haven't read it but I do agree with them...
I just came across a book released on August 16th called Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster by Dana Thomas. Apparently it laments how luxury brands are spending more money on advertising than on making quality merchandise, and only interested in big profits. Perfume houses including Hermes and CdG are referred to in the Publishers Weekly review quoted on the Amazon site. Anybody read or have opinions on the book?
haven't read it but I do agree with them...
I read an interesting article about this in the WSJ a few months back, about Tiffany's. Tiffany's succumbed to the profit mongering by offering low end bracelets and neckchains adorned by high schoolers. However, what has happened is that the true customer of Tiffany's, the upper to wealthy class, has slowly but surely stopped buying. Why? Because Tiffany's had become mainstream and lost its historical name brand. In response, Tiffany's decided to raise the prices on all of their silver jewelery in the hopes of retaining and attracting its loyal customer base.
"Why not seize the pleasure at once?"
-- Jane Austen (Sun, and Mercury in Sagittarius)
The article below was first published in the NZZ issue dedicated to brands.
An entertaining feature of commerce is that, like chess, insect societies and fluid
mechanics, it generates complex behaviour from simple rules. For example, only
two motives are required to make it work: self-interest and enlightened self-interest.
These alone have produced everything you've ever bought or sold. All
other motives eventually crash and burn, as the twentieth century has shown at
huge human cost. In this field as in others, enlightenment means resisting
temptation, having the courage to forgo immediate rewards in exchange for later
ones. But why be enlightened ? Because trust, i.e. the gradual subsidence of our fear
of getting screwed, works wonders but takes time to build. Once you have the trust
of your customer, you can run a great business on it. Example: Hermès, a thousand
beautifully made objects, easily half of which are ugly, but none shabby, every
single one arguably worth the money. You can also scam him, take the money and
run for the border, but that means starting again from scratch: look at Pierre
Cardin, the oldest fashion brand of them all, now so prostituted that there is no
"real" stuff left to buy. But the greatest unenlightened scam, the one they teach in
business schools, is the one where a) you screw the customer, b) they still trust you
and c) they come back for more. Example: Louis Vuitton luggage. Rubbish quality
(the Thai fakes are better than the real thing), dubious taste (to reverse Marx, what
started as a '30s farce, "let's put the lining on the outside", is now a tragedy),
outrageous price. And yet they sell. Why ?
To borrow terms first applied by 19th century journalist Walter Bagehot to the
monarchy, brands have both an "effective" and a "dignified" function. One effective
function is to elicit rational expectations: you only need to take one pair of jeans
with you on travels, in the knowledge that wherever you see the Levi's badge you
can get another one just like it. This also works well for burgers, beer, wine, hotels
and medicines. The dignified function is image: the buyer advertises his purchase
to others. Sometimes, this can be rational. Suppose you want to advertise your
wealth to people too poor or inexperienced to know quality when they see it, for
example to gain their deference. Not only do you buy something expensive and
beautiful, but you also need to wear the label on the outside, so that everyone will
know. That label, not the white baby sealskin bag to which it is attached, then
gradually comes to mean "money". In other words, it becomes a currency.
Once you have a currency, you can do lots of fun things with it. You can debase it
(real Vuitton bags); you can counterfeit it (fake Vuitton bags); but best of all you
can play on the fact that all currencies work by mutual consent. In other words, if
you can persuade the rich to use your debased coinage, then the poor who buy real
fakes and fake fakes will not feel shafted or silly and the scam becomes selfsustaining.
This requires a steady supply of people with more money than sense,
but a buoyant economy will do that: sense takes longer to acquire than cash. This is
what is called brand "mystique" and it works best when those who produce the lies
believe in them. As Marx (Groucho, this time) said of sincerity, "If you can fake it,
you've got it made". You have to believe, and to communicate the belief, that there
is something intrinsically different about an object that bears a particular name.
This is not a new trick: the aristocracy has practiced it to great effect since the
French Revolution. A titled name used to mean having, it now means being. Titles
are, in marketing terms, the human limited edition. What this means in practice:
you've just bought a frog, but the ads swear it's a prince.
