Who pays the price for a counterfeit designer bag?
There may be as big an appetite for a good book about luxury as there is for luxury goods.
Dana Thomas, author of the fascinating new book "Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Luster," found out last night at her book party at the Chateau Marmont that her just-published first effort is already No. 15 on the New York Times bestseller list.
To help her celebrate: L.A. fashionistas such as vintage king Cameron (Decades) Silver, Los Angeles Times Image writers Rose Apodaca and Monica Corcoran, Genlux editor Merle Ginsberg, stylist George Blodwell, infamous Web wonk Mickey Kaus (Slate, kausfiles.com) and Vanity Fair columnist and still-hot-on-the-Phil-Spector-case writer Dominick Dunne.
Will L.A.'s label lovers will be influenced by the rave-reviewed and scathing investigation of the luxury industry? Thomas, Newsweek's Paris-based arts and culture correspondent, is certainly convincing in her indictment of the luxury biz.
She spent three years trekking to off-site production in India, knock-off factories in China, the French fragrance fields of Grasse, outlet malls in Palm Springs and doomed textile factories in Lake Como, Italy. She picked the brains of countless luxury label leaders, including Miucci Prada, Chanel's Karl Lagerfeld, Tom Ford and LVMH Chairman and Chief Executive Bernard Arnault.
Bottom line? We're being duped. In most cases, luxury customers are no longer getting what they're paying for. Not only has luxury lost its luster, but the insanely profitable illegal fake-luxe market is causing untold pain and suffering to women and young children forced to slave in knock-off factories.
After going on a surprise police raid of a Chinese knock-off factory filled with children, Thomas was told about an assembly plant in Thailand where the child workers -- younger than 10 -- had their legs broken and their lower legs tied to their thighs so the bones wouldn't mend. The investigator told Thomas that the owners did it because "the children said they wanted to go outside and play."
Then there's the suspected money pipeline to international terrorist groups. Luxury at what price indeed? Something to think about for the women who buy and sell fake designer handbags at "Purse Parties."
But don't blame the likes of Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie for our modern label lust. They didn't start it.
Some of the most powerful people in history sought special items to show off and set themselves above the common fray. That's why Caesar wore only silk imported from India, the most expensive fabric of his day. Word is the Roman senate was plenty POed at the price. And when France sold hundreds of millions of acres of land to the U.S. for $15 million, Napoleon's wife Josephine spent half the loot on fancy clothes in just 10 years. Kinda sounds like a Beverly Hills trophy wife's spending habits.
Thomas, currently on a whirlwind book tour, has a modest home in St. Tropez and is considering relocating to Los Angeles from her apartment in Paris with her handsome French husband, Herve d'Halluin, and their adorable daughter, Lucie. And her next book? "A children's book for Lucie," Dana told me. As she wrote in her "Deluxe" acknowledgments, "Now, Lucie, now we can go to the park and play."
Full disclosure: I've known Dana Thomas for two decades, from our days in the fashion trenches covering the Paris collections and the Cannes Film Festival. I don't own a single designer-label garment or purse. But I do -- and always will -- lust for real Chanel No. 5.
Photo credit: Cameron Silver and his friend, author Dana Thomas, at the Chateau Marmont for "Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster." And yes, he's definitely in the book.