The recession shook the luxury giants, but they comforted themselves with the thought that they were somewhat sheltered from the storm. We are tempted to despise those who enjoy sybaritic lifestyles, but somehow it feels like cheap jealousy. Finally, there remains the argument that true luxury is beyond price. That, to me, is a great luxury.
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How do they communicate with their customers? What, if anything, do they have in common? And how are they weathering these turbulent times? The urge appears to have been there from the beginning. He notes that she has braided hair. Indeed, sensuality is a key component of many luxury brands. In other words, any second-hand jalopy will get you from A to B, but driving a Bentley provides an additional sensual pleasure. Berry remarks that luxuries generally have a wide appeal, even though they remain out of reach of the majority. Antiquarian books and rare stamps may be extremely precious to niche groups of collectors, but despite their value they are not considered luxuries.
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For Berry, luxury falls into distinct categories: food and drink, clothing and accessories, shelter and leisure. I would add transport to the list. These are areas where the basics are available to most of us, but where luxurious substitutes are available to a few. I used the categories above as a guide when structuring this book. But I also wanted to consider less tangible ideas of luxury. Perhaps it makes more sense to save the money we would have spent on a frippery from Dior and lavish it on Introduction 7 getting our shirts laundered, so we have time to talk to our kids or read a book instead of doing the ironing.
And thanks to our hectic working lives, the acquisition of knowledge has itself become a luxury. One thing that all successful brands share is a great story. Stuart McCullough, head of sales and marketing at Bentley, pointed this out after relating the history of the automotive brand. That hero needs to have struggled against great adversity. They rise nobly to the challenge. It also enabled me to meet a few of the people behind luxury brands. There are many sides to the city, but its facade, at least, is opulent.
This constant exposure to a world that lay — most of the time — just beyond my reach prodded me to investigate further. I barged through the gilded doors using the only means at my disposal: a press card and a list of questions. In fact, there is a strong case to be made for Paris as the birthplace of modern luxury. In the mirrored fastness of Versailles, Louis set the bar of opulence so high that even the wealthiest nobleman was unable to compete with him.
He devoted hours to his toilet and literally dictated the fashions of the day. As a boy, his life had been threatened by the Fronde named after a type of slingshot , a political insurrection that had brought the mob to the very gates of the Palais Royal. But the king never forgot that the people could turn against him.
He abandoned Paris for a former hunting lodge in the suburbs, turning it into a glittering carapace. The court of Versailles effectively became a theatre in which Louis played the leading role — and always wore the most exquisite costumes. His passion for luxury ensured that an entire industry grew up to serve him.
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Henceforth, Paris was eternally linked with le luxe, even after the revolution. But before we reach that point we should mention another personality who used Versailles as a private playground: Marie Antoinette. And Napoleon was in no position to offer a remedy, judging by the loot he brought back from his European victories and the opulent balls he threw to celebrate them.
As for his personal tastes, the emperor was a client of the watchmaker Breguet and a fastidious wearer of cologne. In this respect he was almost as fragrant as his empress, Josephine, who launched the French perfume industry practically single-handed. Many brands that remain the essence of French chic were founded in the 19th century. They were made of durable poplar and sheathed in grey waterproofed canvas. The design became so commonplace that Vuitton began printing his own name on the canvas in a symmetrical pattern, transforming his trunks into branded accessories.
A former real-estate entrepreneur named Bernard Arnault took control of the group in There are actually three such conglomerates, which together have transformed luxury from the domain of discreet craftspeople into a multi-billion dollar industry.
These are unquestionably the most powerful players in luxury — and all three of them are based in Paris. Italy can make a very serious claim to the luxury throne — with its potent ready-to-wear and leather goods brands — but France is far stronger in the areas of wines and spirits, fragrances and cosmetics, watches, jewellery and tableware.
In short, Paris lies at the heart of the luxury world. And that is where our journey begins.
