Total Eclipse of Luxury

A few weeks ago we highlighted an article by Luca Solca from Business of Fashion (read: Is Hermes Still Playing Hard To Get?that generated a lot of reaction on our social media platforms both here and on Instagram.
@evelinaesc voices her opinion and seconds Luca’s notion that all luxury, specifically Hermès isn’t the brand it used to be.

We love to hear from our readers and encourage you to share your views like @evelinaesc does below. Constructive and engaging discussion is the heartbeat of our community.

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Photo: Steven Meisel for Vogue Italia, Aug 2008

Written by @evelinaesc

When a friend of mine recently started at Central Saint Martins in London, the very first lecture was opened with a sentence “…Fashion as we know it will no longer exist, in fact it already doesn’t.” I had nothing to add. 

Two months later, while in Paris, another friend of mine wanted to buy a new Kelly bag, so I acted. As a loyal Hermès fan for years now, I definitely didn’t plan on standing in a ridiculously long line with  people half my age. I used my contacts and got us a personal appointment for the next day. I would like to stress here, this is not the usual process and it is not for the public.

What we saw and experienced that morning before we managed to be literally pushed inside the mothership was a disaster. There’s simply no other word for it. The whole new system was necessary, indeed (read: New System in Paris to Buy a Birkin). There was too much chaos and pressure. People waiting around for long hours inside the store, not one or two, but tens of them, hundreds every day. The sales assistants losing their wits from the ever repeating question they (trust me) hate with the greatest of passions: “Do you have a Birkin or a Kelly?”  So it was done and solved with a new approach to the issue. The appointments are being appointed, the lines are in full progress. The result is you feel like you are waiting for a Nirvana concert back in the 90s’ just to get a good spot under the stage, rather than waiting to be calmly served while buying a handbag the value of someone’s five month salary .

I will be honest, the people waiting in those lines are a far cry from the former Hermés clientele. Not to insult anyone here, but Hermés used to be pretty distinct about the liaisons of their customer. Very well-off, in their thirties and up, educated, old money background more than welcomed. New Hermès clients seem to be just about anybody. Even a 16- year old kid with wealthy parents, who happens to be obsessing about anything European at the moment. The world has changed and the fashion business is changing with it… in my view, way too quickly.

The biggest ‘damage’ is done by social media, without a question. A decade ago, you had to live near an Hermés boutique to see the products. The store itself was always boasting with a silent respect. Even if people walked around everyday, not everyone was brave enough to enter it. The carefully assembled window displays often referencing the horse- riding heritage of the fashion house with blankets of the softest cashmere and hand-stitched items made of the sturdiest and glossiest leather along with sophisticated porcelain pieces. One does not have to be an expert to feel the status of such objects, it just oozes out. 

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Photo: Steven Meisel for Vogue Italia, Aug 2008

Today, the situation is quite different. Public platforms such as Instagram or Facebook, in fact the internet in general, changed the whole perception of the luxury segment… and not only that – they played a major role in shifting shopping habits too. With thousands and thousands of images being posted each second, luxury became instant and what is even more crucial here, it became accessible. Even people, who do not live anywhere nearby a stone store can suddenly see any and all of the hottest items. It feels as though even the most expensive things are at reach, there and ready for them. If the bloggers can have it, they can too. And maybe the word ‘can’ would be better to be substituted by ‘should’.

If she has it, then I should have it too. I actually think the widely used term “must-have” comes straight from here. And it is precisely this type of ‘keeping up with the ‘Joneses’ psychological effect that creates the faster, more disposable fashion we’ve been experiencing in the past few years. It is no longer about true quality, craftsmanship, heritage, or longevity. These days it is about the newest piece, the next piece and the next one after the last one. All preferably as quick as possible, and very well documented in photos and selfies posted in the morning, afternoon and evening. It is a competition. A day and night at the races. Women buying their handbags on loan, or selling them a week later, after they exposed them just enough (hence the big boom of the secondary market and European fashion bazaars).

But this is a two-edged sword, naturally. It boosts the demand, but makes the production, distribution and timing of the items more taxing in every way. The pace is becoming too fast to keep up, as is the focus of the customers. The handbags are outdated (most of them valueless too) the moment you buy them, the thrill is gone the second your photo gets the 523-rd like. Onto the new one.

The creativity of the big fashion houses designers’ is tired to the point of borrowing the design inspiration of their competition, or (better scenario) to the point of resignation where the likes of Simons or Elbaz, who simply disagreed with the whole new direction of fashion and the pressure of it.

