"Luxury," in sense, can be used to describe something that is both 1) well made and 2) limited or partially inaccessible. The introduction of luxury brands to the middle-market and the industrialization of production causes both the quality and exclusivity of the item to decline. Before, luxury items were both. They were reserved for the aristocrats or the royal who required perfectly and personally made items unavailable to the lower classes. Over time, though, as the middle and upper-middle classes have grown, luxury brands have opened their doors to the less-wealthy. In doing so, however, they compromise the very essence of what makes a luxury item luxurious.
The middle-market is not privy to the same craftsmanship or attention as the aristocrats. At the height of luxury garments, items were fit for the client, "A dress or suit was built on you, taking into consideration your own shape and above all, made to make you feel comfortable and at your best" (Caron in Thomas 31). The designers decided what item was best for the customer based on the customer's activity, "Dior, Marc Bohan, Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent would as you, 'What are you going to be ding in this outfit? Do you need to run or dance? Don't choose velvet if you're going to sit long hours at a gala, it makes a mark on the seat. Let's not make it tight at the seat, it wrinkles when you stand. This length is good for you, that one is not'" (ibid). The designers' expert opinion was a pinnacle part of the luxury shopping experience. When luxury brands expanded to mass production and reached other economic statuses, that part of the experience was compromised. While the items were still considered art in their design, the personal attention sacrificed the part of the luxury-buying experience that made it so luxurious--being doted on.
Luxury brands expanded their merchandise to the middle-market by introducing accessories; in addition to the magnificent ball gowns red-carpet-ready suits, and massive trunks, they offered sunglasses, everyday handbags, and fragrances. At more modest prices, these items were more accessible to the middle-market and with the luxury brand monograms, the same status stamp of approval.
However, with the distinction between what a luxury brand could offer the ultra wealthy and what it could offer the upper or middle class, the concept of "luxury" declines. The pieces that are left behind after a season are handed over to outlet malls. Discounted as much as 70%, outlet malls are, as Thomas states, the "antithesis [of] luxury itself" (Thomas 247). Instead of boasting about the price of an item, shoppers boast about the amount they saved. The price they pay at an outlet mall versus the price the luxury item is worth at full price is a crowning achievement. With the accessibility and affordability of luxury items, however, comes the diminishing of its status. While a luxury logo is still recognized as representing a certain economic standing, the opportunity to buy at such discounted prices makes luxury less exclusive.
With the expansion of luxury brands to the middle-market, this personal attention shifted as well as the status. "Big Shoppers," wealthy, frequent shoppers in luxury paradises like Las Vegas, were catered to similarly. Personal shoppers pulled items from luxury stores to present to the customer in a private fitting, with tailors on hand to make any adjustments. In a way, this is a left over part of that personal experience from decades before. Still, though, the clients lack the designers' opinion on what suits them personally.
Mass production and commercialization of luxury brands have caused them to lose the two essential parts of their definition--exclusivity and personal experience. While the status has diminished with its availability to a larger market, the status of a luxury brand still holds some significance. Commercialization and globalization, however, have completely erased the personal experience of luxury brand shopping--when a designer or expert recommends silhouettes or tailors an item specifically for the wearer. The shift from an item that is expensive but personally tailored or constructed to one that is more affordable yet generically constructed. Ultimately, the move away from personally constructed garments and commercialization of luxury brands leads clothes to become, like so much else in today's society, disposable.
Liz is a senior English major with minors in Spanish and Computer Science. Her research interests, like her areas of academic speciality, lie in the intersections between humanities and science. In her free time, she enjoys reading, writing, and playing with dogs.