3.17.2013

on luxury: what's in a name?

vintage H Kelly // favorite chambray shirt // jeans // dandy flats 

back in 2011, after a lengthy period of saving and research, i purchased a dream item: a vintage 1990s Hermès Kelly. it was beautiful and unique in every way, down to the fact that the original owner had her initials discreetly stamped onto the flap.

it didn't occur to me until recently to think again about the monogram. (it's blindstamped, so virtually invisible unless you really look for it up close.) a search on TPF yielded a variety of attitudes; most were against the idea from a symbolic and 'value' (aka resale) point of view. a few made exceptions depending on the qualities of the bag and the visibility of the lettering, but the general consensus was rather negative.

it made me wonder: what's really in a name? is a monogram really different from a brand name stamped in gold? what about the craftsman's stamp on H bags, the mark of the person who made the bag by hand from start to finish? what does it really mean to 'own' a piece of luxury?

the other night, i happened upon this beautifully composed documentary about Hermès. the title alone, "Hearts and Crafts", is wonderful!

i'd recommend settling in with a cup of tea or a glass of wine (or two) before hitting play. it's a moving, illuminating film that tells the stories of the men and women – the heart and soul, really – behind such an iconic brand. in a world where the consumer obsession with status symbols and 'investment purchases' often dominate the conversation, it's a revelation to rethink the meaning of luxury from the perspective of the makers:
"Simply adding the craftsman's mark is a proud act, knowing your bag will travel the world, and be carried around by someone. It becomes theirs but remains ours. It contains our soul and our stitching. It has our mark on it."
perhaps the ultimate appreciation of a vintage Hermès creation has less to do with any singular notion of ownership. perhaps it comes down to what it represents: the people, craft, and personal stories that make it luxurious, and loved.

what do you think?

24 comments:

  1. Thank you for this post! I have the DVD and it's totally awe inspiring in every way. Your Kelly is wonderful!! I was able to wear my chambray shirt on the one day when it decided to be Spring in my little patch of UK :-)

    I couldn't agree with your last sentance more. It's impossible to not appreciate the skill of the craftsmen and women when you look at the bags. For me, when I carry or wear my bags and other items, there is a very special feeling of knowing all of the history and all of the individual skills of these people are there and in turn I like to think that I'm adding my experience - love - and therefore history too. I have a similar feeling when wearing vintage things.

    I'm not bothered at all about monogram stamps, it's just sad the original owner had to part with it although fortuitous for you!

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    1. thanks spd :) the pride that the H craftsmen and women take in their work is really moving and inspiring.

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  2. I am so glad you love your Kelly and aren't put off by the initials/monogram. They don't matter as long as the bag is the one you want!

    Luxury is an object or experience that takes your breath away. That excites and moves you no matter how often it happens or is used. Luxury isn't money necessarily; I find small artisan textiles from India—pieces that cost me very little most often—are some of my greatest luxuries. A home made Madeleine is a luxury. All these things never fail to delight!

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    1. totally agree. i'd love to see some of your artisan textiles from India sometime on your blog :)

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  3. I was reading "Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster" a while back and remember reading that Hermes is one of the few true "luxury" brands out there today, that they still take an enormous amount of care in creating their handbags. I think it's sad that the idea of luxury has been defined solely by branding and trends, and that pricing of luxury items has been grossly inflated to reflect that (although i might just be bitter that I will never be wealthy enough to just waltz into any high-end designer store with the intent of actually buying anything, haha). My definition of luxury is quality material and craftsmanship, and in order to achieve that, I'd rather forgo the stereotypical "luxury" brands for smaller brands like jw hulme, or even places like etsy, where you can be in direct communication with the person that makes your goods.

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    1. i thought Dana Thomas' book was a very interesting and eye-opening read as well. and i love your definition of luxury: it's a wonderful experience to be able to connect in some way with the person/people who make your goods!

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    2. also, the ability to 'waltz into an expensive luxury store and casually buy something' doesn't really appeal to me all that much. i love finding a vintage gem because it gives you time to really consider and learn about what you're buying - its history, the unique details, the stories :)

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  4. I do not own anything by Hermes, but I appreciate the quality from their craftsmen and women.

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    1. indeed. i was so pleasantly surprised that their workshop is made up of so many diverse people of all ages, and walks of life!

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  5. I love this post. and I love your bag. and I now know what I will be spending a free evening this week doing! Thanks for the recc. ps, I wouldn't care about the monogram either. I like to think that a lovely bag has found a lovely new home and and owner who will treat it good - its previous owner would be proud :)

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    1. yay! let me know what you think of the film...in the meantime, i have been thinking up funny alternative phrases for the monogram (CGL). chime in if you have any contributing ideas! :)

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    2. Aw, what about "Caring, Generous, Loved"

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  6. i think the monogram lends a particular patina to the bag that makes it even more special.

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    1. agreed! also an opportunity to make up various new catchphrases ;)

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  7. Lovely video. I went to an Hermes exhibit where one of their craftsmen was around to talk to guests. I didn't get to ask him much but it was very educational and inspiring, much like the video.

    I don't think I would be too bothered by a monogram belonging to someone else, although if it's an ugly one and awkwardly placed I might pass, haha. I'm a sucker for things with stories!

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    1. yes, there are some bad monograms out there! i am also a sucker for stories.

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  8. I am glad you are not bothered by the monogram on your Kelly. One of my favourite bags - a small glossy red duffle - is monotremes with my initials on the silk lining inside. It was a thirtieth birthday present to myself :)
    Loved watching this video - the workspaces look so meditative and I loved hearing the stories of all the craftspeople, from political refugees to young girls training to one day become artisans. I so wish craftspeople in India were given their due.
    I remember going to Benaras with my father when I was twelve. We visited a weaver's home and watched him at work. My father bought me a beautiful fuchsia and gold paisley stole. It's almost too much to wear, since it's terribly ornate but very beautiful. Eighteen years later, I was very sad to report a story showing how these weavers were at risk of losing their livelihoods due to consumers buying Chinese-made copies.

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    1. thanks for sharing, ammu. it's so sad that the weavers are losing their livelihood due to copies. especially given that China has its own long history of exquisite artisanal craftsmanship. i hope you wear your stole nowadays, as a tribute to the people who made it!

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    2. Exactly! I still hang on to a beautiful silk sari blouse embroidered with Chinese motifs - my grandmother had it stitched in Beijing in the late 1950s. I still wear it!

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  9. Thank you for sharing the video. I've been to a few exhibitions and saw how the artisans work. It was wonderful to be able to ask them a lot of questions about their work and creation. It made me appreciate my Hermes bags even more. I love that you didn't care about the monogram. I always think that perfection is boring. Any sign of wear, monogram or scratches are factors that contribute to make a bag interesting and full of character. The most inspirational people I've met are the ones who have gone through incredible hardships but live with such grace, courage and wisdom.

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    1. thanks Marlene! as i get older i'm more interested in things with character. also the fact that the bag came with both H shoulder straps cinched the deal - there's no way i could use it otherwise!

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  10. I have always loved your kelly and am glad to learn more of the story behind it! I think the monogram makes it more special and on the resale value point - Kellys are so in demand that I don't think it matters - I can see why ladies care about the resale value point but to me it makes a bag more special, especially when discreet.

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  11. such a beautiful bag! I always find it interesting to see little snippets of the previous owner when buying second hand! It's like a small memory, captured in time. I love when you find old books with heartfelt inscriptions in the covers - especially when they're dated. I don't think the monogram spoils the piece - it just gives you a little insight into its history.

    Hannah xx

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    1. i love inscriptions in old books! it always struck me as mysterious and rather romantic.

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