It really all comes down to simple economics. The owners of the big fashion companies see the new consumer behavior as a great opportunity to make more cash. The more they can produce and the faster it sells, the bigger the profit. That is the theory. The reality is quite different as it involves poor quality, massive waste (major parts of ready-to -wear collections ending up in the sales section, way too soon) and worst of all, it leads to the immense fatigue of the fashion industry. Which brings me to nothing other than the new Hermès shark theme. Shark on a Bolide? Shark on the Kelly handle? Yes. Sharks on both. When I first saw the images Hermès released of their novelty, I thought I was seeing something Fendi. And this is exactly what is happening with fashion these days, as it’s turning into one big blend of them all. Or mess might be more appropriate. One thing is for sure, all things must come to an end, fashion is no exception. Luxury needs to be renamed and reinvented, just like it was said at my London alma mater de mode. The system simply must collapse so it can be reborn again. I, myself, am very curious.

Join me in the continuing debate on BopTalk.

@evelinaesc

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Photo: Steven Meisel for Vogue Italia, Aug 2008

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Photo: Steven Meisel for Vogue Italia, Aug 2008

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27 Responses to “Total Eclipse of Luxury”

  • Not to insult anyone here, but Hermés used to be pretty distinct about the liaisons of their customer. With that line alone you insulted just about everyone. Why shouldn’t I as a person who is not from “old money”, who worked my way through college and than law school, be excluded from buying anything I have the funds to purchase. You my dear are the ultimate snob.

  • Excellent analysis from a woman who is involved in fashion and luxury as part of her career. Thank you.

    As many of you regular readers may remember I am a third generation Hermes client and my thoughts echo this writers. First think about how you define the concept of “luxury”—the connotation is of something very special, almost unattainable, something to be enjoyed by the very few, by the elite. It was not for the hoi polloi–not for the masses. The same was true for most of the original EPV, the living heritage houses/brands of France. You aspired to own a Chanel bag, to look elegant in a Lanvin dress. And not every girl in her teens could own one let alone afford one. And it was not “appropriate” for a teenager or even a 20 something to own a Kelly or a Birkin and certainly not an exotic handbag nor a Chanel suit. It was a coming of age purchase or gift and with it a beautiful coveted, white glove tradition and history of fine craftsmanship and skills handed down from generation to generation. I am French and Parisian and my grandmother was a couturier for the houses of Jacques Doucet and Madeline Vionnet (the latter the inventor of the bias cut). I lived in a 6th floor garret when I began to work for YSL. We were and not now are nobility. But we knew the meaning of quality fabrics and leathers and laces and of the history of the designers who changed the world of fashion.

    I am lucky that my first Hermes special order was a magical moment long before there were lines and selfy sticks at FSH. Sadly I do not think that my grand daughters will ever know that moment of quiet anticipation and sheer delight in private!

    And it is not just Hermes who has betrayed the luxury client and devotees. When you make luxury available to the masses it is no longer luxury. When your handbags or shoes or saddles or gowns are no longer made lovingly by hand by ARTISANS who trained as apprentices for years on smaller items before they were allowed to craft the best. There is a sad fall in production quality from all the haute couture houses and luxury RTW and accessories. Long time clients recognize this and many of us have moved on to sur mesure (custom made) for luxury and quality and uniqueness.

    The houses are run by new MBAs who have no sense of the history of the brands and the importance of customer loyalty. But then why should they? When the customers have no knowledge or care for the history or the workmanship or the rarity of the fabrics/leathers they only want what the Jones or the Chans or the Sharmas have as a status symbol. The Kardashians were never the “target” market for Coco or YSL or Dior or Fendi or Ferragamo.

    If you are lucky go to a fashion museum where you can actually touch fine cashmere made 40 or even only 20 years ago. Then touch the mass produced cashmere sweaters made today. No resemblance. Lesage did so much of the magnificient embroideries for haute couture and luxury houses from their small ateliers. Now this embroidery is made in villages in India. There is a difference between traditional Japanese lacquer and today’s lacquer made in Vietnam.

    So it is a different world. You may enjoy taking a number and a phone call from Hermes to buy your ‘prize’ Kelly or Birkin but I do not. And I am not so foolish to think that Hermes ‘misses’ me when they can sell so many more pieces of less complexity to the new customers and via the Internet. I cannot imagine buying a Chanel handbag or a Hermes saddle or a fur online—to me it should be an experience enjoyed and touched and smelled and touched again.

