Taking the Luxe Out of Luxury

Are brands going to great lengths to hide cost-cutting tactics?

I’ve read articles about how luxury brands mass-produce their products with lower quality, including excerpts from Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster by Dana Thomas. But none of those affected me the same way as my recent experience.

I came across a YouTube video from a cobbler who was resoling a pair of boots that I absolutely adore from a luxury brand. I won’t name the brand. I’ll just describe it as a sleek boot with a 1.5-inch stacked heel that, to me, adds magic to an outfit with skinny jeans. I love the boots so much that I have six pairs in different colors and materials.

The video revealed the inner workings of the boots as the cobbler described how the boot would be resoled. As the video progressed, the cobbler described how difficult it was to resole the boot, which included the replacement of the stacked heel. Do you want to know why a cobbler is having trouble resoling a supposedly well-made boot from a luxury brand that costs $1,145? Could it be that the leather is too delicate? Or the materials are too fine and can damage if taken apart? Or the cobbler could not replicate the quality of the materials used on the boots? I would have thought these were the answers, at least for a luxury item.

The real answer? The sole is heavily glued on, and the stacked heel is fake. It isn’t stacked at all. It is just a veneer made to look like a stacked heel, actually concealing a hollow plastic core.

Betrayal is the only word I can use to describe how I felt.

At a price over $1,000, the brand could not even make a real stacked heel? Even lower-priced brands sell truly stacked heel shoes for significantly less.

For those of you who don’t know, a stacked heel is a heel made from several sheets of cowhide stacked on top of each other that will slowly wear away layer after layer until it is resoled where new layers are applied to replace the old ones.

When it is simply a veneer made to look like a stacked heel to conceal a plastic core, and there are no leather layers, the cobbler cannot even restack the heel. The heel has to be completely reformed by the cobbler. The customer who submitted the boots for cobbling will finally have a real stacked heel.

It gets worse. The website clearly says that the product has a stacked heel. So not only is the stacked heel not actually stacked, the website is falsely advertising that the heel is stacked.

Heavy on the glue = Heavy on the cost-cutting measures

The excessive amount of glue is an indication of heavy cost-cutting. The glue sets the components together quickly without anchoring the pieces firmly while stitching. The less time it takes to make the boots, the more boots can be made, and the lower the cost of each boot for the luxury brand. More money in their pockets, right? Combined with the fake hollow plastic stacked heels, with similar cost-cutting measures in other product categories, it means more money in a brand’s pocket.

What happened to luxury?

Is it really that costly to make a stacked heel? The cost-cutting measures will save them pennies, if not a few dollars per boot. The least I should expect from a luxury brand is to have a stacked heel when the website makes such a claim. The level of deception is awful, especially when they went to lengths to still convince customers that the heel is stacked, with the veneer showing what looks like grooves of different layers of leather.

Now some of you may suspect that the cobbler was repairing fake boots—I thought that too at first, but at second glance, the details completely match the boots I have, down to the fake stacking. All of this led to the question at hand: Times change, yes, but shouldn’t brands keep the luxe in luxury? I know I can’t be the only one who has experienced quality issues first-hand. Members of our PurseBlog and PurseForum communities have reported quality issues from various brands too.

Take edge-dying or glazing, for instance. How many people have experienced uneven edge-dying or cracking? The unevenness is because the job is rushed. The cracking is because a thick paste is used to seal the leather edges to hide minimal sanding of the edges (the thickness hides the uneven edges), and then the paste only needs to be applied once. Real, quality edge-dying should look like the finish on top of the flap of the Hermès Birkin.

It is done where several leather pieces are sewn together, and the edges are sanded down to be even. Then a thin edge-dye is applied once, allowed to dry, and then reapplied (with drying intervals) over and over again to achieve a nice, even finish that won’t easily crack. While it’s hard to compare the process that Hermès uses to other brands, a luxury product should still withstand normal wear and tear.

When paying thousands of dollars for a bag, customers should expect bags that aren’t lopsided, straight stitching, gold-plated hardware, durable clasps, and luxurious full-grain leathers where scratches can be buffed out.

Maybe you can sense the irritation and anger from the betrayal that I felt. I actually thought the heels were stacked on these boots that I love. At the very least, I didn’t think a luxury brand would deceive consumers about its construction methods.

Where do we go from here?

The video changed how I feel about many of the brands I love. I don’t want to pay top dollar to these brands who play me for a fool, making me think that the artisanal “making of” videos actually reflect what goes on in the production facilities of the products. Interestingly, one of the brands with rumored quality issues makes videos animating the pieces of the bag coming together on their own (without showing the artisan). Maybe not showing an artisan helps them circumvent the rules around false advertising because there is no actual artisan?

Not all brands do this, although I often wonder if most of them do, especially with shareholders that keep pressuring the brands to increase profitability and profit margins. I suggest looking into brands with outstanding quality if you feel as betrayed as I do. Hopefully, where we spend our money can pressure the majority of luxury brands to focus on quality. At the moment, it is a race to cut quality, not increase it. And customers are still buying, so why should they stop?

What do you think? Have luxury brands taken the luxe out of luxury?


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