What is true luxury?

doghouse

King Of The Elite Idiots
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So I posted this on FNB too, but i thought it good enough to post here as well. It points out what I see as the emotional retardation of modern society, as the vast majority of people never reach self actualization.

doghouse:I ended up getting this book just for more insight in Chinese buying trends on a cultural level, and honestly the author becomes very contradictory on a lot of points and terms, though he is very astute (He is an analyst for HSBC I believe, and worked in the faux luxury sector). But my biggest gripe is actually totally resolved by the epilogue below, which I was happy to read after a mixed reaction to the book itself.

Epilogue What Is True Luxury?

‘Why, then, can one desire too much of a good thing?' —Rosalind in William Shakespeare, As You Like It


Ever wonder how to define luxury, true luxury? The answer could probably take another, much bigger , book to answer and we can debate for hours and never agree. Think about the Chinese avatars, Calvin Li, Lewis Wang, Sir Winston Churchills Flem spoon. Ma, Brittany Chen and Hermes Zhou. Are they really accessing luxury or are they living in a material world and missing the point? Forget Madonna ; accessing luxury could one day soon mean living in a material world no more. Whether with age or a great deal of sophistication or both, true luxury could well be an access to quality rather than volume (remember the British television series from the late 1960s called The Prisoner: ‘I'm a not a number, I am a free man'?), services rather than products, holistic experiences rather than accumulation of branded goods. Once you have acquired all the goods that enable you to display social status and fit in, what is left? Simplicity, self-esteem and possibly influence.

Simplicity: The Banana Leaf Parable

Japanese consumers have discovered simplicity in a very sophisticated manner, if that makes sense. After a period of brand obsession and big-box stores, gradually the consumers have looked at products by functionality and usage rather than by brands. Cynics might argue that luxury products are simply destined to a very young audience that knows little about life's values and needs to prove itself in a very vulgar, Lewis Wang manner. Charles Eames and his wife, Ray (née Kaiser), the famous twentieth-century designers, did much for modern architecture and furniture. But Charles also made a comment that can be quite relevant for the evolution and sophistication of luxury consumption. While giving lectures at Harvard in the early 1970s, he spoke of the banana leaf parable. In essence, the story is the following: In India , notably in the South, members of the lowest in caste generally eat food on banana leaves. Better-off men would have low-fired ceramic dishes. Higher up, you would find some with a glaze on, called tali. Another step up is the brass tali, the bell-bronze tali with some trading up to a silver-plated one. And then why not solid silver? As Eames put it, ‘I suppose some nut has had a gold tali that he's eaten off of but I've never seen one'. ‘Once you go beyond that, the guys that have not only the means but a certain amount of knowledge and understanding go to the next step and they eat off a banana leaf'. . . Luxury consumption is all down to psychology, your place in the world and the influence of others. The banana leaf in the story hasn't changed at all, people and their perceptions have, that's all. Many consumers will be shocked at price points within Loro Piana or Brunello Cucinelli stores. Both are part of what consulting firms will call the ‘absolute luxury' segment, selling cashmere and other apparel and accessories with rare fabrics.

Most products are the opposite of show-off, and unless you have been initiated to the brands, it's unlikely you will recognize them on anyone who wears them. Their design is simple. ‘What's the interest?' would ask Lewis Wang. Well, you're buying these for yourself, you know they use the best materials, you don't care that other people know about it and they are simple, understated, plain-design clothes. OK, it's a slightly different banana leaf, but to many it will look like any other. My avatar friend Brittany Chen told me recently that the true character of Chinese is in modesty. ‘Only during the Tang dynasty and just recently have some in China wanted to display flashy clothes and show off. But these are rare times for a people whose fashion and art are usually understated, more sober than that'.

Philosophy and Influence: The Real Pyramid of Maslow (Forget Mass Lux)

Let's go back to the real pyramid of Maslow for a moment, not the pyramid of mass lux. If you look at it closely, consumption of luxury products can be just one step along the gradual upward journey within the pyramid:

1. Physiological needs These are still very prevalent in some countries, unfortunately: How do I feed myself and find a shelter? Sounds basic if you bought this book but clearly it is not for many. In 2005, 50 percent of the population (i.e., more than 3 billion people were living on less than USD2.50 a day) according to the World Bank.

