LIVING ROOM 3D
|Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel|
How Luxury Lost Its Luster
By Dana Thomas
Illustrated. 375 pages. The Penguin Press. $27.95.
With “Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster,” Ms. Thomas — who has been the cultural and fashion writer for Newsweek in Paris for 12 years — has written a crisp, witty social history that’s as entertaining as it is informative. Traveling from French perfume laboratories to Las Vegas shopping malls to assembly-line factories in China, she traces the evolving face of the luxury goods business, from design through marketing to showroom sales.
She gives us some sharply observed profiles of figures like Miuccia Prada, who was a Communist with a doctorate in political science when she took over her family’s small luxury goods business in 1978, and the business tycoon Bernard Arnault, who relentlessly built LVMH into a luxury monolith with dozens of brands (including Louis Vuitton, Givenchy and Dior) sold around the world.
Ms. Thomas peppers her narrative with lots of amusing asides about everything from how orange became Hermès’s signature color because it was the only color widely available during World War II to the money-saving benefits of raw-edge cutting, which has been marketed to the public as a cutting-edge, avant-garde innovation.
But her focus remains on how a business that once catered to the wealthy elite has gone mass-market and the effects that democratization has had on the way ordinary people shop today, as conspicuous consumption and wretched excess have spread around the world. Labels, once discreetly stitched into couture clothes, have become logos adorning everything from baseball hats to supersized gold chains. Perfumes, once dreamed up by designers with an idea about a particular scent, are now concocted from briefs written by marketing executives brandishing polls and surveys and sales figures.
With globalization, Paris and New York are no longer exclusive luxury meccas. Ms. Thomas notes that a gigantic 690,000-square-foot luxury mall called Crocus City (featuring 180 boutiques, including Armani, Pucci and Versace) is flourishing outside Moscow, and that a group of high-end boutiques will be part of a luxury complex called Legation Quarter, scheduled to open in Tiananmen Square later this year.
“Approximately 40 percent of all Japanese own a Vuitton product” today, she says, and one recent poll showed that by 2004 the average American woman was buying more than four handbags a year. With more people visiting Caesars Palace’s glitzy Forum Shops each year than Disney World, Las Vegas has made shopping synonymous with gambling and entertainment, even as outlet malls have brought designer clothing and accessories within the reach (and budget) of many suburbanites.
High-profile luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, Hermès and Cartier were founded in the 18th or 19th centuries by artisans dedicated to creating beautiful, finely made wares for the royal court in France and later, with the fall of the monarchy, for European aristocrats and prominent American families. Luxury remained, writes Ms. Thomas, “a domain of the wealthy and the famous” until “the Youthquake of the 1960s” pulled down social barriers and overthrew elitism. It would remain out of style “until a new and financially powerful demographic — the unmarried female executive — emerged in the 1980s.”
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.
Although this volume quotes Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue, saying such changes mean that “more people are going to get better fashion” and “the more people who can have fashion, the better,” the author reaches a more elitist and pessimistic conclusion. “The luxury industry has changed the way people dress,” she writes. “It has realigned our economic class system. It has changed the way we interact with others. It has become part of our social fabric. To achieve this, it has sacrificed its integrity, undermined its products, tarnished its history and hoodwinked its consumers. In order to make luxury ‘accessible,’ tycoons have stripped away all that has made it special.
“Luxury has lost its luster.”
Move over Harvard and MIT. There’s a new competitor on college row:The Academy for Hair and Skin by Elan Sassoon. Elan, son of celebrity hair stylist/shampoo guru Vidal Sassoon, has relocated from Miami and has chosen Brighton to launch what’s being billed as the first ever U.S. cosmetology school with a university feel – right down to its own 178-room dorm. Sassoon last year bought a modest Commonwealth Avenue building and is now seeking City Hall permission to transform it into a 90,000-square-foot university for the next generation of high-powered hair stylists.A longtime entrepreneur, the 38-year-old is developing the school without his famous father’s help.While Boston might seem like an unlikely place to launch such a stylish endeavor, Sassoon sees his $16 million venture as part of a wave of hot new businesses bringing high fashion to the Hub.“Zara’s, the Mandarin Oriental, Louis Vuitton – now is the time to be in Boston,” Sassoon said, mentioning two deluxe retailers and a hotelier that have recently moved to town. “All these hot companies are coming and opening up. There is a nice shift in that direction to high fashion.”Sassoon is even putting down roots here, having moved to town last spring and having bought a house in Chestnut Hill, where he lives with his wife and two school-aged children.The school’s 10-month program aims to turn out elite hairstylists – with a very college-like cost of $18,000 to $20,000 per student.But that’s a career investment that can pay big dividends to those with the right training and drive.Top Newbury Street hairstylists can pull down $150,000 a year. In New York, the profession’s elite can make $200,000 a year.While most of the school’s expected 300 students will come from Greater Boston, Sassoon thinks the academy will attract global interest.He also wants the school to be about much more than just learning styling hair.Students will also take courses delving into the field’s history and noted practitioners, as well as classes on “color theory” and the history of design.Instructors will be paid $70,000 in a bid to bring in the best the field has to offer.There will also be a 200-seat amphitheater where everyone from famous plastic surgeons to noted hair stylists can come share their professional wisdom.“We would like the school to be a center of fashion and design,” Sassoon said.
