Reading Aloud: Deluxe

Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster
Written by Dana Thomas

For fashionistas who want to learn more about the designer brands they covet, Deluxe provides the perfect introduction to the behind-the-scenes glimpse of luxury’s production. Thomas tours the reader around the world to factories and executive offices: factories in China, Vietnam, Cambodia,Egypt; specialty weavers in Florence, Como, Milan; flagship stores in New York, Paris, London, Shanghai; and the most extravagant shopping center located in Sao Paolo Brazil to name a few places.

Thomas also explores how the tycoons like Bernard Arnault, the owner of LVMH luxury group(Louis Vuitton Moet Henessy), have revolutionized the definition of what it means to own luxury. In the old days, there was no emerging middle class, only the incredibly rich and the incredibly poor. Only the rich had access to the finest fabrics and the finest jewels.

Now what was once untouchable has been democratized and “McCultured”. Anyone from the European aristocrat to the New Jersey housewife to the suburban teenager can buy into the dream. No more custom fitted clothes. No more face-en-face with the designer. No more 100% guaranteed quality. Today, you are left to fend for yourself searching through rows of clothing racks at Bergdorf Goodman unless the elusive salesgirl at the other end of the store magically appears to your rescue. Luxury isn’t just for old money, but it is now accessible to the nouveau riche through free-standing boutiques, department stores, discounted outlets and *gasp* the Internet.

That Burberry trench? Visit net-a-porter and you’re simply a few clicks away. The BCBG Max Azria gown? You can probably find it a few seasons later at a BCBG Final Cut outlet.

It’s still always nice to check out the brand’s flagship store. Just don’t check out the price tags.

All of the urban dwellers are more than familiar with the glamorous flagship stores: the mega store that represents the brand’s statement and carries all of the brands products from cocktail rings to couture gowns. The stores are designed by top architects and their job is to create the lifestyle the brand wants to inspire its consumer to live by.

For example, I’m a particular fan of the Urban Outfitters flagship at Fifth Avenue and 43rd. You walk in and the first thing you see is the floating dark hardwood staircase leading up to the second floor. There’s a wall of albums, old fashioned cameras and quirky books (think along the lines of the adult storybook “Go the Fuck to Sleep”) in midst the trendy apparel. Then you notice the lean mannequins in front of you wearing next season’s up coming trends–the towering wedges, the crochet sweaters over kitschy floral rompers. The statement of this store reads: “I’m a cool girl wants to live easy and have fun. I’m flirty and spontaneous. I go to school in the city, study during the day, but party in the Upper West Side and stumble back in my dorm at 5 am. I don’t like logos because they’re tacky and I don’t need them because I wear the clothes.”

The methods that designer brands employ to create this image are not so glamorous. Since turn of the millenium, many clothing stores such as Gap, Zara, and Nike have outsourced garment production to third world countries for cheap labor. Cheap labor, of course, means more profit for the company. Lower pay wages also means lower quality of life for the workers. In turn, some of these workers can be as young as ten years old, because their parents send them away to earn money for the family. Even the designer brands who brag of their excellent “Made in Europe” quality are manufactured in China, including Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Chanel, and the like may unknowingly contribute to these horrible work conditions for the sake of capitalism.

When unethical work practices are hard to swallow, so is the fact that counterfeit goods like Fendi Baguettes and Vuitton monogram merchandise may fuel terrorist activity, like the 9/11. Next time you want to buy a cheap thrill of Canal Street in the city, just go to a suburban outlet so you know you’re not fueling the War on Terror.

Thomas shows the reader there is something more to fashion than what the glossies on the newsstand tell you. Every stitch or zipper on your handbag tells a story– whether it involves the take-down of family traditions, organized crime, or depreciating quality. If you truly want to understand what modern luxury fashion means today, pick up Deluxe.

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A Francophile based in coastal New England

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