My Rent Or A New Prada Handbag?!?? – How Luxury Runs Our Lives
November 25, 2009 § 1 Comment
I’ll never forget the day I bought my first shirt at Dior Homme. It was a totally transcendental experience. These were the days of Hedi Slimane, the hottest menswear designer on the planet. I would often go to the New York boutique just to see Hedi’s pieces in person. I was too poor to afford anything, and I didn’t have a credit card to max out. If I save, I thought, I could buy that $4,000 leather jacket. But even by the time I could save enough, we would already be beyond that season. Then, of course, Slimane left Dior so, so I had to act fast or miss out.
When I bought that shirt, I felt like I was taking a piece of Hedi home with me. I thought that the right people would see the shirt and know that I was wearing Dior. That I, too, was fabulous. What I’m finding in my dissertation research on performances of glamour and luxury is that this is a real experience – a real feeling that most people lust after, one that’s easier to achieve than ever before.
Today, I was doing some research and I came across a fascinating quip by Bernard Arnault – the overlord of LVMH Moet Hennesey Louis Vuitton, the largest luxury conglomerate in the world. Arnault said that luxury products wield so much power on us that we feel as if we “have to buy it. You must buy it, in fact, or else you won’t be in the moment. You will be left behind.”
And that completely sums up how I felt when I bought that little Dior shirt, or why I felt like it was a matter of life or death that I find a way to drop $3,000 on a leather jacket I couldn’t afford.
This is how the luxury industry works, how they suck us in. They put young, avant garde, sexy designers at the head of stodgy old fashion houses to create excitement, to generate the buzz, to renew the brand. Sex always sells. Then they come at us with “cheap” perfumes, watches, handbags, and t-shirts – things that most everyone with a job or moderate credit limit can afford. The Alexander Wang “Coco” bag sells out before you finish saying the designers name. Prada and Dior Homme are two of my favorite colognes, at about $65 a pop. This is the democratization of luxury.
In Dana Thomas’ book, Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, the author laments this democratization and the shifting of true luxury away from specialized service and customization to the mass. But is that really such a bad thing? Is it bad that more people now have access to the dream of luxury? Especially now that the “luxury experience” is really everywhere, from Whole Foods to Rodarte for H&M. Forget capitalism; we are in an age of total luxury.
What I’m really interested in is the idea of “sold-outness,” and how that generates buzz for a particular purse or shoe, but also as an impulse that works on us as shoppers. Just what will we do to get our hands on a coveted “Birkin” bag? If ever you were skeptical about the importance of spectacular appearances, take a look at this: in 2009, Louis Vuitton clocked in as the 29th most valuable brand in the world, sandwiched between AT&T and HSBC.
Think about it: the top labels on the list include banks, communications firms – necessities, in other words. One of the questions I’m invested in with my research is what it means for a luxury fashion label – the most obvious of the labels at that – to be so highly ranked.