12 January 2013

Slow Luxe

Source: Louis Vuitton

After writing this article on the slow movement, I kept researching and found a very interesting article in the magazine CLES named Slow Luxe. It says that the luxury market, just like sustainable development, has a very "slow" and ecological approach. I found this quite thought provoking and decided to enter the debate.

I've always had a very ambivalent approach to luxury goods and brands as a customer. A part of me knows the biggest part of the price is due to the brand's notoriety, and some brands remind me too much of the emptiness and vainness of the bling-bling celebrities, or the huge inequalities ongoing in our world.

But another part of me (the marketing professional maybe?)  has always loved the communication of these brands: advertisment campaigns that look like pieces of art, TV commercials as short movies, most luxury brands managed to create an incredible universe and imaginary around their brand and history.

"Luxury"

Slow Luxe gave me a whole new take on luxury goods. And when I say luxury, I'm not talking about some mainsteam goods made in Czech Republic just to avoid the infamous "made in China" that cost not much more than H&M to manufacture but get a x10 price tag. More on these in another post.

No, I mean the real one. The hand-made, the unique pieces, the work of master artisans, the centuries of savoir-faire, you know, the unaffordable one. Works of craft, works of art. A perfume which bottles are made of blown glass, the old way. Watches embodiyng centuries of Swiss horlogy.

Another approach to the object

It is not about the object really. No, that's not true, it IS about the object. It brings back to the object the value it is supposed to have. The value of the artisan's work. The value we forgot when we started consuming low-cost and low quality goods manufactured and thrown away in mass.

Japanese culture (again) has a great respect for artisan's crafts, the best Masters are Living Treasures of the Nation, and, even at a mainstream level, people are ready to pay more for "Made in Japan" and hand-made goods.

It is a vision of another time, too. Back before the consumerist society, people were ready to pay much more for an object than we are now. Because they had only one, kept it for years, had it cleaned and repaired regularly, and gave real credit to the person who took the time and skill to manufacture it.

Why is it "Slow"?

Because it is out of the system of mass-manufacturing in factories by machines. Because it embodies and perpetuates real handicraft. Because it is local. Because it takes only the best fabrics and the best artisans. Because it takes time, and lasts way longer than any trend.

Because one lucky enough to acquire such piece of perfection will use it, take care of it for years and years instead of buying a new one each season. Real luxury is precious, scarce, a testimony of the artisan's (artist's?) skill. And a user of that kind of item will take the time to make use of it, clean it. It is also a way to connect to the present, enjoy the moment spent using this object.


I am probably never going to acquire a real luxury item. I admire them as a work of art and as a heritage of skill and craft. I do however, in my consumption habits, try to find items that embody a similar set of values, although it isn't easy.

8 comments:

  1. Like you I always skeptical towards the true luxury brands like LV and Herm├Ęs, but when I read Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Lustre my mind was changed. I don't have any delusions about their 21st century mega-corporate nature, but the craftsmanship aspect is pretty amazing.I love that there still are companies who create their product that way :)

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    1. Ah I heard about that book before! I should check it out. What I find most unfortunate is that these brands who still use real craftsmanship also use their notoriety to stretch the price to unaffordable heights. I mean, small unknown artisans are capable of producing hand-made leather handbags and selling them for less than 500€.

      That's why I decided to see luxury products as pieces of art rather than possible purchases. Honestly, even if I could afford a LV bag, I probably wouldn't buy it anyway. I am all for paying more to reward a craftsman's work, but I'm not paying the extra margin due to nothing but notoriety.

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  2. Access to amazing craftsmanship is one of my favourite aspects of life in India. And it's still possible to meet the man or women who has woven the scarf you want to buy or stitched the leather shoes you want to wear or painted the tiles you want to use as coasters. I never fail to be moved by it. It's sad to now see so many people struggling to popularise their creations because customers care more about the brand than the product. I think consumers were better educated in an earlier age, in India anyway, when they bought less and knew a great deal about the products they spent their money on.

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    1. That's very good to know, thanks for sharing! You are surely lucky to still be able to buy hand-made items directly from the maker. It helps giving a face to the person who made it, and more value to the object itself as a human craft or something. There are a few stores of small creators in Paris too, but it's usually very specific and you've got to like the style...

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  3. I love craftsmanship and the education you can receive from artisans! It's what interests me most about fashion and luxury goods. I grew up attending couture and ready to wear shows and ateliers, so I have a deep appreciation for craftsmanship. Going behind the scenes at Chanel, Dior, Alaia, Hermes. Learning about jewelry by viewing Van Cleef's atelier and meeting jewelers and seeing the archive and pieces under construction. It's really broadened my knowledge of what these artisans do.

    I love pieces that have a story and I do believe that there are people everywhere who are making beautiful handmade items. Whenever I travel I seek these experiences out because it's something that I personally value.

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    1. Craftsmanship is definitely a very interesting part of luxury goods and history. I've been to the Van Cleef & Arpels exhibit last week-end and they displayed a video of their atelier and presented the different people working there.
      I can only imagine how great it was to actually visit them. I hope you can share some of these backstage experiences, this must be very interesting.

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  4. I honestly have almost no interest in luxury goods since they are way out of my budget and they'll probably remain like that forever unless I happen to become millionaire one day, lol, but I still have an opinion about them and it's mostly negative. Although I understand that highly crafted goods cannot be cheap I feel like more half of the price you pay for a luxury good goes to the brand and not the artisan who manufactured it (I actually don't have evidence of this being true - I should google it).
    And since luxury goods are created for the really privileged 1% of people and the rest that would like belong to that 1% strives to acquire these goods, the whole picture of luxury stuff is, for me, kinda sad to say the least.

    By the way, I'm not fully sure whether these items are really "slow", as in 'good for the environment' since the luxury industry uses a whole lot of leather and the production of it is by no means "green" from the beginning of the process where in order to get the softest leather (calfskin) they actually kill baby calves for their skin so the whole argument of leather being a by-product of meat is false. Tanning is also awfully bad for the environment, and killing endangered species of animals for the sake of their skin/fur cannot in a anyway be something to be proud of and that you can boast.

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    1. I can understand this image of luxury, and a part of me agrees with you. To me, it is more of a piece of fine art, rare items that are testimonies of a craft and belong to a museum. Many luxury items are shown in museums or exhibits. In that sense luxury items are a part of our legacy, like any other piece of art.

      A real luxury item takes such fine fabric and crafted artisans that it seems to be worth their price, from what I gather. I went to a Van Cleef & Arpels exhibit and they explained how they only accept the best diamonds, not from conflict regions, which are like 1% of the 5% of jewelry diamonds. And how many thousand hours of work it took for one piece, only the sketch of the jewelry item takes 3 days to draw...

      But I agree with what you say when we start talking about luxury brands trying to "mainstreamize" their brand and start producing lower quality items of which more than half the price is due to the brand notoriety.

      In regards to the environmental aspect, I think the point of the article wasn't about the material itself, but the fact that luxury brands only manufacture a few items a year, locally, so it avoids the buy-throw into landfill - buy a new one cycle. At least that's how I understand it.

      That being said, there will always be a debate about that kind of rare items, made for the richest, that emphasize the gap between the rich and the poor in our society.

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