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Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster [Paperback]

Dana Thomas
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

July 29 2008
Once luxury was available only to the rarefied and aristocratic world of old money and royalty. It offered a history of tradition, superior quality, and a pampered buying experience. Today, however, luxury is simply a product packaged and sold by multibillion-dollar global corporations focused on growth, visibility, brand awareness, advertising, and, above all, profits. Award-winning journalist Dana Thomas digs deep into the dark side of the luxury industry to uncover all the secrets that Prada, Gucci, and Burberry don?t want us to know. Deluxe is an uncompromising look behind the glossy façade that will enthrall anyone interested in fashion, finance, or culture.


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From Publishers Weekly

Newsweek reporter Thomas skillfully narrates European fashion houses' evolution from exclusive ateliers to marketing juggernauts. Telling the story through characters like the French mogul Bernard Arnault, she details how the perfection of old-time manufacturing, still seen in Hermès handbags, has bowed to sweatshops and wild profits on mediocre merchandise. After a brisk history of luxury, Thomas shows why handbags and perfume are as susceptible to globalization and corporate greed as less rarefied industries. She follows the overarching story, parts of which are familiar, from boardrooms to street markets that unload millions in counterfeit goods, dropping irresistible details like a Japanese monk obsessed with Comme des Garçons. But she's no killjoy. If anything, she's fond of the aristocratic past, snarks at "behemoths that churn out perfume like Kraft makes cheese" and is too credulous of fashionistas' towering egos. Despite her grasp of business machinations, her argument that conglomerates have stolen luxury's soul doesn't entirely wash. As her tales of quotidian vs. ultra luxury make clear, the rich and chic can still distinguish themselves, even when Las Vegas hosts the world's ritziest brands. Thomas might have delved deeper into why fashion labels inspire such mania, beyond "selling dreams," but her curiosity is contagious. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Thomas has been the fashion writer for Newsweek in Paris for 12 years and writes about style for the New York Times Magazine and other well-known publications. She traces the origins of luxury from the mid–nineteenth century, when Louis Vuitton made his first steamer trunks and custom-made clothing was strictly the province of European aristocracy, through the fashion boom of the 1920s, when names such as Dior, Gucci, and Yves Saint Laurent came into prominence, and buyers with expendable income could afford exquisite clothing and perfume. Sadly, today most of the well-known names are owned by multinational groups, and luxury items have become commodities, where buyers crave name brands for what they represent rather than their inherent quality of manufacture and design. Thomas takes us into the streets of New York, where counterfeit items are sold that look so much like the real thing that it takes an expert to tell them apart, to the Guangzhou region in China, where children make knockoff goods under appalling conditions. She manages to remove the veil from the fashion industry with a blend of history, culture, and investigative journalism. Siegfried, David --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Jeffrey Swystun TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
If luxury is available to all - does it cease to be luxury? This is the primary argument of Dana Thomas' fascinating examination of an industry that tends to defy rational consumer behavior (but who said we consumers were ever rational!). She has thoroughly researched the subject and the book is replete with facts and figures embedded in a narrative that reads more like a novel. Given it is written in 2007, there are some statistics or trends that will have been tested by our economic troubles, however, the primary premise and other key facets of the book remain true and relevant. And what overwhelms is the author's curiosity and nose for appropriate detail.

It is equal parts history, sociology, and brand and business strategy treatise. Overall, it is a compelling indictment of how the luxury industry has evolved from artisans to staggering brand behemoths presiding over a $157 billion industry (35 brands control 60% of the business). As Thomas explains, "The way we dress reflects not only our personality but also our economic, political, and social standing and our self-worth." Luxury brands have leveraged this insight and rolled out calculated marketing strategies to feed our desires and insecurities. And we have responded appropriately pursuing luxury to differentiate ourselves.