    If that makes the author and I snobs, so be it. There are much worse things that I can be called. At some point these luxury houses will be called to task for failing their traditions and clients. If I want changing straps and gimmicky handles I go to Fendi. If I want pop art scarves I go to MOMA or to local talents.

    I hope you enjoy your purchases and treasure them in their boxes and remember to take them to “spas” periodically. Yes the purchases are landmarks but to me it is sad that so much of the joy has been taken out of the process.

  • I would like to include a statement made by the CEO of Hermes: ” We don’t do commercial studies, we don’t ask people what they want or look at what the other people do. You don’t need to have marketing – you need to be true to your style. We are Hermès and we create desire for our clients.”
    Hermes people don’t rely on commercial sturdiest. They believe they have the skills and expertise to deliver the best quality.

  • I love what you have written and I totally agree with you. I would like to add that the sales people at Hermes are determining who would have the chance to get a bag or not.
    We all know about the reselling market and Hermes definitely know the names of resellers. If the policy is a buyer can get one or two bags per year, buying from a reseller allows rich people to own six bags per year. So how are they controlling the sales? Resellers are gaining 2k or 3k per bag or more so why aren’t Hermes people doing anything about it? If Hermes is designed to noble people or to aristocrats as you call them, why do we see that mostly the nouveaux riches are those carrying the most expensive bags and handling them like any low end product. You can see many posts on social media and recognize who handles a bag with care and who throws a bag away. Unfortunately, people who don’t give any attention to their bags are those who own dozens of them, mostly exotic bags.

  • This is a perfect analysis pf what is going nowadays in the fashion industry…..before owning something designer reflected so much about the owner- refined taste and lifestyle being well-traveled and fashion conscious- today it just means you have the money or more likely than not saved up or got into debt or even money pooled with family and/or friends to buy this item. I coveted- and also still do- my Chanel Classic Flap Bag- however sometime when i’m carrying it nowadays I feel I’m a bit vulgar or in Gatsby terms “new money” but then I go what am I thinking this is a Chanel its a timeless piece but I have to admit it cross my mind alot. I want to buy a Boy bag however I also find myself thinking that its so over and have been bought by everyone-and anyone- and then again I go how can I think that way about a class Chanel this is a timeless piece that should be treasure..and coveted…but well I can’t help but think that way….

  • Excellent article, I am looking at this picture from afar because I don’t
    have the money for a Birkin, only Hermès possession I have are my beautiful scarves, but I am a born Swiss girl and always knew about Hermès..it’s style, simplicity, elegance and refinement..it was a certain type of ladies wearing those items, my Mom had a Kelly.. women were elegant and stylish.. but no longer.. I totally agree with what you are saying ????Finally someone thinking like me ????????????and yes it is extremely sad.. I dislike seeing someone wearing an expensive bag with no class ????

  • I don’t think she is a snob, she is correct, maybe you don’t know the Hermès story like we do, no offense, if you can afford a bag I am very happy for you, but what she says is deeper than just buying a bag..

  • Now I shall give you all a laugh! I think IG must be Instagram? And I shall gladly do that but I do not have an account and do not know how to do this. Email? LOL

  • Ah! The sales associates at Hermes. The guardians of the elusive Kelly and Birkin–the symbol of your arrival and wealth! And that is said with nasty sarcasm! I can speak about the 3 H boutiques in Paris and the Hermes in London and the sales associates. If you travel from overseas or outside of Paris do you recognize any of the sales associates on your next trip? I doubt it! And that is part of the sad saga of OVER-EXPOSURE and keep up with the Jones/Chan/Sharma/Muhad competition. Sadly there is no leveling up, there is only leveling DOWN.

