dana thomas: deluxe

Journalist Dana Thomas exposes the sleaze beneath the rarefied world of high-end goods in Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Luster.

Luxury in all its forms and styles have existed ever since income, class, and economic status have divided people between the haves and the have-nots. With some groups of people having much more resources than they need to survive, the surplus goes towards manifesting and reinforcing their higher stature in society through extravagance and conspicuous consumption. Recall Cleopatra and the perfumed sails of her pleasure ships; Nero and the tons of roses he rained upon guests at parties; the Mughal, Chinese, and Persian emperors who surrounded themselves with finely crafted objets of silk, precious metals, gems, and porcelain.

Modern-day luxury, says Thomas, resides in brand names and the inflated prices they command. Handbags from Louis Vuitton and Prada, perfumes from Patou, and clothes from Burberry are sold in gleaming glass palaces, enticing shoppers with an aspirational dream.

Since not everyone can afford haute couture from Chanel or hand-sewn luggage from Hermes, many luxury brands create products at lower-price points at which consumers can buy into the dream. These include small leather goods such as wallets or key chains. For scents, eau de toilette is cheaper than parfum. For clothes, most signature brands carry a pret-a-porter line.

However, says Thomas, in the mad rush by large luxury conglomerates to increase net profit, corners are cut, of which the consumer, clutching her hard-earned cash, is unaware. For instance, handbags are among the high-margin products that brands push with aggressive advertising which touts the “It” bag of the moment. Thomas saw handbags produced at $120 and sold for $1,200. Louis Vuitton is said to sell its handbags at ten to thirteen times the production cost.

What stylish woman wouldn’t want a collection of the latest by Vuitton, Balenciaga, Gucci? Luxury goods are beautifully designed and well-made.

But won’t those markups make you think twice before forking over your money, especially in these tough economic times?

I’ve always wanted an LV Popincourt Haut and an Hermes Birkin. But Thomas’ book is an eye-opener. My resolve? To buy Filipino. We have lovely things – Fino Leatherware makes bags that not everyone is carrying on their arm or slung over their shoulder. Via Venetto shoes are pretty. Ivarluski Aseron and Kate Torralba are just a couple of the many talented designers who create couture with a Filipino flavor.

In the end, though, it is all a matter of choice and personal conviction, as to what your dreams are, what is truly aspirational for you, and what you would pay to buy into your dream.

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