Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Dressed Rich

In her book Deluxe How Luxury Lost Its Luster, Dana Thomas bemoans the democratization via mass production of luxury goods. The workmanship of a genuine Gucci or Prada is no different from that of a much cheaper knock-off because they were probably manufactured in similar facilities in China. She says:

"The luxury industry has changed the way people dress. It has realigned our economic class system. It has changed the way we interact. It has become part of our social fabric. To achieve this, it has sacrificed its integrity, undermined its products, tarnished its history and hoodwinked its consumers. In order to make luxury "accessible" tycoons have stripped away all that made it special. Luxury has lost its luster"

From being available to the select and privileged few, luxury has gone to being available to anyone who is willing to pay for it or settle for a good imitation. Wearing or carrying a designer label is no longer enough to set the haves and have-nots apart.

I saw an telling example of this recently at the parking lot at work. This woman stepped out of her car looking like a walking brand endorsement. She had on a
signature plaid Burberry trench coat and was carrying a light blue Chanel bag. When she walked past me, I noticed the the prominent Gucci sign on her sunglasses. She was doused in Chanel 19 and left a cloud of fragrance behind her.

Despite all the external trappings of richness, she did not appear particularly wealthy at least to a casual observer. Affluence brings in its wake a quiet, understated yet unmistakable confidence that is hard to miss. This woman did not have that air about her despite designer labels dripping from every inch of her. You noticed her only because of the brand name overload. Dressed in generic clothes she would blend effortlessly into her surroundings.

Maybe that's all luxury labels are good for these days - create a brief illusion of richness that may just as quickly fade away. No wonder, the savvy consumer prefers a good imitation to the real thing - the illusion is just as good, also as brief and transient but it costs a lot less. Whether buying fakes is ethical or good for the luxury industry is a whole different question and most likely does not keep the middle-class slave to fashion awake at night.

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