnault, who brutally renovated, among others, Dior and Givenchy (firing people that had been working with those brands forever).

One of the stories that upset me was about Coco Chanel and how she got pushed out of her own business profits by unscrupulous people like the Wertheimers. I mean how do you cut a deal to produce Chanel No.5 and only give Coco 10% (while Pierre Wertheimer got 70% and the person that introduced them got 20%)? And after many lawsuits Chanel got a "better" deal: 2% of world sales. After so much animosity, when No.5 sales started to lag, Pierre Wertheimer visited Chanel, then 70 years old, to help her launch her couture collection. Today the Wertheimers are still the sole owners of Chanel. This makes me not want to buy anything Chanel ever again.

An interesting chapter is the one about handbags and "Made in China" labels. Hundreds of thousands of luxury handbags are produced in China every day, but very few brands admit to doing it.

"Few bags actually carry the "Made in China" label. If they do, is well hidden. For one bag, the tag was sewn into the bottom seam of the inside pocket. For another, it was stamped on the reverse side of a postage-stamp-size leather flap that bears the brand's logo. You need a magnifying glass to read it."

One of the toughest chapters to read was the one about knock-offs. While on the surface it seems that there is really nothing wrong about buying a fake Gucci bag, the market behind these knock-offs is downright scary. Usually the people involved in making these fakes are not exclusively involved in the knock-off business but they also deal with drugs, firearms, child prostitution, human trafficking and terrorism.

"Investigators even believe that there may be a link between counterfeiting and the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. The week after the attacks, fifteen hundred counterfeit vendor stalls at the Tri-Border Market in South America, where $70 million of business is done in cash every day, closed shop."

And the most painful paragraph to read:

"The children who work in counterfeit factories are usually housed by the owners. I remember walking into an assembly plant in Thailand a couple of years ago and seeing six or seven little children, all under ten years old, sitting on the floor assembling counterfeit leather handbags," the investigator told me as we drove away from the raid. "The owner had broken the children's legs and tied the lower leg to the thigh so the bones wouldn't mend. He did it because the children said they wanted to go outside and play." How horrible!

In the book you will also read about:
  • How Duty-Free Shops started out and how profitable they are.
  • How Coach was one of the first luxury brands to move production to China.
  • How Bernard Arnault hand-picked green new designers like Marc Jacobs, Galliano and Gaultier before they were big.
  • How an Hermes bag is hand made and why the company still makes it that way.
  • How Japanese are the biggest luxury buyers (spenders).
  • You'll find out who the "parasite singles" are.
  • How Las Vegas turned into a luxury shopping mecca.
  • The business contracts between celebrities and designers, especially on the red carpet.
  • How the Chinese are moving into ownership: Lanvin, Guy Laroche and sportswear Michael Kors are all owned by Chinese magnates.
  • The amazing Daslu, the luxury fashion emporium in Brazil.
I really enjoyed reading this book, and I've learned so many little facts about the luxury business that I almost never want to buy another designer piece again. "Almost".

If you want to buy the book, a must read for anybody interested in fashion, here is a link to Amazon: Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster for only $5.69!


Anny said...

This sounds like a really interesting read, although my heart goes out to those poor, poor children :(

Daisy said...

I've always felt the brand name handbags has its seedy side, namely exploiting third world workers who work in squalid conditions and paid slave wage. Of course all the brands deny this. As for Coco Chanel, I'm sorry to hear such a clever and ground breaking woman was swindled.