The author defines the subject, "Luxury wasn't simply a product. It denoted a history of tradition, superior quality, and often a pampered buying experience. Luxury was a natural and expected element of upper-class life, like belonging to the right clubs or having the right surname.
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By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
If you like behind-the-scenes books about privilege, luxury, greed, and lust for status, you've come to the right book. Ms. Thomas has a remarkable knowledge of luxury goods which she combines with an insatiable curiosity about everything related to luxuries. She's a keen observer who relates her tours of the highways, byways, and back roads of fashion so vividly you'll think you are part of the scene.

I was delighted to see that Deluxe was a perfect balance of the origins of luxury (as enjoyed by royalty), the methods by which luxury has been and is produced, how the major luxury goods houses got started and evolved, and the trends that dominate today and tomorrow. If there's some part of the book you don't like, you'll soon be into a part that you will like.

I had only one reservation about the book: Ms. Thomas doesn't seem to appreciate the benefits that upscale goods provide for middle class people. She seems to resent that the money made in serving the middle class has led many luxury firms to ignore those with the most elevated taste and money. I don't blame her for resenting that, since she knows that world well. But it does seem to me that having tens of millions enjoy life a bit more is hardly a bad thing.

You'll learn lots about perfume, hand bags, luggage, backpacks, scarves, knits, and dresses. You'll learn even more about those who make fashion succeed. It's a fun ride!
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Business of Luxury Made Understandable Jan. 5 2010
By Sabine
Format:Paperback
Dana Thomas' book is vividly written and takes you on a ride through the luxury goods industry, and how it has changed significantly through the years. It is very informative for a fashion follower such as myself, and I would recommend it to anyone who wanted to learn the Whos, Whys, Hows, Whens, Wheres of the business of luxury items. I have to point out though that Dana Thomas' biases and prejudices against certain fashion houses or labels somehow arise between the lines. There seems to be a resentment (snobbishness?) for the mass-market way luxury goods are made and sold by most brands, maybe arising from the loss of exclusivity...Vuitton lovers beware.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars US prices Dec 22 2008
By J. Avon
Format:Hardcover
in the USA, on the dot-com version of this website, this book is listed at: list Price: $15.00 Actual Price (new): $9.75 so I wonder why these gouging canadian prices...
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  108 reviews
78 of 80 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If anyone finds out about me... Sept. 6 2007
By Milton Fuentes - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
at corporate I would get a little slap on the wrist for writing this review since I work for one the brands heavily mentioned in this wonderful book.

I entered the world of luxury goods last year for an Italian brand that even it's "epicenter" store is elusive without the name of the store on Rodeo Drive. What Dana Thomas has written about the luxury brands is eye opening and condemning. From the factories in China, Santee Alley in the Downtown Los Angeles and the country side of France, you get the insiders view on how indeed luxury lost its luster. Once considered lavish and extravagant, we now see what luxury brands have done to diminish the quality and service of these high end stores and at great cost. No one walks into Gucci and buys a $2000 handbag expecting it to be made by an under paid teenager in China only to have the tag changed once it is in the companies possession to "made in Italy" for adding a handle. Small couture brands exist that retain a sense of dignity by continuing the art of exclusivity, style and hand made products that are still created and made where the tag states they're from. Even Hermes, a brand that continues to grow steadily, has retained its heritage and luxe by hand making made to order handbags and saddles.

Aside from the investigative interviews and reports on luxury's current state, you also get history lessons on the birth of luxury from Alexander the Great's wardrobe, how Chanel No 5 came to be and the creation of the "Birkin" bag for Jane Birkin by Hermes. Witty, insightful and damning, you can't help but feel drawn into this book hoping that it never ends. But all good things come to an end and what I was left with was a sense of doubt and a bit of anger. As I stand in floor full of runway dresses, shoes and bags I wonder how much are these really worth? When a client complains in the future about her bag falling apart in a few days and asks, "What are your bags made in China?" in the back of my mind I will think yes it indeed could have been made in China.
113 of 123 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Methodically researched/ Beautifully written Aug. 24 2007
By E. Snead - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Full Disclosure: I write about fashion, entertainment and celebrities for a living and have known Dana Thomas for a decade or more. I knew she was working on a book about luxury (yawn) and for the past three years, she was always exhausted, trotting off to China, Milan, Grasse or Lake Como, sometimes popping into my hood in Hollywood, constantly doing research for the book.