Luckily for the scammers, lies have a built-in inertia: victims who should have
known better are reluctant ever to acknowledge that they were suckered, and even
complain loudly when the sorry tale ends. Take Bentley. No decent car of that
name was produced since the late 1920's when Rolls Royce bought it and used it as
a badge. Since the war, Bentleys have largely been ugly, poorly engineered, soggy
barges. Now a remarkable thing has happened. Bentley was bought by VW and
appears to be run by people who want the cars to be the real thing: beautifully
built, scary-fast, gorgeous. You'd think the punters would be grateful. Not a bit,
many in the UK bemoan the dilution of the Bentley "mystique" by "foreign" input,
which is a bit like complaining to your alchemist that his lead has lately become
contaminated with gold.
After haste, lies and ignorance, the next greatest threat to enlightened self interest
is "Strong Brand" syndrome. The CEO starts hearing voices: "Everyone out there
just loves your antifouling paint, they'll go nuts about your tinned mussels". Left
untreated, this condition can lead to Bugatti fragrance, Porsche Design
"engineered" smoking pipes, Ferrari red sneakers, BMW jackets, Aston Martin
carbon-fiber luggage as well as lesser flotsam like Victorinox watches, Virgin Cola,
Harley Davidson lighters, in short shedloads of future landfill. Enlightened firms
that stick to what they know must feel like the girl in a black one piece swimsuit in
a Tampax ad. Gresham's Law says that bad money drives out good. Such is the
general acceptance of debased coinage as legal tender, that the notion of a
sensational product worthy of love is met with amused disbelief. I, for instance,
have been hopelessly in love with my Macs since 1986 for the best of reasons:
gratitude for having changed my life. I am in good company: the libertarian
thinker Guy Kawasaki, probably best-known as a tireless Apple "evangelist", once
said "I believe in God because there is no other explanation for Apple’s continued
existence’’. Is this a cult ? No, and here's why.
Someone recently suggested we should wear Bluetooth-enabled jewellery that
broadcasts our tastes fifty or so meters around us and lights up when a good match
is within radio range. Just think, though, how dangerously easy it would be to
make sure the lights stay off: all you'd need to do is to put Respighi's Poema
Autunnale as favorite music and Irkutsk as favorite holiday destination, and spend
the rest of your life in Byronian isolation, grimly changing the batteries on your
gadget at regular intervals. Clearly, what is needed is an enlightenement indicator.
This could in principle be another efficient function of brands, and so far Apple is
the only example, though everyone from Patagonia to Smart would like to join.
Crucially though, enlightened choices must be money-neutral. Computers are
good, since unlike polo shirts and cars they all cost pretty much the same.
Choosing the most original, the most beautiful, the easiest to use and the most fun
is therefore not a trivial choice: it correctly suggests a set of principles at work. The
fact that Apple's market share is less than 4% makes this choice cool at no extra
Curiously, so-called "cult" objects are often the ones that least require irrational
faith. Some examples from the distant past: Opinel knives, as fine, honest and
durable a piece of design as one is likely to see. Their website is refreshing: a few
knives, no fancy nonsense, just the facts. The Citroën 2CV, probably the greatest
cheap car ever made, phased out for the saddest of reasons: other, less clever cars
beat it to a pulp in collisions. The Quad ESL-57, still the best small-room
loudspeaker ever and the clearest demonstration that if you can't beat the laws of
physics, you had better join them. If these are the object of a cult, then it must like
very early christianity, mostly miracles and word-of-mouth. _The distinguishing
feature of these objects, of course, is that whatever they do, they do it better. This
criterion rules out handbags, etc. and most everything to do with fashion, since
iceman Oetzi was arguably as well dressed as anyone today. Where there can be no
efficiency, only the dignified will do. This is why fashion needs irrational cults. But,
as biologist David Armstrong once said, "The thing about God is, there's no new
data". Many parts of the commercial landscape resemble religion in that respect,
bleakly calling the old new against all odds. But sometimes the New and Improved
really is just that, the result of a thousand small enlightened choices: "let's do it
differently', "let's make this easy to use", "there must be a better way", "let's make
this feel great". Simple motives giving disproportionately beautiful outcomes.
These deserve your love. It's OK to show it by buying them.
Luca Turin, 2005
Last edited by pluran; 13th September 2007 at 11:23 AM.
