Saturday, October 30, 2010

Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster

Title: Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster
Author: Dana Thomas
Publisher: Penguin Books
When deciding on a book to read I always pick a topic that I know very little about. I try to live by the Voltaire quote in reference to trying new things, "If we don't find anything pleasant at least we shall find something new." So in keeping with this point of view I decided to read a book about the fashion industry; Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster. I first heard of Dana Thomas (the book’s author) when she was on a television show discussing the topic of Hermès bags. Since she was also promoting her new book and her expertise on the subject seemed really insightful I decided to read her book. With modern society being bombarded with ad’s everywhere you go it’s almost impossible to not recognize the luxury brands this book makes reference to such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton. So not being able to follow along with the topic of the book was never an issue for me.

Her book does an excellent job at summarizing the history of where and how a lot of these fashion houses began. She then goes on to discuss how these houses have evolved into multi-billion dollar luxury brands that are known globally. For Thomas however, this success has come with an unfavourable price tag; mainly that quality has been watered down in favour of record profits. This all began when luxury brands started selling their business to large investment groups that saw an opportunity to make a profit. Their investment started to yield profit when they started offering purses, sun glasses, scarfs, wallets and ready to wear fashion to what she calls middle market consumers in an attempt to allow them to live a temporary luxury dream. The creation of allowing this middle market consumer to purchase luxury brand accessories has more than doubled the profit of these fashion houses. To further increase profit and capitalize on this sales boom luxury brands started cutting corners by using cheaper materials, outsourcing their production into China, and licensing their brand name to outside factories.

One of the issues she mentions in the book that was insightful for me was her investigation into the black market of fake luxury brands. Unlike other books that just tell you fake’s or knockoffs are bad to buy, she actually explains why it’s wrong and how its harming people. For example she tells the story of a sweatshop owner in China that would actually wound the legs of child workers so that they would be unable to escape, and would be forced to work. Hearing stuff like this has actually enlightened me to be a voice against knockoffs and the black market. I’m sure once people see where and how these products are made they would think twice before buying.

When I finished the book it made me feel as if anyone that bought luxury products today would be buying into an image and not actual luxury. This theory is proven when I see people buying wallets that cost over $800 and purses that cost more than a car. Of course I would be lying if I said I was turned off of luxury brands after reading this book. There is still one luxury brand that I believe has not changed their belief that the quality of their products should be more important than profits, which is Hermès. With most purses being made with the best materials in the world by the best craftsman’s and then having to wait years for one to be made for you I believe they will always be a company to be admired (though I doubt I’ll ever be able to afford anything they make). And so I would recommend this book to anyone that has always loved the fashion industry and would like to get to know more about it.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Learning to make chocolate

A while back I went down to El Salvador in Central America to visit some friends and family.  At the house that I was staying at, I noticed that they had a cacao tree growing.  This piqued my curiosity because I had never seen one before, and was interested in knowing how chocolate was made.  I went on the internet to explore and research this information and soon came to the conclusion that I could make it myself.  The basic gist to making it is to remove the cacao beans from the pod, then store them in a bin to ferment the pulp, place them under the sun to dry for several days, roast them in an oven, and then finally decide on which method to process the beans.
This is the most difficult step in making chocolate because chocolate companies use highly sophisticated machines to make chocolate, chocolate liquor, cocoa powder, and cocoa butter.  Though I didn’t have access to those sorts of machines, I did not fret because there are alternatives to making a decent quality chocolate.  Besides, the Mayans were making and drinking chocolate hundreds of years ago using hand-made methods that are still used today in many Latin American countries.
The easiest part of making this chocolate was to remove the cocoa beans from the pods and drying them in the sun.  I had started drying them in the middle of the summer when the days were hottest.  What became difficult was all the hand mashing I had to do to crush and mix the beans together.  Luckily I decided to speed that process up by using a small blender.  As it was mixing, I added sugar and milk to make it more of the familiar chocolate taste that I’m used to.  Once it was done, I placed the mixture on a plate and put it in the refrigerator.  When I took it out I was amazed at how it felt, almost like clay.
I then wrapped it up in aluminum paper and stored it in the freezer for several weeks.   Finally this week I decided to unwrap it and eat it.  As I was opening it up, the smell of chocolate filled the air with its aroma.  The texture was similar to the chocolate part of an M&M, or a Hershey’s Kiss but it also felt a little grainy because of the sugar I added.  Despite how it felt, the taste was amazing.  I had never tried anything like this before.  It was natural and pure, and nothing like those artificial chocolate bars you can buy in a store.  The taste resonated in my mouth, as I let the chocolate melt and I acknowledged that this was the best chocolate I had ever tasted.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

DC Direct Blammoids! Batman

DC Direct Blammoids! With the current popularity of the latest toy collectable fad being Japanese toys such as Kubrick’s, many North American toy companies are jumping on the bandwagon and producing their own version. DC’s offering this time from its catalogue of superheroes comes in the form of these cute and cubed figures. While mixing a nice element of bright colors and simplistic design, these collectables have come out looking pretty good. My favorite of course has to be the Batman version, which comes with a cape, and will also be released in a retro outfit version later this year.
Other characters that are also in the Blammoids catalogue include Superman, the Joker, the Green Lantern, Robin, the Flash, and many more. The toy figures come with movable heads and arms. The packaging is also pretty awesome, because they come with a nice colorful Blammoids logo, the toy is enclosed in a plastic shell, and the back of the packaging shows pictures of the rest of the characters scheduled to release. The price for them is pretty high, but compared to other Japanese collectables it is pretty average. All in all Blammoids are a nice toy release from DC Direct.
DC Direct comics:

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 25th Anniversary Toys

Back in the late 80’s the most popular toy and cartoon was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The cartoons were so addictive with their great story lines, and awesome catch phrases. They made every kid in the nation want to be a ninja, or at least get hurt trying to perform some unsupervised dangerous ninja kick. Yet what made these heroes so popular was how wonderful their toys were made. They had awesome details, came with a lot of weapons, and most importantly were very resistant to wear (give or take a few broken weapons). 
So with this new re-release of the Ninja Turtles from Playmates, celebrating their 25th anniversary; I knew I had to get them all. Luckily I found them on sale, which made it extra special. The toys are well made, and come as close to the original 1988 toys as possible. What makes this retro release even better is that they come with a bonus DVD of the first four episodes of the show. Blissful nostalgia oozes from my brain to the sound track of “Go Ninja, Go Ninja, Go” sung by Vanilla Ice. I highly recommend every turtle fan to go out and buy this collector’s set, it’s Turtlerific!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Simpsons Tattoos

One of my favorite shows of all time has always been the Simpsons. I still remember as a child waiting patiently all week until Thursday night when Fox would air new episodes and I would fire up my VCR. Over the years the show did start to lose its magic as the comedy became dry and very banal. But regardless my love for the show has kept me a faithful viewer throughout the years, and now decades later. Of course some people show their love by taking it to the next level, and actually getting Simpsons tattoos. Here are some cool one’s I found on-line.
Now I would never consider getting a Simpsons tattoo, but if I had to choose one I think I would definitely get one of Evil Homer.