Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Impetus: Food For Thought

I'll never forget it. I was 21 years old when, one summery saturday afternoon, my mom and I took the hour-long drive from San Bernardino to Los Angeles' infamous Santee Alley shopping district. "The Alley" is an egregiously long stretch of narrow concrete nestled between throngs of mostly foreign vendors shamelessly hawking counterfeit designer wares, amongst other cheap and equally imitated merchandise. I had heard through the grapevine that this was the place to get a designer bag, albeit fake, for dirt cheap. My excitement was palpable. So what if it wasn't the real thing, nobody else would know (I think).

It didn't take long for me to come across what I was looking for, the "It-Bag" of the moment--the Louis Vuitton Speedy. "Real letha!", according to the overzealous African man. I humored him, I knew it wasn't, but I didn't care. For $100, I would have a piece of what I believed to be luxury, something that elevated me, made me stand out, and inspired envy despite its stiff, plastic-like canvas and way-too-light handle. And it didn't stop there...there was the fake Louis wallet, the Christian Dior bucket bag and the $90 quilted Chanel bag, which actually never saw the inside of my closet because my mom wouldn't loan me the other $50 I needed to make it mine. I nearly shed a tear. Sad but true.

About a year later, I wised up and got rid of all my false pretenses, replacing my wardrobe and accessories with newly discovered vintage and thrift-store finds. I was tired of being a walking billboard. I had come to the conclusion that these labels had nothing to do with actual style, but a mass-marketed, commercialized trend, which is exactly what author Dana Thomas explores in-depth in her book, Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster. Although a bit too figure and number-heavy for my taste, this book is an eye-opener for anyone who still believes that every Louis Vuitton bag is slowly, and tenderly crafted in some atelier in the Paris countryside.

I was surprised to learn that most major fashion houses--Fendi, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Christian Dior, etc.--are part of huge conglomerate corporations, outsourcing to developing countries, and churning out handbags like McDonald's does hamburgers. Given the comparison, one can only assume the quality ain't what it used to be. In fact, it isn't. When dealing with production on such a large scale, manufacturers cut corners on materials and labor to limit costs, which is ultimately in the interest of the companies and their stockholders. This book further proves that "luxury" brands are nothing more than a commodity, where brand association takes precedence over inherent quality, if any. Luckily, I've already learned my lesson.

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