There is no doubt that the Bauhaus movement (1919 to 1933) occupies a special position in the ranks of art schools. Its uniqueness and doctrines widened the horizons of modern architecture and art. Its theories of applied art and design shaped the 20th century style: The Bauhaus made its mark. The changing economic structure had serious consequences for the trades in industrial mass products and swept aside handcrafted products. It was not the machine era that was responsible for the inferiority of modern art, but the excessive striving for maximum profit, which lowered the quality of the products. The machine was a phenomenon very much in keeping with the times.The members of the Bauhaus school of architecture migrated throughout the world and guided design theory and production. This led to a dominance of simplicity, clarity and Functionalism Optical Art within the Bauhaus movement is a form of perceptual abstraction that generates optical effects in the visual system of the viewer by use of cleanly designed patterns. Minimalism within the movement is an expression of pure form reduced to its simplest expression.The Art Nouveau involves the stylization of elongated form to its essentials. Symmetrical and rectilinear Art Deco represented the Modern style in its most extreme form.Sassoon was inspired by Bauhaus. He related hairdressing to architecture. As an architect would create a structure within the parameters of a city using its natural geographic landscape, so the hairdresser would cut hair within the confines of a human face using the natural structure of the bones.In design, Sassoon haircuts were always ahead of the times. Vidal Sassoon’s perception of the Bauhaus movement is to be regarded as a productive process. He was inspired by the aesthetic admiration for a specific aspect of the Bauhaus tradition. On the other hand, he was seeking answers to the questions that the era posed for the hairdressing craft and receiving inspiration through architecture.
Copyright © 2006 ADRIANA SASSOON .All Rights Reserved.
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Proposed law would require large, privately built commercial and residential projects to use environmentally sound practices.
By Margot Roosevelt, Los Angeles Times Staff WriterFebruary 16, 2008
Los Angeles, known for its choking smog and fuel-burning gridlock, is poised to adopt one of the toughest green building ordinances in the nation. Two City Council committees voted Friday to require that all major commercial and residential developments slash projected energy and water use and reduce the overall environmental footprint, placing the city on the cutting edge of an international movement to address the global warming effects of buildings.Under the ordinance, privately built projects over 50,000 square feet — of which there are roughly 200 constructed annually — must meet a “standard of sustainability” by incorporating a checklist of green practices into their building plans.The checklist includes a choice of such items as low-flow toilets, paints with low emissions, use of recycled materials, efficient irrigation, solar panels and use of natural light.The average green building, according to studies, saves 36% in energy, 40% in water, and cuts greenhouse gas emissions by 40% and solid waste by 70%.The proposed ordinance has garnered unusually broad support, thanks to more than a year of negotiations and meetings between city officials and citizens’ groups.It is endorsed by some of the area’s biggest developers, along with the Los Angeles Business Council, the American Institute of Architects, several building trade unions and groups such as Global Green and the Green LA Coalition.“When you do something this big, it can be quite scary,” City Council President Eric Garcetti said.“But this has been an inclusive process. It will lead to a healthier city and a healthier planet.”Garcetti said he expects the full council to adopt the standards unanimously within a month.Nationwide, buildings account for 71% of electricity consumption, 12% of potable water used and 40% of the greenhouse gas emissions that, scientists say, are heating the planet to dangerous levels.The council’s proposed green checklist — known as the Leadership in Energy and Environment Design, or LEED — was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, a Washington-based nonprofit group.It is rapidly becoming a national baseline standard, as more than 120 localities have adopted green building rules for public construction, and 12 cities, including Boston, Washington and San Francisco, have extended the rules to the private sector.Under L.A.’s ordinance, which would take effect six months after City Council adoption, developers who build to an even higher standard, so-called LEED Silver, would get expedited permits.The incentive has generated great interest among some developers.“Building green is good for business, building green is good for developers and building green is good for the city of Los Angeles,” Brad Cox, chairman of the Los Angeles Business Council, testified before the council committees Friday.Cox, managing partner of the local office of Trammell Crow, one of the nation’s largest developers, said his company is building six Los Angeles projects designed to meet more stringent green standards than the city proposes.However, Holly Shroeder, chief executive of the Los Angeles and Ventura chapter of the Building Industry Assn., which represents mainly residential builders, suggested that the city develop its own rules rather than relying on an outside standard such as LEED.“This is a pretty significant change in how we build in the city, at a time when the private sector doesn’t need more mandates,” she said.And Tom Gilmore, a downtown developer, said the LEED standard did not give enough credit in its checklist to buildings located near mass transit.L.A.‘s program, however, is likely to evolve under a new Green Team of city agencies set up under the ordinance, according to Claire Bowin of the city’s planning office. The team would hold public meetings every month to work out kinks and examine proposals.“This is a baby step for some, but a huge leap for others,” said Bowin.“We recognize that. The Green Team will remove barriers to innovation.”For some, the new standard doesn’t go far enough. Jane Paul of Green LA Coalition suggested that the city lower the threshold to 25,000 square feet to incorporate medium-sized buildings in the program in the next two years.And Ken Lewis, president of the architectural firm AC Martin Partners, advocated raising the baseline “to LEED Silver as the minimum.”Lewis, whose firm has designed projects for the city, local universities and private developers, said that five years ago it was more costly to build to green standards. “Today, we find no additional project cost to achieve the city’s [proposed] baseline standard,” he said.The new standard will go a long way toward meeting the city’s pledge to reduce its carbon footprint to 35% below 1990 levels by 2030. By mid-century, two-thirds of the buildings in the city will have been built between now and then.Pasadena, Santa Monica, Long Beach and West Hollywood have adopted mandatory green building standards.But Los Angeles would be the largest city in the nation to do so.margot.roosevelt@ latimes.com