    I bought my first Kelly myself 28 years ago. It was a magic moment. When I picked up my contrast lining special order Birkin 35 (I now have moved down in size to 30cm and 25), I was overjoyed to still share the unwrapping with the same sales associate with champagne and smiles. Sadly, he is no longer at FSH and neither is the other long term sales man who was my second go to in handbags. That is two professionals gone from the department in 3 years. Jinny, the lovely hostess, who protected the entry to FSH and recognized ‘regulars’ by name, has retired. Even when I try to get to the case to select a new scarf at FSH there is not a face whom I recognize. Go upstairs to the belt department and it is even worse—I think the sales staff averages 3 months. Only in RTW, jewellry, and home decor is there any longevity at FSH. On Rive Gauche it is quieter slightly and there are at least 6 sales staff whom I recognized last week from before Christmas 2016. In London the turnover is even faster and higher. And for years the free standing boutiques on Bond Street and on Sloan Street seem to have a contest to be the most rude, most unhelpful of any sales staff I have ever encountered!! So I usually go to Selfridges where the manager has changed 3 times in one year!! It is DREADFUL to have sales associates who know LESS about the scarves or the handbags or the colour names or the names of the designers of specific items than I do! That total lack of knowledge is degrading the Hermes brand to the point of being meaningless. Similar things are happening at Chanel and Lanvin. And LVMH, well it is a long time since I considered LVMH a luxury brand although it does own luxury houses (Dior).

    At Hermes the wonderful plisse scarf is now only available by special order–if you persist and succeed in telling the new recruit such an item exists! So wherever and whenever I want a plisse it is WORK and not a pleasure—in addition to the fact that as a French woman my ears screech at how the new diverse sales staff mispronounces that method as well as the colour names for new and past seasons. I am sorry but “aubergine” is not that difficult to pronounce nor remember, is it? I do miss entering a boutique and saying I want a slg or a scarf to go with my aubergine birkin and have a sales person instantly know what I am talking about!!

    And then the rumoured reasons for this rapid turnover of staff apparently is ‘back hand’ to secure a place on the waiting list or a look at one of the coveted styles.

    Top this off with the fact that I was stopped from giving my long time sales man a “Good luck” bottle of fine whiskey from the Isle of Skye by a new regulation by MBAs that has decreed all gifts from clients must be shared among all the staff—so much for a thimble of scotch at FSH! This is an insult to long term clients and to Japanese traditions and to the sales associates themselves! Oh how base is this if I can bribe for my birkin with a Euros 200 bottle of scotch or the fresh blueberry pie from my garden and oven!

    Again, this is because I am old school and a “snob” because I believe the relationship with luxury is just that a relationship and a pleasure for those who understand and celebrate the craftsmanship and the history of the brand.

    Sorry to rant. But in re-reading this post I realize how much of my pleasure of shopping luxury on FSH at Hermes or Lanvin or around the corner at Chanel has been STOLEN from me by leveling down the products, the quality, and the sales staff. Luxury is not a commodity! I am not at my boucherie where I know I have to take a number or stand in line for my foie gras.
    See below for unhappy people in line at FSH and what may be my last Hermes purchases.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/8cf77336a2d55e36e992ccb99eebf985e15b37dbb1490f7908d88ed0910e7ee0.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/3927e9363cb71b6d94f9d31a5b41317629eeb0dcc3391486eeef3c49f544a2c0.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/5be4eae1b7d6a8d0a644d13855f488e27da4eaa5ba5e5b6de5ca81f88adf2993.jpg

  • I adore my Hermes scarves and so do my daughters. Someday my scarves which are classic designs will be my grand daughters. They may wear them with jeans and cashmere sweaters but I hope they will always have the elegance of my mother and grand mother and what the House of Hermes (and Chanel and Lanvin and Dior and YSL) have always stood for in luxury, beauty, history and craftsmanship.

    Below is photo of artisan at atelier in Pantin and also part of scarf making. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ae3947e48b5621a732678aeaaa28bf4302fc873b38f911573a434214938b4be4.jpg

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/bdcd167bb0fad49248b0e158364ef4eb30ff89dd1d9b5b2a4998b77fee4edaaa.jpg

  • Please enjoy your purchase of your Chanel—you should treat yourself and enjoy it! Be sure to keep your box and ribbon and your receipt because now they will only do repairs if you can show a receipt.

  • Spoken like a CEO who must answer to his stockholders and to his gran famille! And how untrue this statement is! They have a very large marketing department, a gigantic ad budget, and pit store managers against each other for productivity and increasing sales in order to be able to select and be awarded the ability to have any special orders for regular customers and any birkins or kellys. Have you ever asked why there is now so little small leather goods at each boutique?

    And as far as being “true to your style” he is being a total hypocrite! How are shark handles on bolides and Fendi like straps “true to style”?

    I have enough bags, etc in my closets and those of my family to be able to see the difference in quality. Sadly it is not improving as they rush training and open factory to keep up with demand.

