The definition of luxury
has certainly changed throughout the years. According to
Merriam-Webster, luxury is "a condition of abundance or
great ease and comfort:
something adding to
pleasure or comfort but not absolutely necessary;
indulgence in something that provides pleasure,
satisfaction, or ease." From the Anglo-French "luxorie,"
and from the Latin "luxuria,"
the word "luxury" is associated with
excess. It is said that the
word "luxury" also has early associations with the words
"lust" and "lascivious."
Years ago, luxury goods were
strictly reserved for an elite clientèle—those who belonged
to the aristocracy. Since mass production did not come into
existence until Henry Ford popularized it in the early 20th
century, many of the products that were made in the earlier
centuries were rare, difficult to obtain, or produced in
very limited quantities, which is why they were classified
as luxury items. Artisan in nature, these goods were deep
rooted in tradition and craftsmanship.
According to last year's
"Luxury" exhibit at New York City's
Fashion Institute of Technology, haute couture first
emerged during the era of high capitalism in the 19th
century. It was then that great couturiers such as Charles
Frederick Worth became recognized as "artists of luxury."
The art of dressmaking soon started to transform from a
small-scale craft to an international business. Mass
produced imitations of fashionable luxury items
proliferated, as middle-class consumers emulated the buying
habits of the newly wealthy. Women's dress, in particular,
started to become more ostentatious, leading author
Thorstein Veblen to coin the phrase "conspicuous
consumption." Veblen, who wrote The Theory of the Leisure
Class, described "conspicuous consumption" as
consumption undertaken to make a statement to others about
one's class or accomplishments.
When industry insiders at
Apparel Search hear the term "conspicuous consumption," we
think of the logo craze that has been dominating the
industry for some time now. This newer form of luxury is
style-driven and more accessible than the products of long
ago, and it often reflects a contemporary design
Many fashion brands such as
Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Coach are known for their
iconic logo-centric luxury designs. Although the handbags,
luggage, and other accessories marketed by these brands are
well-crafted, they differ from the rare luxuries of long
ago. In some cases, even the materials used such as vinyl,
are certainly not considered a luxury (until it comes in the
form of a $3,000 Louis Vuitton bag).
In recent years, the term
"democratization of design" has become quite common in
fashion and design circles. Here, the concept of "luxury" is
watered down and marketed so that it is affordable for the
masses. This concept has brought "designer" names such as
celebrated architect Michael Graves and renowned designer
Isaac Mizrahi to the masses through affordable retailers
such as Target. In fact, many industry insiders credit
Target for pioneering this design concept. Many others have
now followed suit.
This design concept has been
demonstrated through many partnerships between various
retailers and renowned designers. Last year, upscale
Vera Wang introduced an affordable apparel collection at
Kohl's. Retail chain H&M is also renowned for its many
"designer" collections. In November '07, Italian fashion
Roberto Cavalli debuted an affordable collection at H&M,
bringing his design expertise to a new audience of fashion
fans. Also at H&M, many brides said "I do" to design duo
Viktor & Rolf's limited collection of inexpensive wedding
Already established in the
better market, a handful of other "upstairs" brands are now
partnering with mass retailers for less expensive items that
play into this concept. This year, Christiane Lemieux,
founder and creative director of DwellStudio, a contemporary
brand that typically sells at the specialty store level,
launched a DwellStudio baby and home collection at Target.
At Apparel Search, we certainly believe there's more
high-end designer/mass retailer partnerships to come.
By Regina Cooper