Thursday, September 12, 2013

Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster

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I just finished this book after reading it off and on for almost two years. Not because it wasn't a good book, but it was that book sitting on the night stand waiting to be read only a few pages at a time and it was pretty easy to go between since much of the detail was unique to each section.

What drew me to this book was the author's premise: as luxury brands become more accessible to those of us not in the elite and wealthy segments of society and embrace mass production, do they actually lose what made them luxury in the first place.

My first thought was that yes, they would have to, but after reading, it's not really that simple. There's a fine line between expanding to new customers and alienating the customers who helped you to build your brand. Not an easy feat, especially when you're looking at brands that has been traditionally run by artisans and their families but are now under the direction of more traditional-minded business people. It's not impossible, but it does present a unique set of challenges.

Personally, I love the idea of sitting in a designers atelier and working with them to plan a look from their collection to fit your big event. I love the idea of the event that used to be the luxury experience. Not that I would ever have experienced that first hand, but I still find it very appealing. I like the idea of taking time and care to make each piece perfect. I have a lot of respect for the skill, not to mention the patience, involved in that level of craftsmanship.

Having said that, I think the expansion into new markets is necessary. Not just because of the impact on the bottom line but because we have a much more image-oriented society. It's easier to see the pictures of the fashion and other luxury items and more people are going to want a piece of that dream, of that lifestyle. While there was a time for cultivating an exclusive experience, too much of that is now just elitism. The storefronts used to be minimal and more like waiting areas and now it's a showcase for everything the brand has to offer.

I do think that expansion must be done carefully, though. This book did a great job explaining the research and the planning that goes into that expansion. Sacrificing quality for automation and increased production shouldn't be an acceptable option. There's something to be said for adding to the product offerings rather than completely replacing what was previously available. I might have the Louis Vuitton wallet, but there are also people out there with hand-made steamer trunks. I like the idea of degrees of luxury. It's less about trying to fit into the dream and more about finding the dream in your size.

I would recommend this book to anyone who's interested in luxury brands and shopping.

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