2/12/08

can accessability turn luxury dull?

"never has storytelling been so central and quality so peripheral to the business."

This is an other fantastic article about the fashion industry and the position of "luxury" brands that should accompany your thoughts as you pick up your next issue of Vogue, W, Elle, or any of those publications. There is so much in here - including the author of the article, Kerry Howley, who is reviewing and responding to the book Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Lustre by Dana Thomas. I highly recommend you read the article here. Below are some quotes from the article that reveal the author's ideas about class and where (or, to whom) fashion belongs.

"Democratization is a dangerous game, and the executive who misjudges the balance between accessibility and positional value can destroy a brand’s cachet in a single season"
It's hard to believe there will ever be a time that an $800 bag will not be sold to a person with $800 to spend. That doesn't mean "democratization". To the people in the stores and industry, it may seem like such audacity for a ripped-jean wearing bum to stroll in and buy their stuff. But the issue is that not that the industry has somehow started having the concerns of the masses in mind (maybe the wallets of the masses). We are placing "positional value" - the status that comes with buying Louis Vuitton or Gucci - over the reality of our life. Sure, as Howley states, "Buying into a dream has always been part of high fashion’s allure"; the difference is we started believing it more than anything else. If we believe the storytelling of advertisements - that Prada really makes me the urban sophosticate, or Versace somehow makes me more sexually liberated - we literally are sold to the business and give up a lot more than $800.

And to keep those stories going, consumers must be able to find places to insert themselves in a narrative that selectively reflects the realities of their life. Just like the fashion shoots in magazines where women in $6000 furs are grocery shopping or pumping gas, it seems major labels are walking a fine line between building their brand to impossible heights and trivializing themselves.
"Fashion is more celebrity driven than it used to be, and the editors at US Weekly never tire of revealing how celebrities are 'just like us.' Pictures of Renee Zellweger taking out the garbage are as important as pictures of her on the red carpet. You can pull off a Carolina Herrera dress too, or at least a wallet. You both do chores. You’re practically twins."

What an observation. The other side is the celebrities who pair a white t-shirt with an Oscar de la Renta full-length skirt (or the like) on the red carpet. The juxtaposition of a ridiculously pricey, handmade piece with a basic one (also handmade, but most likely in a sweatshop) could undermine the luxury or bring it to wider distribution.


Read the article for yourself and let me know what you think.

1 comment:

Kirstin said...

Reason being a libertarian magazine, the author seems to be struggling with how to apply a libertarian perspective to this issue. The more I thought about it, he/she seems to be assuming a false dichotomy, that our only choices are between broad access to poor quality, designer brand goods and restricted access to high quality designer brand goods. Howley opts for the first choice as more democratic, neglecting to deal with the tyranny of marketing that so deftly masquerades as 'freedom to choose'. I'd be interested to read Thomas' book and see how she negotiates this dichotomy. Heaven forbid someone advocate simplicity--in the sense of delighting in a few really well-made things instead of gorging ourselves on cheap crap.