I just finished this last night and, sadly, I was left perplexed and disappointed. What started out as a pretty hard look into the fashion industry ended up as a garbled college essay that one would expect from a mediocre fashion design student.
My first issue was the editing mistakes. The book (or at least my copy) was replete with at least a hundred salient grammatical and spelling errors. To be clear, I couldn't tell you whether the brand names were misspelled, with the exception of the very well known ones. But those normally weren't the problem. I remember coming across a sentence fragment, which was strange. Who edited this book?
My second issue was that it just wasn't that interesting in total and was rather under-developed. Let me explain. The title of the book conveys a certain dismay with the current fashion world, dismay from high fashion being too over-priced for the quality you receive. That's what drew me to this book. I've had similar issues with so-called high fashion in recent years, with buttons falling off, hems coming out, fabrics just randomly ripping, bag straps ripping off, etc.. I was looking forward to her ripping the seams of the fashion industry. The author touches on this aspect in a number of chapters, but she treats the topic gingerly with ultimately irrelevant, unconnected anecdotes. What aggravated me the most is that she completely turns her argument around in the last few chapters, and writes about some fancy Brazilian compound filled with (presumably) the same sub-par merchandise she described in previous chapters and praises high fashion. She also delves heavily into the due diligence with which Chanel no. 5 is made. She basically says these elements are the embodiment of luxury shopping. Of course, she was suggesting that the model of customer service and attention given by the Brazillian mall was part of her assessment, and I would give her that. But I don't care how great customer service is if what they're selling isn't worth the money. It'd be like buying a Bosendorfer, finding its keys stiff, but being fine with the defect because the sales people were nice. That's not how luxury is supposed to work.
The issues she initially framed were whether luxury goods are worth what we pay for them, and whether luxury goods are worth the social damage that occurs as a result of customer obsession with them. She didn't answer these questions. Indeed she insinuated an answer in the negative, but then completely turned her argument around. I would have really liked to have seen a social and personal cost/benefit analysis of luxury purchasing. One reviewer referenced the passage that stated girls in Japan will work as prostitutes with the sole purpose of funding their purchases of luxury brand products. I would have liked to have read her opinion on this. I doubt she finds it acceptable, but she never actually came out and said that. Another chapter discussed the trickery that brands use to get people to buy their "made in Italy" brands. She suggests this is a bad thing (I would agree), but then ultimately praises it all in the end, as if this deception doesn't matter. It's completely illogical. People buy these Italian goods because they assume they are being made by Italian artisans skilled in old-world practices who ultimately create higher quality, longer-lasting goods; this in turn is what drives the prices up on luxury goods. However, she then reveals that this is not the case for a large number of brands, and that cheap labor from Asian countries is used instead. Her later chapters blatantly ignore this fact when she decides to praise luxury goods. Further, she never addresses why these things are bad and if there is a solution. Personally, I find it appalling that people in Japan (and in other countries) are willing to endure the emotionally degrading and damaging effects of prostitution to obtain such goods. But I know that part already; what I want to know is should this be stopped and, if it should, how should that be accomplished. Anyone who has recently shopped at Neimans or Saks knows that the quality of their merchandise, in comparison with past merchandise, is significantly lower in quality. It wears like any other Asian manufactured product. So what? Is this a bad thing? If it is, what should we do about it? Should we boycott these stores? Should we enlist Congress to levy some kind of excessive tax on luxury/foreign goods to keep people from buying them? We have all heard the stories about the knock-off industry contributing to accounts that fund terrorism and human trafficking. Again (to beat a dead horse), what should be done about it? It's these questions upon which I wish she would have touched because they are the real issues that need to be analyzed.
One reviewer commented on the veracity of the statistics included in book. I personally can't comment on these things because I am not an economist. I will acknowlege that some of them (some, not all) were suspect. I did see she had footnotes in the back of the book, which was excellent. Unfortunately, no footnote was numbered to direct the reader to any specific, corresponding sentence in the book, so it was impossible to discern from which source she derived her facts. But again, that's an editing error and likely not the author's mistake.
Some things I enjoyed about the book were the descriptions of the old world processes for creating silk and perfume. There was a passage on the Louis Vuitton factory and that was interesting. She also had a very clever smack at that Versace dragon woman, which was quite funny. The facts contradicting the idea of luxury goods being made in small, seaside workshops by aging craftsman were particularly interesting also. So there are some little gems in there that make it somewhat interesting.
Even with the positives however, it was still a lack-lustre read. Again, my main issue was that she didn't do the intellectual investigation necessary to decide whether high fashion and luxury are worth the endured costs (both monetary and social). It was not intellectually stimulating, nor did it add to the ongoing debate on what place luxury should have in society. It reminded me of a college-level research paper chock-full of interesting, yet ultimately useless facts that sometimes pertained to the topic at hand. Personally, I didn't care what side she ended up on; I just wanted her to take a side. But perhaps that was her goal, and if that was indeed it, she accomplished it. But it certainly isn't a lofty goal. I was also made livid (and I do mean livid) by the glaring, conspicuous lack of diligence in proofreading this book. The editor is a buffoon, and he or she should not only lose their job, but any degree they earned should be taken away. How can something with so many grammar and spelling errors, sentence fragments, and just overall clunky writing end up in the market? That's what an editor is for, to make sure the writer's finished product isn't complete crap. Did he or she purposefully choose not to correct the errors to embarrass the author? I am sorry for climbing the soapbox, but I get very angry when objectively bad literature is put out there for people to read. Maybe it was a shoddy homage to Kurt Vonnegut? Who the heck knows?
One last comment, the structure was very disjointed and rickety (again, this could have been alleviated with a better editor). I remember reading a very interesting part on Christian Louboutin. It was actually quite compelling, and she composed it well. However, she never really tied that piece into the greater theme, mainly that he was a true pioneer of fashion that actually created a product worthy of the luxury label. Again, she hinted at it, but she never really said it. It was as if there were portions missing from the book.
So yes, I didn't find it engaging overall. And it certainly wasn't worth the price for the digital copy. But, I did give it three stars because I think the concept is interesting, and I believe there are people out there that would really enjoy this book. Just looking at the reviews on here, most did and I think that's great. But I thought it to be a wasted effort. Perhaps she'll come out with something a bit more biting. And perhaps she'll use a dictionary and what she learned in her high school english classes to compose something significantly better. And hopefully she'll fire the horse that edited and proofread this book.