One of Turin's best ever pieces and it's not even about perfume!
Sorry to bump such an old thread, but I just discovered this book on the bargain pile at my local Barnes & Noble for $5.99. Didn't even know about it until last week. I wouldn't pay retail for it, but it was worth 6 bucks for a hardback. It has a good chapter on fragrance (32 pages). From the publishers blurb:
There was a time when luxury was available to only the rarefied and aristocratic world of old money and royalty. Luxury wasn't simply a product, it was a lifestyle, one that denoted a history of tradition, superior quality, and a pampered buying experience. Today's luxury marketplace would be virtually unrecognizable to the old-world elite. Gone are the family-owned businesses dedicated to integrity and quality; the industry is now run by massive corporations focused only on growth, visibility, brand awareness, advertising, and, above all, profits. Handmade goods are practically extinct, and almost all manufacturing has been outsourced to large factories in places such as China, where your expensive brand-name handbag is being assembled right next to one from a mass-market label that will cost substantially less.
Dana Thomas, a journalist who has covered style and the luxury business for The Washington Post, Newsweek,and The New York Times Magazine from Paris for the past fifteen years, digs down into the dark side of the luxury industry to uncover all the secrets that Prada, Gucci, and Burberry don't want us to know. Traveling from the laboratories in Grasse, where Christian Dior and Prada perfumes are manufactured, to the crowded factories in China, where workers glue together "Made in Italy" bags by the thousands, Thomas explores the whole of today's high-end shopping experience to answer some pressing questions: What is the new definition of luxury when advertising for this upscale lifestyle is targeted mainly to the middle-class masses? What are we paying for when quality has given way to quantity, and luxury is no longer just for the upper-class elite? Thomas has travelled all over the world to interview corporate heads and factory workers, the old-money, old-luxury clients and the new luxury-obsessed middle-class consumer, and she paints a surprising picture of today's New Luxury. With Deluxe, she delivers a fast-paced, uncompromising look at the real world behind the glossy magazines and red carpet couture and asks: How did luxury lose its luster?
Last edited by scentsitivity; 7th March 2010 at 02:29 PM.
Yeah, I read the book over a year ago...it only reinforces the thoughts I had years ago whenever I see a queue of eager shoppers outside the local LVMH boutique, waiting to buy Louis Vuitton bags at discounted prices. Rather amusing, this paradox of the exclusive luxury goods for the mass market...
FWIW- I was looking at a Burberry umbrella on sale. It was $150 on sale for 1/2 price ($75). So I opened it up. (I know, bad luck!) It turned out to be good. I saw that it was quite flimsy. A poorly made portable, no different from any $10 umbrella I already owned and a tag that said "made in china"! I thought is was sad that they thought they could just make it plaid and call it good. I hope no one else shells out for it just because of the name.
P.S. I really dislike Vuitton luggage. I really can't see the attraction. Even the real ones look like plastic and I resent having to wear logos of a company all over to advertise for them.
See my blog; http://www.basenotes.net/blogs/2645-kumquat
I am still quaking in my boots at the price tag on an Hermes beach towel...
Last edited by Primrose; 8th March 2010 at 06:54 PM.
"There is no accessory greater, nor more intimate, than scent." --Tim Gunn
I actually have a Prada umbrella, and it is great! The stick part is made of wood, not plastic, and the fabric is very sturdy. Very good quality and craftsmanship. I suspect that this is the case because they don't really push the umbrellas, they seem to be there almost to create an ambiance at the store. (At least in their Galleria store in Milan.)
The umbrella is very discretely logoed btw.
Last edited by tott; 8th March 2010 at 07:24 PM.
I agree with basically everything that's been said in this thread. The most obvious and appalling sacrifice this democratizing of luxury has led to is the dilution of true quality, especially at the entry-level of luxe.
What's the point of paying 10, 20 or 30 times or even more for an item if it's not obviously made with more care and from a better material? The truth is that many brands have been cutting corners for many years, and eventually they reach a point when the quality just isn't there anymore.
I also agree with the dilution of branding. You can find Harley-Davidson *anything* from dog leashes to the little logo on trucks. It's utterly ridiculous.
Last edited by Primrose; 24th March 2010 at 10:16 PM.
