When I was 18, I left the part-time, amusement park job I had since I was 14 and moved to greener pastures – a job at a Coach outlet store. At the time the company was owned by Sara Lee Corporation, which then funded a college grant program that sent me through college and grad school loan-free. I also met some amazing people that are still my close friends. Not a bad gig.

While I was initially mystified at the devotion of Coach fans, I would quickly become one of them. I didn’t buy many bags then, but I’d acquire them in thrift stores and garage sales for decades after.

Soon after I left, the company was sold and the brand moved in a different direction – off-shore production, canvas materials, gaudy linings, and logos everywhere. I hated them. The book Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Luster explains what happened to Coach and many other high end brands.

Most luxury brands are today owned by large conglomerates, who slowly acquired what had been small, family-owned companies and brought in new management, rung efficiency from every corner, advertised relentlessly, and moved production to lower cost regions. They introduced starter products like perfumes, scarves, and handbags to get first-time buyers to splurge on the brand. The assembly line efficiency meant major dollars in a category with already enviably high margins.

Author Dana Thomas covers every angle from handbags to perfume production to silk production and counterfeiting. Hermès bags are  still made largely to order and by hand. Chanel No. 5 is the company’s most valuable scent, and unlike many perfumes, it contains over 70 ingredients. Chanel contracts one entire farm in France for just one ingredient in the formula. Many of the companies mentioned were founded in the 19th century in France and Italy and family-owned and operated. Hermès began by making saddles. They still do. Counterfeiting luxury goods is a lucrative business largely tied to organize crime, so resist the temptation to attend a purse party or peruse Canal Street and buy one. #recommended