But frankly, I'm not a big designer brand buyer and would sooner plunk $400 on a Pottery Barn couch than a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes. So I never imagined how engrossed i would be by this book. In fact, I was shocked.

Dana makes this elitist world come alive by putting luxury in a historical context (Caesar wore only silk togas and the Senate was POed at the expense!) and taking the reader with her on a personal journey behind the scenes and around the world, to find out the sad truth about the decline of the luxury goods industry.

It's utterly fascinating and engrossing. And it's funny! Dana has a wicked snse of humor and pulls no punches in describing the decadent denizens of the "Deluxe" world. Even if you know nothing about fashion, couldn't tell a Gucci bag from a Prada purse, and don't own a single designer knockoff product, this book will fascinate, educate and entertain. Plus any book that can make me put down the last Harry Potter - in the middle! - has to be some kind of good read.
34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars No, it's not very good July 31 2012
By Kevin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
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.

Thanks!
65 of 76 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars LOVED THIS BOOK! Aug. 22 2007
By Pamela Keogh - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I heard Dana at a reading last night in NYC and HAD to buy her book. I then stayed up until 2:00am reading it... and finished it this afternoon. A true fashion insider (Paris correspondent for Newsweek), Dana has the job I think we all wish we had -- covering the couture shows, getting the "real" inside scoop on what goes on behind the fashion curtain (as it were). The stories are here, and they are all real, since Dana knows all the players -- LVMH, Marc Jacobs, Galliano, Prada...

She tells us the stories behind all the luxury items we covet -- Chanel No. 5 perfume, that Prada bag, that Dior evening dress. And most importantly, WHY we covet them. You might never walk down 57th Street, or Rodeo Drive, or Bond Street, and see the stores quite the same way.

Impeccably researched, highly informative, fast paced -- this is on my gift list for all my pals this year. A great read...
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Devastating Look at the McLuxury Trade Nov. 16 2007
By Lostinbooks - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
By exposing the deteriorating quality and mass marketing of many so-called luxury goods, Dana Thomas has driven home a truth--if EVERYBODY has it, no matter how much it costs it's no longer a luxury item. Today, the malls are jammed with women of every economic strata proudly brandishing (mostly fake and a few real) LV bags. They are logo soldiers in LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault's LV army. Though it's usually easy to spot the fakes (as of this writing on fake LV's, the LV' is not upside down on the reverse) the bags are so ubiquitous that it hardly matters anymore.

Hermes is one of the few large companies that still gets it right. Smaller leather goods makers and perfumers such as Valextra and Lorenzo Villoresi continue to carry the torch. One complaint is that many of these smaller companies were not mentioned in the book. Superb quality and true luxury will always be there if you know where to look.

For some, luxury still means exclusivity; as Thomas points out, wealthy cognescenti will continue to quietly raise the bar by seeking out rare items of exquisite quality, leaving the "mass affluents" behind in logo purgatory. Of course, the hoi polloi will be giddily buying "luxury" bags that the upper crusties wouldn't be caught dead with.

There is some justice in all this. With all her vast wealth and power, Delphine Arnault cannot carry an exquisite, handmade Hermes bag,(at least not in public.) Poor thing! She's stuck with her daddy's lackluster, "McLuxury" brands.

UPDATE: Although he has denied it, it is clear that Bernard Arnault is lining up his ducks for an eventual takeover of Hermes. So far, the family has been able to block him from taking a majority stake. I hope that this never happens. I bought my first Hermes bag in 1983. I still carry and love it. Thanks to M. Claude of Hermes in New York, It is as beautiful now as the day that I bought it. I can't bear to think of Hermes in Arnaut's grip. E company should remain in family hands.

I deduct one star for the numerous typos: this is UNFORGIVABLE in a book about the decline of quality.
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