by Eugene Rabkin

"In a 2017 interview with 032c, Highsnobiety founder David Fischer said, “I was meeting with a luxury brand recently, and they were talking about not being exclusive anymore—about being inclusive. And I thought that was pretty interesting, because I know they wouldn’t have said that a year ago.”

Fischer is entirely correct in his observation that luxury and exclusivity are, by and large, no longer synonymous. Today, goods from luxury houses are ubiquitous. On a recent visit with my daughter to American Eagle, I observed the store’s clientele. One girl had on plastic pool slides by Gucci, another had a thin Gucci buckle belt, and another had a small YSL bag. Needless to say, I recognized those items not by their recognizable designs, but by their prominent logos. The rest of these teens’ outfits didn’t particularly scream “luxury” or “designer,” but those small statement pieces telegraphed to the world that they knew what was up. The logo did all of the talking.

The omnipresence of so-called “luxury fashion” isn’t a new story, but this time it’s got a distinctly 2019 flavor. In the ’80s, luxury brands engaged in rampant licensing. The theory was that if you licensed your name to a different company, creating a different product category, you would be sitting pretty collecting royalties without having to manage the complexities of the manufacturing and distribution processes. That’s how you ended up with Givenchy and Pierre Cardin button-up shirts at T.J. Maxx. This worked for a while — until it didn’t. All of a sudden brand dilution (and the loss of the wealthy clientele) was on every luxury house’s mind. The licensing was reigned in.

In the ’90s, the approach shifted to diffusion brands such as Versus by Versace, D&G by Dolce & Gabbana, and Moschino Cheap & Chic. It was thought that by tweaking the name of a high-end label for its lower-priced offerings, you differentiate it enough to attract the middle class without risking a house’s appeal to wealthier clients. This also worked for a while, until the worries about brand dilution resurfaced, and a lot of diffusion lines were shuttered.

In Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, fashion journalist Dana Thomas scathingly summarized the state of the luxury market that in reality caters to mass taste while raking in record profits. Over the past couple of decades, luxury fashion, Thomas writes, “sacrificed its integrity, undermined its products, tarnished its history and hoodwinked its consumers.” The book was the swan song for luxury’s original purpose: making finely crafted goods in places where people get fair wages. That thesis went above most people’s heads and the book was roundly condemned as elitist."

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