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  1. #1

    Default book: Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster

    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?

    Rob

  2. #2

    Default Re: book: Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster

    haven't read it but I do agree with them...

  3. #3

    Default Re: book: Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster

    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.

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  4. #4
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    Default Re: book: Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster

    Brands, etc

    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
    cost.

    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 10:23 AM.

  5. #5

    Default Re: book: Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster

    One of Turin's best ever pieces and it's not even about perfume!
    My Wardrobe
    II est de forts parfums pour qui toute matière/Est poreuse. On dirait qu'ils pénètrent le verre.

  6. #6

    Default Re: book: Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster

    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 01:29 PM.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: book: Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster

    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...

  8. #8
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    Default Re: book: Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster

    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.

  9. #9

    Default Re: book: Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster

    I am still quaking in my boots at the price tag on an Hermes beach towel...

    Quote Originally Posted by kumquat View Post
    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.
    I agree with kumquat in that my ego does not need someone's logo plastered on the things I own. And the sad truth is that we have a family member who wants the such-and-such logo on their jeans for $250...and this person is still in college and not even in a real job.
    Last edited by Primrose; 8th March 2010 at 05:54 PM.
    "No sweet perfume ever tortured me more than this." Desert Rose by Sting and Cheb Mami, Album 1999.

  10. #10

    Default Re: book: Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster

    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 06:24 PM.

  11. #11

    Default Re: book: Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster

    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.

  12. #12

    Default Re: book: Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster

    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 09:16 PM.
    "No sweet perfume ever tortured me more than this." Desert Rose by Sting and Cheb Mami, Album 1999.

  13. #13

    Default Re: book: Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster

    I've seen that book at my B&N recently and have been tempted a couple of times to pick up.

  14. #14
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    Default Re: book: Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster

    Quote Originally Posted by Primrose View Post
    I am still quaking in my boots at the price tag on an Hermes beach towel...



    I agree with kumquat in that my ego does not need someone's logo plastered on the things I own. And the sad truth is that we have a family member who wants the such-and-such logo on their jeans for $250...and this person is still in college and not even in a real job.
    I also agree with kumquat and Primrose. I like LV bags but I don't like the monogrammed stuff at all .
    Last edited by Mimi Gardenia; 8th March 2010 at 10:15 PM.
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  15. #15

    Default Re: book: Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster

    Quote Originally Posted by Dennard View Post
    I've seen that book at my B&N recently and have been tempted a couple of times to pick up.
    I am enjoying reading it! I would definitely recommend it at this point.

  16. #16

    Default Re: book: Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster

    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.

  17. #17

    Default Re: book: Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster

    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!

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  18. #18

  19. #19

    Default Re: book: Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster

    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/
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  20. #20

    Default Re: book: Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster

    Quote Originally Posted by merry.waters View Post
    removed.
    Then we should stop using fragrances then and live like pesants?
    Last edited by Lian; 30th March 2010 at 11:59 AM. Reason: removed previously removed post

  21. #21

    Default Re: book: Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster

    Quote Originally Posted by joey86 View Post
    Then we should stop using fragrances then and live like pesants?
    Actually no, but what would an egalitarian concept of fragrance look like? I know that would be the horror for at least all CREED fanboys. But - why support chemical warfare by fragrance in a sense of overpowering Your next? It could only escalate to stink.

    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.

  22. #22

    Default Re: book: Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster

    Quote Originally Posted by merry.waters View Post
    Actually no, but what would an egalitarian concept of fragrance look like? I know that would be the horror for at least all CREED fanboys. But - why support chemical warfare by fragrance in a sense of overpowering Your next? It could only escalate to stink.

    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.
    I still dont get your point other than how bad luxury is. If it really is, why use them anyways

  23. #23

    Default Re: book: Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster

    Quote Originally Posted by joey86 View Post
    I still dont get your point other than how bad luxury is. If it really is, why use them anyways
    So, release Your mind!

    - 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.

    Agreed.

    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 10:08 AM.

  24. #24

    Default Re: book: Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster

    Quote Originally Posted by merry.waters View Post

    The conclusion often implicated by this thinking is to complain about mediocre products / mass market and go - with perfumery - 'niche'. Thinking of 'true' 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 themselves as superior by good taste ore something.

    Nevertheless, true luxury in a sense of being well - 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.
    First of all, luxury is relative. Kenzo, Fath etc. are pure luxury for somebody with a € 1000 net income.
    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 12:14 PM.
    My Wardrobe
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  25. #25

    Default Re: book: Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster

    Quote Originally Posted by merry.waters View Post
    So, release Your mind!

    - 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.

    Agreed.

    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!
    Why do you use fragrance in the first place in public? is it not to distinguish you from others?

    If some of us choose to distinguish themselves by means of expensive perfume, so what?

    I dont own any niches but i'm not having an issue with those who have....

  26. #26
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    Default Re: book: Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster

    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".

  27. #27

    Default Re: book: Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster

    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.

  28. #28

    Default Re: book: Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster

    Quote Originally Posted by pluran View Post
    Brands, etc

    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
    cost.

    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
    What nonsense from Luca Turin. He should stick to perfume. This is a load of snobbish remarks wrapped around a few dubious arguments and some weird conclusions. Too bad I read this, my opinion of him has gone down.

  29. #29

    Default Re: book: Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster

    Quote Originally Posted by Louslice View Post
    What nonsense from Luca Turin. He should stick to perfume. This is a load of snobbish remarks wrapped around a few dubious arguments and some weird conclusions. Too bad I read this, my opinion of him has gone down.
    Thank you for reposting that essay. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed reading it the first time. I found it to be especially perceptive. Perhaps instead of an ipse dixit broadside, you could explain to us exactly why you disagree. Thanks again.

  30. #30

    Default Re: book: Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster

    Quote Originally Posted by Pollux View Post
    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.
    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.

    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.

  31. #31

    Default Re: book: Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster

    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.

    What she doesn't understand is that those perfumes are beautiful, and everyone who buys them gets a piece of that beauty.
    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.

    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.
    Toenail polish.
    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.
    Beautiful music.
    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.

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