The business of luxury


(Fortune Magazine) -- Over the past decade, luxury has gone from occasional indulgence to daily ritual. Think about how your morning cup of instant coffee has evolved into a $4 custom-made cappuccino. Or that Oscar de la Renta's perfume now sells at Wal-Mart (Charts, Fortune 500).

Those are two small examples in a global trend of bringing class to the masses. Goods and services once available only to the elite - think cashmere and stock advice - are on the way to becoming commodities. Luxury goods and the companies that sell them have become big business - $220 billion a year, estimate the consultants at Bain & Co.

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In the stories that follow, Fortune takes a look at the figures, the figureheads, and the companies - from Polo Ralph Lauren (Charts) to Brooks Brothers to Cartier to Gucci - behind the boom. Top of page