But Yves Saint Laurent was also a French national treasure, so efforts had been made to include the public. A giant screen outside the church projected images of the funeral procession, and later of the service itself. The 5th of June was overcast, the grey sky seeming to press down on the onlookers cramming the little street. More ladies of a certain age lurked in the crowd, the mothballs shaken out of their Saint Laurent dresses.
The atmosphere was solemn, with an odd undercurrent of pride. As it was carried into the church, the crowd broke into applause. The great designer had made his last journey down the catwalk. It was the end of an era.
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And yet today the Balenciaga brand is back and thriving. As long as there is a society, there will always be fashion. The descendents of his designs are the foundation of the wardrobes of many millions of women. The Dream Weavers 13 Traditionally, French couturiers had been humble suppliers whose creations depended more on the caprices of their clients than on their own imaginations.
Bertin had entered court circles thanks to her numerous aristocratic clients. Worth, on the other hand, was a fashion tyrant. He cajoled his clients into following his tastes and was determined that his designs should resemble those of no other dressmaker. This singlemindedness was apparent from the start, when he was working as an assistant at the Paris drapery house of Gagelin and Opigez.
This was madeto-measure with an extra touch of self-aggrandizement. At the turn of the century, mere couture made way for haute couture. Haute couture was strictly by appointment only. The concept of mass-produced clothing hanging in stores did not exist. However, the mechanization of the textile industry and the emergence of department stores had combined to make the next step inevitable: ready-to-wear was just around the corner.
During that 14 Luxury World decade, Madeleine Vionnet signed an agreement with an independent Paris atelier to make labelled reproductions of her designs — with the proviso that no more than three of each were ever sold. At the time, the Paris fashion houses baulked at the idea. This would produce highquality ready-to-wear lines based on patterns provided by designers.
Each designer would deliver seven patterns per season. The clothes were run-up in dressmaking ateliers. To promote the collections, fashion shows were held in selected department stores, casinos and hotels across France. The market for expensive massproduced fashion was still small, and it was impossible to predict which garments would sell.
Market research was undertaken, but it came too late. Lack of capital, internal squabbling and failure to seduce an adequate target market combined to put an end to the experiment. Over the next decade he expanded globally, opening 28 stores in the United States, 20 in Germany, 17 in Japan and three in Hong Kong. Sales rocketed from 17 million francs in to 68 million by Clearly, this level of output could not be entrusted to the Paris dressmaking ateliers.
Ahead of his time, he understood the importance of quality control when it came to brand image. Even today, few ready-to-wear labels make their own clothing. A designer label is just that: the name of a designer sewn in to a garment made in a factory.
Take Staff International, for example. The company was founded in in Noventa Vicentina, in Italy. But it helps them with other matters too: every brand has a dedicated team working on products and styling, research and development, sales and production. Staff International also has a press and communications division that advises on PR, brand strategy and advertising.
Didier Grumbach himself has been involved in the manufacturing of garments for designers. He was born into a well-off family in Algeria, then a French colony, in In he arrived in Paris — a skinny yearold kid with a bunch of sketches under his arm, demanding and getting an appointment with Michael de Brunhoff, the editor of Vogue.
After taking one look at the sketches, or so the legend goes, de Brunhoff dispatched Saint Laurent to Christian Dior. And there the precocious designer stayed, taking over at the helm of the house when Dior died prematurely in Anybody could tell that Saint Laurent was constitutionally unsuited to military service. He was hospitalized after just 20 days with severe depression. By the time he emerged, at the end of , he had lost his job at Dior.
The pair soon realized that Paris fashion could not afford to maintain its courtly posture — not in the fast and loose atmosphere of the s. The name and the location were carefully chosen. At the time, the Left Bank of Paris was considered bohemian, literary and faintly unruly: two years later, its students would be at the centre of the May riots that almost toppled the government.
It was certainly a world away from the glittering haute couture maisons and their haughty clientele.
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