What’s in a Name? The Price of Luxury

chanelFendi. Gucci. Prada. What’s in a name?

As long as there have been luxury items, there have been luxury consumers dropping big bucks to get their hands on supposedly precious pieces. But when the extravagant shopper purchases pumps in the four-figures or a purse equal to a down payment, what’s it all worth?

Is the age-old aphorism true? Do we get what we pay for?

Before she was Fashion Editor of Colorado’s 5280 Magazine, Georgia Benjou was a buyer for Dolce and Gabbana and worked in the merchandising departments of Chanel and Hermes. During her time at some of the most eminent and expensive brands known to man, Benjou got a behind the scenes look at what it takes to create a truly luxurious piece.

“It’s the combination of material and craftsmanship,” she says, remembering a Hermes alligator wrap skirt lined in leather than took five Parisians and their 10 bare hands to create. For the price of mid-sized sedan, the garment had to be flawlessly constructed — each scale expertly lined up and the colors identical.

gucciAccording to Benjou, this is exactly what separates astronomically priced luxury items from your mainstream goods. When you buy an item that was mass-produced with run of the mill textiles, you sacrifice major attention to detail. She says, “For a mainstream product to sell at a more affordable price point, the level of material and the technical know-how and individual attention can’t be spent on just one item.”

Designer Sam Kori George would agree. The winner of the Oscar’s Designer Challenge at last year’s awards puts an impeccable amount of creative energy and labor into constructing his luxury pieces. Currently, George is working on an espresso brown leather jacket made up of 28 different pieces that runs for approximately $3,250. “It’s not an assembly line,” he says. “It needs to be one person focused on that particular item.”

George also says he uses only the best materials for his garments, calling upon textiles and hardware (everything down to the zipper) from all over the world.

Sometimes, however, high price doesn’t mean high quality. Fashion and Events Editor of msfabulous.com Mariana Leung-Weinstein says, “A lot of what you don’t see is what drives the cost up,” but admits that doesn’t necessarily imply you’re getting a well-made garment.

designer jeansSo is the case with designer denim. According to Leung-Weinstein, the extra softness and assorted washes we’re emptying our pockets for are a result of extra dye processes and harsh treatments (making holes, stone washing, etc.). Essentially, we’re paying for damaged denim. “The more destroyed the garment is, the more expensive it is. The more expensive the jean, the shorter it will last.” she says.

Whether the work is about meticulousness or mutilation, Benjou believes part of our attraction to luxury is a brand’s rich history. “The desire for an item is created by the story behind it,” she says. The mastermind designer, their journey into fashion and uniquely iconic pieces all contribute to a deep and meaningful heritage. Benjou says the legacy, “gives the brand a certain authority and legitimacy — it says that this company has perfected their product and craft over decades.”

And so, for decades to come, we’ll continue to spend, or simply swoon, as luxury items go beyond what we wear and walk in and exist as our most extravagant, yet stylish relics.

Photos (via Flickr): Chanel Store – Chad Davis; Gucci Bag – Peter Petrus; Denim – Huey Yoong

  • Artisan

    Unfortunately increased production costs from better quality materials and more skilled workers is a tiny fraction of that inflated price tag. You, buyer of the $50,000 dress are paying for the marketing of that dress: The fashion shows, the full page gloss ads keeping your favorite magazines in print, and the large (if mostly empty) stores sitting on some of the most expensive real estate in the world.

    If it is truly quality that you seek – buy from a skilled artisan locally (or in Paris, or Vietnam or wherever).