Friday, February 6, 2009

So who are you wearing?

In Japan, there's a group of young people known for their obsession with luxury fashion brands. Because most of their income is spent on designer handbags, clothes, jewelry, and shoes, all these brand-obsessed Japanese could afford in terms of residence are tiny one-room apartments. Luxury is big in Japan, and people would go to great lengths just to get their hands on luxury items. When you think about it, what else would do the Japanese do with their money than splurge on designer items? Japan's birth rate is so low that it almost has hit a plateau. It figures that if you don't have a mouth to feed, then you feed your vanity.

This nugget of information is only one of the many insider pieces of information on the luxury fashion industry that Dana Thomas explores in her brilliant book, Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster. Thomas worked as a fashion writer for many American magazines and newspapers (Newsweek, The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Vogue, just to name a few). After the release of this book, I doubt if Thomas would ever be allowed to enter again into fashion's inner sanctum. In Deluxe, Thomas has painted a picture of the fashion industry in a very unflattering light.

Thomas takes the reader into the different aspects of the fashion industry--from interesting biographies of top designers like Marc Jacobs and Christian Loboutin to how every major item in the luxury industry is manufactured. In the first chapter, she discusses how the luxury industry was born, using Louis Vuitton as her springboard. From there, she then presents why luxury items are a big business, even if you seldom see a designer shop packed with shoppers. In a way, the book is a sort of eulogy of the pioneers of the business. You feel that Thomas laments the emergence of fashion conglomerates such as LVMH, which owns the Louis Vuitton, Moet, and Hennessy brands. Luxury fashion started out as an art, with fashion houses crafting one dress for several months, now it's an industry that profits from cheap labor.

Thomas erases several myths people may have about the luxury industry. If you think that your Prada handbag or Gucci loafers have been made by well-trained Europeans, then you may be surprised to find out that these were probably made in China. Forget the "made in Italy" label. Turns out, a handbag doesn't have to be 100% made in Italy to bear that label. The Chinese can make the body of the handbag, ship it to Europe, and then have its handles attached in Italy. If the last stage of production happens in Italy, then it could bear the mark "made in Italy." Also, Thomas's text on perfumes is particularly enlightening. For many of us, designer perfumes are the cheapest luxury item we can afford; in Thomas's words, when we buy designer perfume, we "buy into the dream." However, most of these perfumes are not produced by the fashion houses themselves--they're owned, produced, and distributed by large pharmaceutical companies such as Procter & Gamble. These companies simply pay royalties for using the logos of these luxury brands.

Not wanting to feel like an expose of the fashion industry, Deluxe also celebrates the craftsmanship and the ingenuity of some people responsible for creating the classics. You'll be amazed to know that Chanel No. 5 still hasn't changed its formula since it was first launched. It's one of the last perfumes to use flowers exclusively harvested from France (most perfumes use flowers coming from Asia and the Balkans). The classic Hermes bag still has a long waiting list. And you'll learn that, in making the bag, people use specific sections of alligator leather for each part. Truly a time-consuming but remarkable process.

Deluxe is for everyone who has always been fascinated with the fashion industry. It's informative yet very entertaining and engaging. Thomas's language is precise. It's full of insider information that the fashion industry doesn't want you to know. Thomas manages to remain objective throughout its pages, and her several years of journalistic experience and her being part of the fashion industry do show in this gem of a book.

I recommend this book to:
  1. People who spend fearlessly in a time of global financial crisis.
  2. Fashionistas who wear fake designer items.
  3. Everyone who thinks that the Oscar red carpet pre-show is much more important than the event itself.


Thomas said...

I loved this book.