"There is no accessory greater, nor more intimate, than scent." --Tim Gunn
I've seen that book at my B&N recently and have been tempted a couple of times to pick up.
Last edited by Mimi Gardenia; 8th March 2010 at 11:15 PM.
For sale. Carnal Flower and Vero Profumo Onda.
I read it and found it enjoyable. If this is a subject you're already interested in, it's unlikely you'll find any earth-shattering revelations contained within but all-in-all a good read. FWIW I borrowed my copy from the library.
OOh...That's most definitely true. I agree with everything it stands for...I think that once the heart and bare soul of any Good Company dies....Care Is lost for the customers...they can get what they want and know how to rely on a good brand...though there are soo many bigot companies that reserve and re-assure us of quality. I still think that YSL and Chanel Do A good job with their nouveau protoge's...Especially since so much Verve and panache has been included to the Advertising :P. Nah, but I do actually think that their products are still satiable!
- I Want To Appreciate You With My Eyes Closed-
Chanel Antaeus Equipped With A Double Whipping Of A Black Leather Jacket
This book looks interesting. I've just ordered a copy.
I think the book is well-written and addresses the changes in the luxury market very well. One of the few books of this type - and there aren't many - that look at the perfume industry.
Anya McCoy - http://anyasgarden.com/
Best of the Best 2009, 2010, 2011 awards - Perfume: MoonDance, StarFlower, Amberess, Light, Royal Lotus. Project Leader: Outlaw Perfume and Mystery of Musk
Basic Perfumery Course with lifetime access to the websitehttp://perfumeclasses.com
Natural Perfumers Guild President http://naturalperfumers.com
America's First Natural Perfume Line 1991
Fragrance is NOT luxury as anybody in western countries could afford at least reasonable smells to cover them. Any attempt to re-instanciate elitism is void.
- Luxury today differentiates people against each other.
- This replicates what Luxury has been in former days. Only the already better living people (Royalties etc) could afford it.
So far matters of fact.
- The differentiation today between those who use luxury products and those who do not is made by the brand/label despite very similar quality of the products.
The conclusion often implicated by this thinking is to complain about mediocre products / mass market and going - with perfumery - 'niche'. Reaching for 'true' costly exclusive luxury.
Not agreed. The righteous consequence is to think of egalitarian use of fragrance and to develop a codex. Like it has been done with smoking, going naked in public or not beating the dog. I know such thinking isn't very popular with perfume afficinados. Some are keen for fragrance as to feel of themselves as superior for their good taste or something else.
Nevertheless, true luxury in a sense of being well - but not better than others - isn't connected to an elevated price tag. Mitsouko, Gucci Rush(I), Fath Green Water, Monsieur Balmain, Habanita to name just a few I own are all well affordable fragrances that are as good as a fragrance ever could be! Let me add the Kenzo line.
You should consider that fragrance is the most about a communicated style it is said to stand for, an imagination. And less about the factual 'juice'. Especially if it come to price and the very most with 'niche' and top notch with wanna-be houses as CREED.
addendum: the luxury with fragrance could be to KNOW HOW it is used and WHAT FOR. To bring fragrance to those who are already surrounded by it in washing detergents, flavored coffees etc. A very simple question:
What if literally everybody uses a 'signature scent' everywhere every time?! And You would of course have to tolerate the certain tastes of each other!
Last edited by merry.waters; 30th March 2010 at 11:08 AM.
Secondly Creed is a bad example. Those who need the exclusivity kick can buy a bottle of Windsor or pay retail for GIT. But no other "niche" brand is easier to find on the grey market than Creed - for less money than a Kenzo perfume.
Thirdly, true luxury, i.e. costly, artful, hand-crafted, singular products have always served as a means of social distinction and they continue to do so in a democracy. Even in the GDR with its egalitarian product primitivism, people simply resorted to Western products as status symbols. There is an anthropological constant here, IMHO. The consequence of the fusion of supposed political and social equality with economic inequality in capitalist democracies has been a number of rationalizations:
- luxury is OK, because everybody can achieve it, if they only want to (the American myth of equal opportunity)
- luxury is for everbody: pseudo-champagne, pseudo-salmon, pseudo-haute-couture and pseudo-luxury perfume for the masses and the middle-classes.
