Interview Style

Interview with Dana Thomas

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!

Dana Thomas (via)

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.

Dana with Cameron Silver of Decades (via)

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.

My personal, well loved copy!

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.

An Hermes craftsman at work (via)

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.

(via)

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.

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  • Englishvers
    October 31, 2012 at 6:55 am

    I enjoyed reading and agree with her on Chanel and hermes and her views on luxury vs quality.

  • latkesanddimsum
    October 31, 2012 at 7:08 am

    One of my favorite books (I re-read it from time to time). Thank you for your post!

  • miss sophie
    October 31, 2012 at 8:43 am

    oh i loved her book! quite a well-researched exposé into the world of luxury goods.

  • adele
    October 31, 2012 at 8:57 am

    Her book sounds like a great read!
    Happy Halloween Hun xoxo
    http://www.intotheblonde.com/

  • Aesthetic Alterations
    October 31, 2012 at 9:44 am

    Her book is one of the reasons I dived more fully into Hermès collecting a few years ago. I’d purchased a couple of scarves from H, and then started to wonder about the production of fashion—Hermès was just beginning the sharp increase of consumer interest, which generally results in lower standards. I’d witnessed the first real fall of luxury quality in the late ’90s when traveling back and forth to Paris, and the the transformation of American labels in the early 2000s due to outsourcing (Coach, for example, should be ashamed—even their return to full leather bags in classic styles seems like a heavy dose of cynicism and hypocrisy to me). Reading Dana’s account still blew my mind, however—I hadn’t realized just how far everything had gone.

    Thank goodness for Hermès and the few other good labels. If I’m going to spend that kind of money for fashion, I want those dollars to pay real wages and real health benefits.

    • Katherine
      October 31, 2012 at 9:54 am

      Hi Catherine, lovely to hear from you again 🙂 What are some other good labels that you love? I know that you have a wonderful eye!

      • Aesthetic Alterations
        October 31, 2012 at 9:10 pm

        I used to buy shoes exclusively from the German (Berlin) label Trippen, as their production revitalized Italian towns; unfortunately, the aesthetic isn’t mine anymore, so I’m still hunting for the perfect shoe source—Prada owns Church’s, so I hem and haw even though the shoes are well made. Cydwoq makes beautiful, if funky shoes, in good conditions. DVF and Vivienne Westwood are both active on the political and cultural front, so even if some items are made in non-EU countries, there seems an authenticity there that’s very important to me. Eileen Fisher was a long love of mine for her practices—and the items LAST. Anne Fontaine—at least according to the latest information I’ve found—is committed to production in France and Europe and even operates a nonprofit.

        Not everything I acquire is made with high integrity—but the pieces I most identify with, like H and Anne Fontaine, are. Fingers crossed it stays that way.

        I have to say—we live in a global environment, so there’s going to be production in non USA/EU countries. But is this done ethically? Does the designer or brand give back? Do they have the spirit I hope for in the world? [Right now, DVF is soaring pretty high for me on this front.]

        Sorry for such a long spiel—I really love the conversation this interview generates.

        • Katherine
          October 31, 2012 at 10:58 pm

          Great reply Catherine! Thank you for your recommendations.

          I agree with your statement about non USA/EU countries and I think it should even be encouraged – but in return they should be giving something back to those communities like you say. In the form of higher wages, good working conditions and perhaps education as well. There is definitely a middle group where these designers can achieve high quality, improve the lives of their workers while still improving their bottom line as even with all those perks, labor costs are going to be quite a bit lower.

  • Kelly @ Alterations Needed
    October 31, 2012 at 11:23 am

    Great interview!! My copy of Deluxe is still one of my favorite fashion reads and I’m glad to hear that Dana believes Chanel and Hermes are still keeping up levels of integrity that other luxury brands have not. That was actually a question I’ve had in my mind recently, so thank you for asking it!

    • Katherine
      October 31, 2012 at 11:34 am

      Thanks Kelly! I was wondering that too…especially with all the Chanel price increases going on.

