Louis Vuitton and the Patina of Made in Italy
A few weeks ago, I asked whether a brand name really means something when it comes to assessing value in fashion. The question was still front of mind when I read a story in The Guardian days ago revealing that "thousands of Louis Vuitton shoes," labeled "Made in Italy," are actually made at a factory in Romania and only finished in Italy with the addition of the shoes' soles. For a heritage luxury brand, developments like this confirm that profit and scale have come to drive a brand's business decisions more significantly than craftsmanship or quality or a commitment to legacy.
The products at Somarest are moulded and stitched by hand, just as they are in Louis Vuitton’s advertisements, but the craft is not handed down through generations. Most of the workers are trained on site.
- Alexandra Lembke for The Guardian
As I navigate my relationship with consuming fashion, my question more and more becomes: what am I getting in exchange for what I spend? It's an important question that matters for a variety of different reasons. First, because I care about building a sustainable wardrobe, investing in quality is a cornerstone because well-made pieces last. There was a time when a brand name was an indicator of quality, but is that still the case? Stories like this beg the question.
Second, there's a consumer advocacy issue here that is increasingly salient. As consumers, is what we're getting worth what we're paying for it? In this interview with designer Signe Rødbro, she said, "I think most of the clothing on the market is really expensive when you consider how it’s been made and from what." She was referring to fast fashion, but even in the realm of higher end fashion, should we as consumers expect that the corporations who sell us our clothes care that we're getting quality and value in exchange? And if we're not, should we be disappointed?
Third, and perhaps most importantly, what is it that actually constitutes value in fashion? Often, because value is a difficult thing to meaningfully qualify, we end up taking cues from things like price point or brand name or heritage which we use to serve as proxies for value. News like this indicates that our proxies aren't necessarily as accurate as we think, which means we need better ways to ascertain value. Perhaps that means digging deeper for value by looking at materials or the intentions of a company or the integrity of the design.
There's nothing wrong with caring enough about a brand or a logo or an image to compel us to buy into it if that's what we value. But I think it's important for companies to be transparent and consumers to be aware of what it is that's really getting exchanged.