In a Gresham’s Law of realty usage, the term “luxury” has come to describe virtually any dwelling grander than a hovel.Â The NYT has now offered us not one but two reviews of Dana Thomas’s new book Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Luster, signifying a wider cultural crisis for theÂ idea of luxury.Â Just as Teri Agins told the sad story of Pierre Cardin’s hyperlicensed brand dilution, Thomas worries about a luxury industry that no longer signifies fine craftsmanship:
As both disposable income and credit-card debt soared in industrialized nations, the middle class became the target of luxury vendors, who poured money into provocative advertising campaigns and courted movie stars and celebrities as style icons. In order to maximize profits, many corporations looked for ways to cut corners: they began to use cheaper materials, outsource production to developing nations (while falsely claiming that their goods were made in Western Europe) and replace hand craftsmanship with assembly-line production. Classic goods meant to last for years gave way, increasingly, to trendy items with a short shelf life; cheaper lines (featuring lower-priced items like T-shirts and cosmetic cases) were introduced as well.
Â Is it any wonder that luxury TM’s are facing a crisis of legitimacy?Â Apparently it is for Thomas, who “is shocked to overhear a woman ‘in a designer pantsuit, good jewelry and Chanel sunglasses’ expressing interest in a fake Rolex.”Â Â Quelle horreur!Â
At some point luxury TM enforcement may seem to be little more than a new sumptuary law, designed to prevent the masses from “status signaling” they can’t really afford.Â Imagine a new brand, “I’m Rich,” which prints the (steep) price of its shirts embedded in some creative logo above the front pocket.Â Should the government step in to prevent people from copying that design + price?Â I imagine that “Baby Louis” in a Giuliani administration would demand no less.Â