Today’s interview is with someone that I’m sure quite a few of you are familiar with – Dana Thomas, author of the book Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster. Dana is a New York Times bestselling author, WSJ. contributing editor, and a former cultural and fashion correspondent for Newsweek in Paris. Needless to say she is incredibly accomplished and I was thrilled to be able to interview her, as Deluxe has long been one of my favorite fashion reads and has greatly influenced my purchasing decisions. Enjoy meeting Dana!
Who are you? What do you do, and where do you live?
I’m a foreign correspondent living in Paris. I mainly write about fashion, culture and the arts, but I can and have written about almost everything, except war.
You wrote Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster - a fascinating look at the declining quality of many luxury goods (in a period of rising prices, no less). What prompted you to write this piece? Was luxury always an industry that you were interested in?
I wrote it because I found that prices of luxury goods were going up as quality was obviously and quickly diminishing, while I was writing stories about the companies, who were reporting record-breaking sales and profits. I thought: something is up here. So I decided to find out.
Do you have a personal interest in the luxury industry? Do you purchase luxury items? What would you like to acquire one day?
No, not at all. I like to horseback ride, garden, run, hike, and cook. I could care less about fancy anything, except maybe a really nice hotel with a good spa for holiday. I think that’s the primary reason I can write about fashion objectively: because I am not the sort who would die over a pair of shoes. Ever
What I would like to acquire one day? A farm.
Since you’ve written Deluxe, the luxury market seems to have accelerated at huge rates, largely fueled by emerging markets. Do you think this phenomenon is going to continue – and that the “new rich” from these markets will continue to seek out luxury from Europe?
Yes, I do. The brands are betting their entire stakes on these markets and are winning big. I think these markets are the growth sector for everything for sometime to come. We in the old countries–Europe, the US–will matter less and less, except of course the Super Rich.
When you wrote Deluxe, Hermes and Chanel were two of the rare houses that seemed to be trying to preserve their luxury heritage and craftsmanship. Do you still believe this to be the case? Are there any other brands that have captured your attention over the years?
Yes, I do think those two still maintain their integrity because they are still privately held and do not make short term decisions to yield big immediate profits for shareholders. Instead they think about their long term reputation. Other brands that to do this? Tom Ford and Loro Piana are two that come immediately to mind. I’m sure there are others. Particularly smaller firms that I don’t know.
From your book and some recent blog post updates from you (on Bottega Veneta, for example) there seemed to be a trend of luxury brands outsourcing aspects of their production, and/or paying Chinese workers low wages in their Italian factories. Is this trend continuing?
Yes, of course. Because the goal of most luxury companies is beautiful profits, not truly beautiful products, and they cut costs in any way possible to guarantee those profits.
What are some brands which are chronic offenders of what you describe above?
I do not denounce brands.
What are some characteristics in items that you suggest consumers keep an eye out for, in order to discern true luxury items and quality?
Just look for quality: you should never pay thousands of dollars for something that is less well made or the same as something you can find for less that $100. Also, avoid logos at all cost, because when an item does have a logo, that’s what you are paying for. Rarely is there anything behind it.
Finally, please share something surprising about yourself!
When I was a student, I wanted to be an archeologist. And when I started in journalism, I wanted to be a White House correspondent.
I hope this interview gave you a little peek into the mind of Dana – I know that for me personally, it was wonderful getting to know a little bit more about an author that has influenced my thinking about fashion and luxury so greatly. Her line about many luxury lines now prioritizing beautiful profits versus beautiful items has particularly stuck itself in my head.
If you are a fashion lover, just plain interested in business and consumerism, want to learn more about a fascinating trend, or a combination of all of these – I highly recommend reading Deluxe, if you haven’t already. You can find the book here.