2.Safety How do I protect my family, my job, my health and my house? Again, this seems basic, but it is far from common on a global perspective.

3. Love/ belonging Here you start to think about a clan, a group, fitting in. It's not about survival anymore really but more about feeling you're part of something.

4.Esteem Well, that's really where luxury plays in fully. You want to be respected by others and to build some self-esteem and confidence. You're buying luxury? That's one way of reaching that goal. But there's more: There's a better place still, and luxury consumption won't give it to you. Wealth will give me the means to own what other wealthy people own. But is that the end game? Can I not do better than that? How, after struggling to fit in and prove myself, can I differentiate myself and stand out?

5. Self-actualization The ultimate stage will be more about the degree to which I can influence others. Luxury goods are a proof of success or power, but real power is probably found more in politics or leadership, the potential to influence and impress upon others with thoughts and ideas rather than objects.

While some consumers may stop at buying luxury, many others may just have the means— socially, psychologically, not just financially— and more importantly the will to just ‘keep walking'.

Rambourg, Erwan (2014-07-29). The Bling Dynasty: Why the Reign of Chinese Luxury Shoppers Has Only Just Begun (Wiley Finance) (Kindle Locations 4583-4585). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
 
Well, you're buying these for yourself
This is the phrase that caught my eye and mind. Veblen shit, trying to demonstrate status to/for others, is insecurity not luxury. That is a mind-forged manacle, a self/societally inflicted imperative.

Luxury is done for one's self. It is to raise one's joy. The proper luxury goods start with mattresses and food and go on to clothing that is comfortable and unemcumbering. And this is where we cringe at the reverse snobbery of slob culture thinking that jeans and t-shirts are so comfortable. Tailored clothing of decent good or better fit and quality is very comfortable.

I try to tell people why wool is a wonder fiber, why rear-drive vehicles handle better, why fountain pens are joys to use. They don't care or even understand. I spend more because it makes an improvement in my life.

I recently read a comment regarding the continually lower depth at which "luxury" car marques will plunge to widen their base of consumers. The $30K front-driving four-banger Mercedes is of course much worse than a comparable and cheaper Japanese or even American car. Is is not luxury, it is premium. The premium is not quality, merely that people will pay more to have it. It is nothing real, only perception.

Alternatively, the premium is the stupidity tax placed on rubes that fall for all of the marketing. Like the fools with the Gucci suits or whatever, paying more for less is not luxury.
 
Well, you're buying these for yourself...

This is the phrase that caught my eye and mind. Veblen shit, trying to demonstrate status to/for others, is insecurity not luxury. That is a mind-forged manacle, a self/societally inflicted imperative.

Well, yes and no.

I think that the author was actually making a decent point there, although I think that it's also a bit inaccurate.

If I understand correctly, the point that the author is making is that buying "unbranded" clothes is more luxurious than buying clothes with tacky logos all over them. I certainly agree with that point - I do tend to both laugh at, and feel sorry for, all of the people spending thousands of dollars on cheaply made items with brand logos splashed over them. Why are they paying companies for the privilege of advertising those products? When did that happen? Shouldn't it be the other way around? However, with more upscale products (Cucinelli, RL Purple Label, top-line Hermes and so on) there is no branding, or certainly not over branding, and so most people will not know what you are wearing/carrying.

This is, however, still a step down from what was regarded as luxury fifty or more years ago, when truly wealthy people generally did not give a cr@p about brands. They'd buy from upscale stores that sold things that they wanted, such as Hermes or Lobb, but those businesses had largely not yet become "brands" - they were still solo-store businesses instead of either being multinational concerns or being owned by other multinational concerns. They'd order their clothes from bespoke tailors or, for ladies, from haute couture ateliers. Their cars would quite often be made to their specifications, with custom coachwork by Pininfarine, Bertone or Park Ward or similar.

