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September 05, 2008

Style & Luxury fashion is and isn't (purely) about money

What is luxury? More specifically, what is a luxury product? A luxury product is something that most people cannot readily afford. It’s that simple but there is more. A luxury item is an item that doesn’t cost the earth to manufacture, but has other costs factored into the product. If you take any luxury label, and you assess everything, from magazine marketing campaigns (advertising) to the rents it pays across the world - to occupy space in a department store to the building it uses as a ‘boutique’, the costs are astronomical. Then you factor in the behind the scenes marketing costs: photographers, models (in many cases known public personalities), makeup artists, wardrobe stylists, and you have more expenses, so a luxury item, like a Louis Vuitton product has all these prices factored into the retail price. Although the quality may seem superior, the materials are usually similar to what you will buy elsewhere.

My simplest example is a Napa leather Oroton handbag that I recently bought at an Oroton outlet. The bag is black (goes with everything), it’s a good size and it has a classic design (that really doesn’t go out of style) but it is out of season (for the label) and it was sold in their outlet store for $175 dollars. However, its retail price was $325.00. Now I know that the company will earn a profit from the $175.00. Companies make sure that the cost is accounted for, which means that this bag must have cost less than fifty dollars to manufacture. In other words, how much (raw cost price) are other luxury items? I guess it’s more obvious to state the obvious - people tend to pay more for a name than the ‘real’ cost, and no, I don’t really care for the excuses: ‘but it’s SUPERIOR quality,’ excuses that may as well be hinged with, ‘it was constructed from the hand of God himself.’ Sorry but I don’t buy it. I’ve known people who have worked in the rag and fashion trade to know that wholesale prices are low and that the manufacturing costs are even lower; products enter the boutique with mind boggling prices. Take a fashion and accessories label like Coach. I don’t care that it’s been around since 1941. Who cares? But its products aren’t made in the US of A, they’re made in Asian countries. How much do you think they pay the workers? Let’s take a cheaper item from their catalogue, something that is priced at $98.00 (US). Factor in advertising, rents (around the world for stores because all these luxury boutiques don’t own their buildings outright), marketing campaigns (photographers to models to makeup artists), how much do you think that  product is to make before it enters the store? Less than twenty dollars? Less than thirty dollars? Most likely.

Thus, luxury to me, is all about presenting an image. The buyer is a person that associates luxury products with status, and in most cases, many buyers are tacky; money doesn’t buy class, nor does it buy decorum. Kelly Osborne may wear all the Chanel handbags in the world, but her style is shabby.


A new magazine aimed at men will be published by Fairfax Media here in Australia. The magazine will be titled Sport & Style. It’s targeted toward males with a high disposable income, aimed to please high end retailers and manufacturers. And it’s something that makes you wonder: is the magazine borne from a need to provide quality content or is the idea based on advertising dollars (the content following the advertising)? One thing I don't get, and I'm basing this on Australian sports, is that there are no stylish sports identities out there. There are no well dressed NRL players or cricketers. So this marriage of style and sport is a mystery to me.

You can’t really teach style via BMW advertisements. Style is something that forms over time and it’s individual. It’s not about income. If it were about income, then I guess that most of the blokes that shop at David Jones during their lunch hours would wear better shirts, or be competent in matching their neckties with their shirts, or try to understand the concept of tailoring. And that is the problem in contemporary fashion today. Many designers make out like they’re style innovators, but they’re only pushing images and product with advertising, and the real consumer -in many cases- follows the advertising, buying rubbish that they cannot put together well. Some of the world's best dressed men aren't film celebrities: Barack Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy tend to lead, and few film stars belong in the list. Some may think that Daniel Craig is one of the best dressed, but I think that view is biased by the James Bond image and don't get me started on Jude Law: just look at the ordinary paparazzi pictures to see what outfits these men come up with during their time off.

I’m not one to really go for K-Mart shirts or apparel because the quality can be distinguished from higher end labels from the fabric selection alone, but a person doesn’t have to bankrupt themselves to dress well. It’s purely a matter of picking the right items for a wardrobe, and not selecting crap based on which celebrity supports what designer - my best example being Victoria Beckham. She can’t even match her shoes with her outfits but she is considered (by many Australian fashion editors) to have ‘style’. I mean, Puhleaze! Money isn’t style. And the fact that she sucks up every designer (of the moment’s) butt doesn’t make her a style queen and it doesn’t make that designer ‘king of the fashion kingdom,’ either. She's recently been crowned as the worst dressed woman by Richard Blackwell and let's be frank, he's seldom wrong. It just takes someone with cajones to say it how it is. One only has to take a look at all the female unfriendly fashions Marc Jacob’s produces to see that. Yeah, like I’ll spend a thousand dollars to buy a fluorescent yellow evening clutch Marc or a five thousand dollar pink ostrich ‘old lady’ handbag.

In view of the new man’s magazine Sport & Style, yes there are many upmarket men out there in terms of the income they’re earning, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to style. It’s very rare to see a well dressed man in Sydney’s financial districts. The suits are often horrendous, badly fitted, and there are many men who earn astronomical incomes that scrimp on suits. To them, ‘it’s only a suit,’ but a well fitting suit is what makes the difference between shabby and stylish, and it may make the difference in the way they are perceived in the business world.

To the business blokes in Sydney (this list can apply to women as well): All business is based on perception and if you look shabby, you present shabby - that is the real deal regardless of how superficial it sounds:

  • Invest in two quality cut suits (ie an amount between three and five thousand dollars if you’re buying straight from a boutique and if you’re not a ‘high’ earner, look for designer factory outlets and have your tailor make adjustments - there is no excuse for cheap suits).
  • Make sure that the crotch of your pants doesn’t hang lower than a gangsta rapper. Keep tailors in business by visiting them to adjust a suit. Most suits in stores need adjustment. Let’s face it, most men don’t physically resemble Daniel Craig, Jude Law or David Beckham.
  • Polish your shoes regularly, invest in maintenance products (for leather) and keep an eye out on your sole (leather soles experience more wear than rubber soles)  and heel and replace when required. Use a shoe horn to put your shoes on - it minimizes damage to the leather. Invest in enough pairs to rotate; if you wear the same pair of shoes each day, you’re lessening their lifespan at a faster rate. And once again, there are high quality factory outlets that sell men’s shoes at near half price. For more about shoes and other male style related topics, visit sites like Askmen.com.
  • Never be seen in Crocs. There is no excuse for Crocs. How many times must people be told that rubber does not allow feet to breathe, that it leads to foot odor?
  • Wear track pants and track suits at home or wear them to suit their purpose, which is to exercise or time-off activities. They may appear in rap music film clips but they aren’t taken seriously beyond that and most celebrities (like J.Lo and her range of tracksuits) design them to fill their coffers and satisfy their ego (seeing their name on a label) and Coco Chanel dreams.
  • Baggy clothes are for kids and teenagers.
  • Know what colors look best on you. You may have a favorite color, but it may look like crap on you, giving you a sallow tinge or drain your soul away. If unsure, hire a color stylist or request your friends to be honest, and don't listen to store assistants.

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