  • I love your letter and I totally understand your frustration, part of the pleasure of your purchase is the interaction with the SA, they can make your purchase memorable or miserable and if you spend that kind of money you only want the best xx

  • Thank you for those beautiful pictures, true workmanship from the old days…I often wonder lately how merchandise are really made at Hermès now a days… I remember someone very reliable telling my Mom that a factory in China about 15 years ago was stiching etiquettes for Hermès for their silk scarf( he saw it done) my Mom didn’t want to believe it she was so stunned… I was very shocked and doubt never left me..so if you say that quality is not the same I can only wonder…

  • Merci, I had the great honour and pleasure of visiting the ateliers in Pantin for leather and up north for silks to watch the artisans in action. So I have an entire series for the scarves. Most of the new sales people do not even know how many screens Hermes uses to make its most colourful scarf (38) which is why Chinese copies are still not up to the most colours. However, yes, Hermes now owns a Chinese company which has stores in both Paris and in China. Some embroidery is done in China and some in India. I would prefer to pay more and have no production outside France or Italy but then, like you, I am old school.

  • Oui, a mixture of sadness and frustration. Memories I wanted to be able to share with my grand daughters. But it is a new world and not always for the better.

  • @evelinaesc I am travelling for next 10 days so if you want me to put the one response or entire series of my ‘rants’ on IG, please tell me how to do and then when I come back I shall do my best.

  • This is so awful and disappointing, it gives the Hermès Name a bad low class image, a sophisticate company like that should never bettay their name like that, in my eyes Hermès was pure luxury, so why should I give them money for something not made in France anymore…

  • Nicole, sad but true. And if you see the photo frames BEFORE the sticky labels are removed too many of them say “Made in India”. When Max Mara was “caught out” making products in China and labelling them “Made in Italy”, I stopped buying Max Mara. I do not want to think of Hermès products being made in factories by underage children and refuse to purchase any products allegedly made by Hermès that are suspicious country of origin to me. But that is a very personal choice. I also am totally offended by Hermès or Chanel or Dior or Prada or Fendi charging me made in Europe artisan prices for made in China or Vietnam or wherever products.

    To me part of buying luxury is the history of the house and its well-trained and vetted artisans. It is exclusivity and craftsmanship matched with the finest of materials and traditions. If any one of those components are missing I might as well buy “fast fashion” and forget luxury.

    Having just spent a full week looking for a new apartment to enjoy my retirement and to get out of pollution and stress of Paris, I can tell you in every single project and item from wall papers to hardwood floors to kitchen cabinet doors you can tell the difference between LUXURY and non-luxury products. Casa Fendi and Casa Armani are a long long way from IKEA!!! Why spend so much money on an apartment and have the toilet flushers made in China and feeling like tin? Why do some cabinets look crooked from the very start and empty?

    If you personally do not care and do not demand a level of craftsmanship for which you are paying than it is your responsibility for the downgrading and lowering of standards that seem to be part of how to define consumers in the 21st century. I expect to throw my H&M 12 euros sunglasses out in a month. I do not expect to throw my PRADA sunglasses with my own prescription out in even a year!

  • Hello Sara,

    I have been having doubts for many years now, I wish I didn’t have to feel like this but I do, I have a fine eye for details and see details I wish I didn’t see on certain high end brands….like a pair of $800 shoes were you see the glue on the side of the shoe….$4000 jackets from Akris were the stiches are so loose that if you catch your finger in it you will rip it..at Neiman Marcus..I couldn’t help but being shocked and when the SA came to me, to ask me if I need it help… I honestly told him how I feel about such details and he looked at me surprised..I told him how in Switzerland when I grew up, I was used to perfect finish in clothing…I asked him if anybody buys such a sad quality now… guess what he answered me?? Well the ladies buying those clothes now are to young to know the difference!!!! Meaning they don’t know any better!!! Isn’t just horrible??? For a long time already I was having my doubts about quality now a days…now I am just sad…even though I can’t just go out and buy anything I want…when I do I want the best quality if I put the money for it, and I already had my Dior beautiful loafers poking the bottom of my feet with a nail!!! When I took it back to Saks Fifth Avenue they nail it back in… I am sorry but I don’t really trust anyone anymore but I still love Hermès…but ???? Alors bonne chance avec votre appartement, c’est beaucoup de travail de trouver ce qui nous plaît vraiment, I am living what you just described above, I moved to an expensive apartment complex, but once in, is when we realized how badly and fast it was built and it is extremely disappointing and frustrating, unbelievable… every day I tell myself not to get upset…Bonne nuit ????