I think that "luxury" as a concept has certain been demeaned and commodified over the past few decades. There was a good book written a few years back about this concept, called something like "De-Luxe - how luxury lost its lustre", which talked about how the firms mentioned above such as Lobb, as well as a lot of other luxury boutiques, are now multinational companies or are owned by multinationals and how they've brought "luxury" to the masses and in doing so, have of course demeaned luxury. Is a $500 bag really luxurious? Well, in some ways it is, given that it costs the same as a week's wages for a lot of people, but is anything other than the price luxurious? I'd argue not. "Luxury", along with a lot of other words nowadays, has been co-opted by marketing and has been corrupted so that it's lost a lot of its original meaning. Is something really luxurious if an office assistant can afford it? Shouldn't something truly luxurious be rare, special, precious, difficult to attain?

Nowadays, European cars market themselves as special or exclusive, but their base models are only just a bit more than equivalent Japanese or Korean cars. They then try to differentiate themselves with the addition of a "luxury pack" that adds leather seats and fancy wheels, or other such things.

Edited to add: Here's a review of the book that I mentioned above:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/21/books/21kaku.html?_r=0
 
Anything beyond necessity is luxury. Dyed cloth is a luxury, however small.
Relative luxury requires knowledge of finer points, lest you be in the "the iphone is the best phone" group that can't justify their brand preferences.

Look at the average promotional t-shirt. Are there raw edges and thin blended fabric with loose edges and an annoying label inside the neck or flat finished seams, hearty pre-shrunk cotton, and other aspects that make for a more enjoyable and durable item? Is not one more luxurious than the other, despite being free swag?
 
The consumer levels supposedly are an upper and lower 5-20% where price is no object or the only criterion, respectively. These are luxury and price shoppers. The vast majority in the middle are seeking the best bang for the buck, value shoppers.
Luxury is the very best, or at least free of corner-cutting and economizing.

I'll distinguish between luxury and ultra-luxury. A cup of Starbucks coffee, an iPhone, a German sports sedan, a large house in an affluent suburb...there are various levels of luxury before we start getting into ne plus ultra fare where only the elite cognoscenti even know such items exist or can afford them.

I often run across people that, despite wasting money on other crap, feel that mid-level department stores are above them and pricey. Not that I'm loaded, but in proper igent form, I come down from the other side saying that the stuff there is not very good and one can do better.

There is the fact that mechanization, industrialization, has rendered unspeakable luxuries of the recent past mundane and commonplace. Barring the fancy silks, most of us are living way better than royalty of just a few hundred years ago. Home heating, in-house entertainment, running water, all that stuff. So it's a relative term.
 
Well, yes and no.

I think that the author was actually making a decent point there, although I think that it's also a bit inaccurate.

If I understand correctly, the point that the author is making is that buying "unbranded" clothes is more luxurious than buying clothes with tacky logos all over them. I certainly agree with that point - I do tend to both laugh at, and feel sorry for, all of the people spending thousands of dollars on cheaply made items with brand logos splashed over them. Why are they paying companies for the privilege of advertising those products? When did that happen? Shouldn't it be the other way around? However, with more upscale products (Cucinelli, RL Purple Label, top-line Hermes and so on) there is no branding, or certainly not over branding, and so most people will not know what you are wearing/carrying.

This is, however, still a step down from what was regarded as luxury fifty or more years ago, when truly wealthy people generally did not give a cr@p about brands. They'd buy from upscale stores that sold things that they wanted, such as Hermes or Lobb, but those businesses had largely not yet become "brands" - they were still solo-store businesses instead of either being multinational concerns or being owned by other multinational concerns. They'd order their clothes from bespoke tailors or, for ladies, from haute couture ateliers. Their cars would quite often be made to their specifications, with custom coachwork by Pininfarine, Bertone or Park Ward or similar.