  • groupthink7@gmail.com
    October 31, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    I bought this book about 2 years ago. I enjoyed it a lot. It is true, most items these days are all about big profits. Not to give any names, I think the ones that oppose to this idea do the same thing. Nothing is the same anymore. When I purchase things I look at the craftsmanship. I purchased an Evelyne bag last year and returned it because as my family put it, it didn’t really look like anything for the amount of money I spent for it. I think with anything, you have to look at it carefully before you justify spending the money for it.

    • Katherine
      October 31, 2012 at 2:26 pm

      That’s a fabulous point – to not just blindly trust brands on everything. I’ve been thinking about getting an Evelyne, thank you for your feedback!

  • Anouka
    October 31, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    Thanks for presenting the author and the book. It’s the first time that I hear about it. Must order this on Amazon.

    LUXESSED

  • groupthink7@gmail.com
    October 31, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    Also, I think Chanel has went down a lot in quality in my opinion. I would rather have an older Chanel flap versus the one’s that are produced today. The ballet flats, oh my gosh that is an entirely different discussion. However, I do love their jackets and optic wear.

    • Katherine
      October 31, 2012 at 2:29 pm

      Please continue on the ballet flats! I have one pair and I love mine (they are about 2-3 years old) but have never tried out the ones from years before that. Do you think there’s been a decline there as well?

  • groupthink7@gmail.com
    October 31, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    I think the decline started about 2008 or 2009. I noticed that with Stuart Weitzman Shoes as well. I have been purchasing luxury items since about 14 with my first Coach bag. I think all the way around there is a decline in everything. What I am saying is that the decline started when more of the middle class started buying into the frenzy. (Mind you I am middle class). I can actually say that I own lots of handbags from Bottega V, Hermes, Coach, Prada, Mui Mui, Cole Hahn, Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Longchamp, Tous, Celine, Chloe, and Dooney and Bourke. I love DB the best. Especially their made in Italy styles. The craftsmanship is great and you actually smell the leather.

  • Marlene @ chocolatecookiesandcandies
    October 31, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    What a coincidence! I’m halfway through this book and am loving it. It certainly has a profound impact on how I view brands ever since I read excerpts and reviews of the book years ago. I’ve been running an online consignment business for close to 11 years now. I’ve touched 25 year old Louis Vuitton bags as well as the more current design. The difference in quality and workmanship is astounding. Wonky stitching, zipper not tucked in properly, very poor finishing and I can just go on and on. The same goes for Gucci and Prada.

    • groupthink7@gmail.com
      October 31, 2012 at 3:23 pm

      Okay it is not me. I think brands that have the reputation of being luxury items equate that to quality in the minds of consumers who judge only by the reputation. I can say this about Toyota. My parents owned Toyotas for years and I owned quite a few since I was about 22 years old. I left the brand last year in favor of the BMW. My aunt killed a panhandler in a Lexus in downtown Chicago when the car lost control. Toyotas were the thing of quality about 20 years ago. When I was living in Japan, about 5 years ago, there were cars on the road from the 90s that looked great and ran great.

  • Lana
    November 1, 2012 at 12:03 am

    Just want to point out the Italian brand should be spelled “Loro Piana”

    • Katherine
      November 1, 2012 at 8:04 am

      Thank you Lana! I’ve fixed that.

  • Eva
    November 1, 2012 at 1:28 am

    Very interesting interview Katherine!

  • UrbanJungleFashion
    November 1, 2012 at 10:03 am

    Thank You so much for this great piece.

  • Amy
    November 1, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    Great interview, Katherine! Over the years, my mom, sister and I have really focused on buying things we love, no matter at what price (high or low) and who it’s made by. We also noticed a decline in the quality of the brands we love, even though the price point would suggest otherwise. I think there are exceptions to this, of course, but those are rare.

  • Reads of the Week | Black & Blonde
    November 3, 2012 at 3:03 am

    […] Interview with Dana Thomas: The Feather Factor always has the best interviews. This week, she chronicled the author of my favorite fashion book, How Luxury Lost Its Luster. As always, she put forth very poignant questions to get excellent answers. […]

  • J.
    March 7, 2016 at 11:37 pm

    Old interview, I know, but her book is great, and this is the first interview I have ever read with her, so wanted to thanks you anyway 🙂

    • Katherine
      March 8, 2016 at 10:32 am

      Thanks J! Dana Thomas is a fantastic writer, I’d recommend trying out Gods and Kings as well.