Some time ago—and we’re going way back here—a man’s wardrobe was like a house. He bought pieces of clothing and he maintained them so they would last. He did laundry and if something split he had it mended. If he outgrew a suit, he took it to a tailor.
These minor alterations didn’t make the suit shabby; it gave it a sense of character and personality. You might be able to tell from looking at a man whether he had bought his suit as an old or a young man, whether he had bought it in San Francisco or New York, Chicago or London. Season to season, his clothes would tell you something about the path of his life that could not be changed or put on.
Today’s luxury works very differently, as today’s International Herald Tribune can attest. The IHT’s gripe is an environmental one—think of all the off-season merchandise in landfills somewhere—but mending clothes doesn’t have to be a green enterprise. Mending used to be as common a service as alterations. It was part of the artisan’s pledge to the customer, a way of saying that they were getting something valuable and worthy of respect. Prada and Gucci still repair old merchandise (as IHT points out), but most luxury houses turn over employees almost as fast as merchandise, and their commitment to a five-year-old suit is about the same as their commitment to yesterday’s newspaper.
For all the nostalgic style, it’s still an industry focused more on the future than the past.