- subcultural democracy: to me, the dearest. Exclusivity by interest and choice. Anybody can become part of Start TREK fandom and become special. Anybody, within certain means (the poor and illiterate, tend to be excluded from the internet) can become a perfume freak at basenotes, if not by bottles then by decants and samples. Subcultures can develop their own sytems of distinction and hierarchy independent of economic status.
Also, keep in mind that nobody is compelled to buy $500 perfume, but nobody has the right to stop me from spending that money, if I wish to. That is the freedom of the market.
Last edited by the_good_life; 30th March 2010 at 01:14 PM.
Simply said: "massive" and "luxury" are contradicitons in terms. Thus luxury goods produced on a massive scale and sold under global brands are just a very lucrative hoax, for the brand assures quality percpetion while production warranties low costs.
Of course this has a limit, for discerning consumers realize this - I recall Kumquat's experience with a Burberry umbrella sold for*$ 75 (regular price $ 150) that has been made in China. In the meantime, French luxury goods corporation PPR stated in their Annual Report back in 2004 that their target market where BRIC countries because they had the biggest rate of new rich consumers.
As a very local popular rock song states, nowadays "luxury is vulgarity".
This book is an interesting read for anyone interested in fashion or retail in general.
In relation to fragrance, Dana Thomas shows a real lack of understanding. She sees fragrance as a simple commodity, a pretty bottle with some mass-produced, interchangeable juice in it. Which, I suppose, it is, at some level. But it is also an art, a sublime and beautiful art, which requires great dedication and skill to perfect. She sees those bottles of perfume, selling at many times their actual cost, as a way for big corporations to sell their brand, at a huge profit, to people who can't afford anything else in the store.
What she doesn't understand is that those perfumes are beautiful, and everyone who buys them gets a piece of that beauty. There is real value in perfume, and the products turned out by the big luxury houses are consistently of high quality featuring with good ingredients, usually worth their premium over the department store brands. In the world of perfume, brands like Hermes and Chanel really do deliver something of value, and work hard to justify their price.
That can't be said for the other entry level products she singles out, like Prada key-chains or Burberry scarves. In many cases the only reason people buy these hugely overpriced luxury trinkets is the logo, the rest of the product is of simple design, ordinary materials, and common workmanship. Putting a sublime Hermes perfume in the same category as a Prada notepad is ignoring the art of perfume and the real contributions made by the luxury houses in those areas.
A good example of this in the U.S. is Costco, a chain of warehouse-style stores where most products are sold in bulk packaging. (They're international, but I don't know if they operate in your neck of the woods.) It's a weird combination of low-ish pricing with high quality. Costco has near-zero cachet, but a lot of the merchandise tends toward the "luxury" end of the spectrum, especially in categories such as meat, produce, and cosmetics. And all that nice stuff is sold right along side giant bottles of ketchup and 50lb bags of beans.
This may be true, but only if by "luxury" you mean "cultural signifier of wealth and exclusivity". As Louslice points out, products have actual value and quality independent of their use as labels.
I agree with Nilla and Louslice -- my own conception of luxury is things that aren't necessary at all, but that bring me sensual or aesthetic pleasure. They don't have to be expensive; they don't have to be hard to get; they don't have to impress anyone but me; they just have to be things that make my experience of life richer. Of course, many expensive, exclusive things do have that property of giving great pleasure, which is why people were willing to pay for them in the first place, but the expense isn't intrinsic to the pleasure for me.What she doesn't understand is that those perfumes are beautiful, and everyone who buys them gets a piece of that beauty.
So nice champagne and good cheese and Egyptian cotton sheets and beautiful jewelry and international travel and Serge Lutens' fragrances are in the category of luxuries I enjoy when I have them and wish for when I don't, but so are:
Books and time to read them.
Really fresh perfectly ripe Bing cherries.
Cheap but delicious Vinho Verde in the summer.
An afternoon at the Huntington Gardens, especially when the wisteria is in bloom.
A number of frags that cost very little but smell wonderful to me.
Taking a cool shower after spending all day at the beach.
In the United States, anyone who wants to can get some of the best books ever written for free at the library, and the most beautiful music ever recorded for under $10 a disc -- does that devalue the experience? Not for me.