Dana Thomas: Journalist, Fabulous

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Former Newsweek Paris fashion writer Dana Thomas will be in town this evening, signing her new book Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster It’s a fascinating, well-reported exploration of the “cheapening” of what were once exclusive goods. (For anyone who has seen Birkin bag stained with McDonald’s grease, you know what we mean).

She’ll read a bit of it tonight at 7 p.m. at Book Soup. But if you’ll be too busy bathing in Coco Chanel, catch our interview with Thomas here:

1. Your book does a great job explaining how the factors that went in to “cheapening” luxury. It seems from the reading that Hollywood shoulders a great amount of the responsibility for that. Are there designers who use celebrity to promote the idea of luxury without sacrificing the actual ideals of luxury?

Actually, the brand that really started celebrity dressing — Giorgio Armani — has maintained its integrity when it comes to using celebrity to promote luxury without sacrificing its ideals or undermining its integrity. And that’s because most who wear Armani do so because they love it, not they are paid to wear it or paid to flack it. Most stars seek out Armani, not vice-versa. And Armani does not give the clothes to the stars: They expect the red carpet dresses to be returned. If the star so loves it, she wants to keep it, Armani may offer her a discounted price, since the garment is usually a sample, and may have been worn on fashion shoots. The jeweler Harry Winston approaches celebrity dressing–or rather celebrity accessorizing — he same way, and its been lending jewels to stars for more than 50 years. As a Harry Winston spokeswoman told me, “We want celebrities to wear Harry Winston because they love Harry Winston, not because we paid them to wear it.”

2. Do you think the IRS crackdown on swag will cut into the “freebies” celebs get, or are designers just coming up with more inventive ways to get their goods on movie stars?

I think swag reform is like campaign finance reform: There will always be those who look for and find ways around the new rules.

3. Was there a story or series of stories you wrote that sparked your interest in this topic for a book?

Actually it was consumer dissatisfaction that really triggered it: I was one of the Middle Market consumers that luxury brands targeted and a bought their items and clothes. And I noticed a steady and definite decline in the quality of product, like buttons falling off or breaking, hems ripping out, sweaters unraveling, though retail prices were going up and up and luxury executives were getting richer and richer. I wanted to know what was going on, and I used my reporter’s skills to find out.