Monday, March 13, 2017

On luxury, nowadays.

My Lebanese friend (an advertising mogul), my other friend (a European famed artist) and myself were strolling in the Lebanese man's Cadillac with windows rolled up and AC on full blast oblivious of the city heat outside. The three of us wearing couture - mine and my Euro friend from an outlet store but I had suspicions my Lebanese friend was wearing full sticker priced Armani. We were out to lunch.
As we headed to Zaitounay bay we bypassed the usual spots right by the docks and headed to the members' only Yacht Club.
They ordered Sushi and I settled for ravioli, and we sat outside but chose a corner sheltered from the sun, as we watched the azure sea languishing next to us. It was the kind of lunches that gets remixed and extends for hours on end. The company was delightful, the setting relaxing but away from the bustle of the Zaitounay Bay beneath us, one element made the experience more exclusive - unless you were a member (and my advertising friend was so) one could not set foot in the building designed by celebrated architect Steven Holl.
The clothes could be purchased at a discount from designer store outlets (or from different brands, both Uniqlo and Gucci did Disney capsule collections with the latter selling at tens of times more expensive prices than the former), the ride could have been leased or be rented, the sushi could have been had elsewhere, but the distinguishing card was the place itself.
What is termed "attainable luxury" is more and more in the hands of people. Designer brands all have "entry tickets" - from make up to perfumes or even diffusion lines with more accessible prices or collaborative efforts (such as the H&M crazes which quench the thirsts of luxury wannabe shoppers without breaking the budget).
Some brands on the other hand, know how to keep it a little more exclusive - Chanel is famously never on sale. That their price tags are so hefty comes with exclusive treatment for sure. A Dutch friend of mine, shopping for a jacket at Boss paid a small fortune for the item but he confessed that he "was treated like a king in that store". In a recent visit to a Gucci store in Amsterdam, the exremely courteous sales assistant were wearing white gloves while handing the merchandise.
Of course, in a world where upscale brands are less exclusive, where a full family can book a holiday package (a destination where they would buy knock off Louis Vuitton or Burberry goods), what does luxury mean?
Every other shop calls itself "haute couture" - naturally, being oblivious of the rigorous standards of the appellation does not hold them back from using the word lightly. Gain a few airline miles and you can upgrade your seat to first class.
The element of exclusivity has ceased, because to get one-of-a-kind garments the new crop of fashion-conscious youth goes - not to haute couture ateliers - but rather to vintage stores and second hand markets and shops..
So could it be, that in a world where many a youth have similar smartphones, take selfies with the same backgrounds and clad in variants of the same clothes (be they original design items or Zara trickled down inspirations), that luxury should be looked for elsewhere?
Obviously, the older criteria that defined the word no longer apply.
Millennials are the generation that pays more to enjoy experiences rather than goods. So perhaps in that new context, it could be that the further we go, luxury will be defined by a selfie-less moment on a beach in Sri Lanka when the smartphone was out of batteries and some sort of disconnect was reached with the world at large?
Perhaps this vintage advertising of Waterman pens has foreseen this notion so long ago:
"My 1949 Chateau Lafite, they say, is too valuable to drink.
My Studebarker Classic should never be driven.
Don't even think of eating off the English China.
All I can say is, thank goodness for my Waterman.
Finally, a priceless possession I can actually use."

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