I think that "luxury" as a concept has certain been demeaned and commodified over the past few decades. There was a good book written a few years back about this concept, called something like "De-Luxe - how luxury lost its lustre", which talked about how the firms mentioned above such as Lobb, as well as a lot of other luxury boutiques, are now multinational companies or are owned by multinationals and how they've brought "luxury" to the masses and in doing so, have of course demeaned luxury. Is a $500 bag really luxurious? Well, in some ways it is, given that it costs the same as a week's wages for a lot of people, but is anything other than the price luxurious? I'd argue not. "Luxury", along with a lot of other words nowadays, has been co-opted by marketing and has been corrupted so that it's lost a lot of its original meaning. Is something really luxurious if an office assistant can afford it? Shouldn't something truly luxurious be rare, special, precious, difficult to attain?

Nowadays, European cars market themselves as special or exclusive, but their base models are only just a bit more than equivalent Japanese or Korean cars. They then try to differentiate themselves with the addition of a "luxury pack" that adds leather seats and fancy wheels, or other such things.

Edited to add: Here's a review of the book that I mentioned above:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/21/books/21kaku.html?_r=0

I think you would really need to read the entire book to put the epilogue in context. He definitely isn't making the point that buying unbranded clothes means anything in particular, rather that getting past the need for branded items specifically, ie. buying unbranded or branded depending on whether the item was functional, not because it's labeled.

Dana's book is good read, I'd recommend it for anyone who hasn't read it yet. I think it may have a newer addition from the past couple years.
 
I would never buy clothing with a brand mark on them, yet I drive a Jag-you-are with an obnoxious hood ornament. I guess I am a walking/driving contradiction.
You're just an asshole. Let's not complicate things with unnecessary labels.
 
I was unaware of any unbranded cars. I would totally get one, especially if it had rectilinear old Volvo styling.
Anyway, I read Luxury...Lustre right after finishing the rather oppositely themed Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture. It focused a bit to much on Arnoult and LVMH and seemed less insightful on the sociology of the whole premise, but that's just what interests me.

Philosophically, we can get into theories of value. Scarcity, work to produce, durability, refinement, there are many ways to define what is desirable.

What always fascinates me is confalting hallmarks of quality with quality itself. The damned functioning sleeve buttons is a fine case. It's a now outdated telltale sign of custom clothing that ended up resulting in RTW stuff that was a bitch to alter.
 
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I was unaware of any unbranded cars. I would totally get one, especially if it had rectilinear old Volvo styling.
Anyway, I read Luxury...Lustre right after finishing the rather oppositely themed Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture. It focused a bit to much on Arnoult and LVMH and seemed less insightful on the sociology of the whole premise, but that's just what interests me.

Philosophically, we can get into theories of value. Scarcity, work to produce, durability, refinement, there are many ways to define what is desirable.

What always fascinates me is confalting hallmarks of quality with quality itself. The damned functioning sleeve buttons is a fine case. It's a now outdated telltale sign of custom clothing that ended up resulting in RTW stuff that was a bitch to alter.

I agree about the LVMH part, but that is sort of her milieu. The most obvious take away from the book is that if you buy anything from LV that isn't a steamer trunk you are getting railed in the nether region sans lube. And are an idiot.

I personally don't get too much into the value, I like my cheap shirts for knocking around in as much as my Poole suits, it's the people who derive worth from the perceived prestigiousness of a label. It's a serious indictment on society and our lack of emotional maturity.
 
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Well I removed any id from the back and the "sahara" sticker on the sides, I don't think there's one on the front. It's a TJ. I'll check again when I get home.

Oh you very well could have removed it, I'm just saying it came labeled.
 
Back in the 90s I'd always love to giggle at the trash on, say, the Jerry Springer Show that would show up for the highlight of their life, an appearance on national television, and choose to wear a t-shirt with a big dumb logo of Hilfiger or Polo or some such crap. That was their idea of dressing up and showing off.
 
Yeah, it came with a license plate frame from the dealership too and I abandoned that 15 minutes after leaving the lot.

Smart. Mine has started losing letters, and where it once said Checkered Flag it now says Chekre Flg. I probably should go ahead and replace it.
 
That's a tranny in FNB's avatar. You all know this, right?

No judgments, just sayin'.
That choker is for hiding Adam's apple?
That might explain the Log Cabin Republican tie.
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Price alone in no way makes luxury.
I ain't affording no Cucinelli, but they have a point on the ethical purchase being a rather satisfying luxury for some.
 

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