Thursday, April 21, 2011

It’s in the Bag by Dana Thomas from Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster.

by Gayatri Mittal

Dana Thomas is the author of the New York Times bestseller Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster. Based in Paris, she covers the fashion industry and culture. In the chapter It's in the bag she is presenting facts based on observational and historical research. Some of the key terms that she explains in the chapter are:

“Entrance Products” to luxury brands: Handbags and other small leather goods once costing as much as, if not more than, ready-to-wear.

“It” bags: the latest hot designs that thanks to luxury brand ad campaigns and fashion magazine articles have become the must have of the season. The “It” bag phenomena is young.

“Game bag”: During world war two, handbags became simple and practical, like the leather backpack and the “game bag”, a largish sac worn across the torso so that one could ride a bicycle easily, the preferred method of transportation.

“Affordable Luxury”: The chapter gives an example with the Coach. The idea was to reposition the brand as an American alternative to Prada and Louis Vuitton.

“Sophisticated Labor”: work that requires refined skill. Some other words repeated in the text are handbag, luxury, brand, quality, craftsman, artisans, special orders/ special thing, perfection, time, ads etc.

She starts the article by saying that; more than anything today the handbag tells a story of the woman: her reality, her dreams. With the help of the luxury brand marketing, the handbag changes every few months, like the seasons, like her moods. Handbags are the engines that drive luxury brands today.

“They make your life more pleasant, make you dream, give you confidence, and show your neighbors you are doing well”. Karl Lagerfeld.

It’s easier to chose a bag than a dress because you don't have to face the age, the weight, all the problems”. Miuccia Prada.

Handbags have become so important today because the luxury brands have been pushing the message, and the product relentlessly. “It’s like you’ve gotta have it or you’ll die,” Tom Ford explained. “Everybody-everybody-is talking about handbags with the intensity of cardinals appointing a new Pope”. English journalist wrote during LFW 2006.

Then she talks about how the contemporary artists and websites have played on it. For example, have cropped up for woman to rent luxury and designer handbags for a fashionably short time instead of buying them. That way, they can change their bags more often. And artists like Libby Black, Tom Sachs, Alberto Sorbelli.

In the world of luxury brand handbags, there is a pyramid of quality: made to order down to mass-manufactured. She says the best and the finest is the Hermes handbag. Buying a Hermes is a true experience in luxury. They are the antithesis of the “It” bag. From the shopping experience to the bag is special.

Hermes like a small, intimate luxury company, and that is the same business philosophy that drives the company today. She goes on to explain how a Hermes bag is made to understand what luxury once was and what it is no longer. She refers to historical content of Hermes. At Hermes nothing goes out of fashion.

Throughout the centuries men and women have carried their belongings in some sort of bags according to the social structure. The modern handbag- “the sign of a new independence”. Advertisement companies make millions every year from handbags.

During the feminist movement all the essential woman accessories disappeared. All that remained was the baby of the lot, the handbag, and it moved up the arm to the shoulder, freeing up a woman’s hands as she liberated her mind and her soul.

A good leather handbag was a hefty investment woman preferred bags that wouldn’t go out of fashion. The answer came from Miuccia Prada. She wanted to do new designs. Nothing at Prada would be old. Prada became the emblem of the radical change. The family business of beautifully handcrafted goods to global corporations selling to the middle market.

Hermes stuck with its limited distribution. The heart of Hermes was fine traditional craftsmanship, and to sacrifice that would undermine the brand. Hermes where artisans study and at Gucci the computer makes.

How luxury bags are made in China? Emboldened by Coach success luxury brands quietly began to outsource production. According to the luxury brand the “Made in” label is the reason why it is luxury and cost so much. But with the high cost of labor mounting in Europe, how could luxury brands slash the production cost of their goods and maintain the same high level of quality. The bag that cost 120$ to produce will be on sale for 1200$. “In the end we are money generator for them”.

The luxury handbag is a study of globalization. The sourcing from raw materials to the production is sometimes as questionable as the true provenance of the bag.

With large numbers of factories in China there is a shortage of sophisticated labor and electricity leading to human right complaints. Also, as workers gain more education, they demand more in wages and perks. Even if the brands are giving more value to the workers, nevertheless there are casualties.

It is definitely relevant to the real world because the conditions still do exist for the workers in China. With the wage they are paid and the cost of the actual product that is made in China regardless of quality and workmanship, it really questions luxury.

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