Luxury. The concept fascinates me.
The dictionaries tell us luxury is “the use and enjoyment of the best and most costly things that offer the most physical comfort and satisfaction.” And further, “usually something considered unnecessary to life and health.”
But is that true? Perhaps we can accept the notion luxury is unnecessary to life and health. But we cannot accept the precept that it is necessarily costly by definition.
If you have not already discovered the blog Luxebytes, which I consider a necessary luxury in my life, I would like to suggest you add this affordable indulgence to your list of “the unusual intellectual or emotional pleasures derived from some specified thing.”
One could wax philosophical on the subject, but instead, for our purposes, let’s think primarily of luxury as “things,” and leave the esoteric themes for another day. (Furthermore, what is a luxury for me may not be for you. The conversation has almost infinite possibilities.)
Marsi (discreetly pictured above) is the creator of the magnificent blog Luxebytes and believe me when I tell you it is an intellectual pleasure to read her beautifully written prose expressing well thought out ideas on the subject — from the concept to the care of all those things that make our lives richer.
To drift slightly off subject as you all know I am wont to do. . . I think most of us consider time to be a great luxury in our lives, so let me add that reading Marsi’s blog is worth our time because we never leave her without coming away with something we can use, whether it’s knowledge, as in practical, hands-on information about caring for our luxury possessions or fascinating insights into the secret world of the creation of luxury products.
To prove my point, here follows an interview with Marsi on the subject of Luxury.
Q: What is your definition of luxury?
A: Luxury is the art of simple things done well. (Ed. Note: Click here for her “mission statement.”)
Q: Give us some examples (please).
A: A t-shirt, but made of lightweight cashmere. Toothpaste, but flavored with jasmine-mint. Hand cream, but from your favorite perfume line. A classic handbag, but handcrafted with fine materials and exquisite workmanship. A little black dress, but with all the exceptional details that make it memorable. A chef’s knife, but forged by sword makers in Japan.
Quotidian things — those ordinary items we need and use every day and don’t really think too much about — that are special, that have that extra something that bring us a small, quiet (often private) pleasure by using them.
Q: If you could buy 10 extravagantly luxurious things (not experiences), what would they be?
A: Roger Vivier “Belle Vivier” mid-heel pumps in black patent leather. (I’ve squirreled away about half their cost, and hope to find a pair during my summer travels.)
Ann Demeulemeester “Triple Lace-Up” boots from 2008.
Manolo Blahnik “Blixa” pumps in oxblood crocodile.
A couture Chanel LBD, made just for me. (Nothing particular in mind in terms of silhouette. Isn’t figuring that out Karl’s job?)
A couture Chanel black skirt out of a summer weight wool crepe, so I could wear it three seasons out of the year.
A large cashmere shawl by Hermès. (The deep pink “Kachinas” looks pretty all right to me.)
A heather grey cashmere bathrobe.
The Chanel jacket that Joanna Pacula wore in an ’83/’84-ish Vogue editorial spread: chartreuse wool bouclè trimmed in lime green crushed velvet. Slightly slouch, gorgeously textured, and completely, fabulously luxurious. Nearly 30 years later, it’s still in my head as the ne plus ultra.
A lifetime supply of Le Labo Rose 31 laundry detergent.
Lastly, since we’re being delusional anyway: Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer 1.
Q: What do you think of status symbols and the power they have to communicate certain messages?
A: For one thing, status symbols are no longer necessarily the same as good taste. You can easily spend $3000 on a designer bag covered in doo-dads, geegaws, and whatchamacallits, and demonstrate no aesthetic taste whatsoever. Even design houses known for “good taste” make some pretty heinous items with outrageous price tags. . . but I suppose we all make mistakes.
More to the point, though, is that status symbols have been rendered practically meaningless in the last decade or so, as fashion has become very accessible to everyone. I think the Internet has democratized fashion, which has its good points and its bad. A good point is that anyone with WiFi can see in an instant what’s showing in the fashion capitals; Alexander McQueen’s final pret-a-porter show last October, for example, was seen around the world as a live webcast. How cool is that? When you can watch a couture show online at the same time that Anna Wintour is seeing it in person from the front row, that’s fashion radicalism. That’s democracy in action.
We no longer have to wait for fashion magazines to tell us a thing or two about a thing or two, nor are we forced to view fashion through their filter. So now, in a sense, everyone is an editor. That’s an interesting change, and one whose effects are yet to be completely sussed out.
But the negative side of the Internet’s democratization of fashion is that it’s just that much harder to find something unique, rarefied, or truly special. Though many design houses remain resistant, the online sale of their goods (about which I have mixed feelings), you no longer have to travel abroad or to large cities to get your mitts on what you want. Paris is New York is Amsterdam is Duluth.
Add to it the facts that many houses reduce costs by shifting production to China (while still charging the consumer a premium for the label) and that over the past two decades consumers have become less reticent about acquiring debt as a means to acquiring desirable items, it’s no wonder that status symbols really don’t symbolize very much at all anymore. Correspondingly, I think the quality of luxury goods has really suffered, and that’s why, to me, luxury is all about excellent quality rather than the name on the label.
Q: What do you think of “It” purchases?
A: Tragic. They’re usually for people with more money than taste.
Q: What is a luxury investment for you?
A: Anything that is durable enough to last the ages (when properly cared for of course) and can be dressed up or down. That can apply to clothing, shoes, handbags, china, cookware, jewelry, whatever.
Personally, I lean toward timeless classics just because that’s where my taste has always lain, but I think if you have something from a certain era (like a Saint Laurent Mombassa bag, for example, or an original Halston dress from the ’70s), and love and use it despite the vagaries and vicissitudes of fashion, then you’ve got the right spirit. If you have nice things, you should use them — a lot! (My cats eat off my bridal china every morning.)
Q: In the luxury category, what do you own today that makes you happy every time you use it?
A: Three years ago, my husband gave me a S.T. Dupont “Olympio” fountain pen that I use every day. It’s so crazy-extravagant that I never, ever would have pulled the trigger on such a purchase for myself.
The pen is black Chinese lacquer and has an 18K white gold nib that “customizes” itself through usage. The nib of a fountain pen gets worn down according to the slant and weight of your hold, and after a year or two the pen is completely “yours” and is so deliciously comfortable to write with. (In case you were wondering, that’s why those lucky enough to own such treasures prefer that others never ask to use them.)
It’s like slippers for my fingers and gives me a subtle thrill literally every time I use it. I like choosing new colors to refill the converter (Ottoman Rose or Bulletproof Hunter Green. . .?. . .the mind reels!), and love the heavy-sounding “click” the pen makes when I slide the cap back on. I’ll be using it, happily, for the rest of my life.
Q: Tell us why your blog will often focus on workmanship, details, artistry and the proper care of luxury products.
A: Partly to explain the cost of luxury products. Ballerines from J. Crew and Repetto may not look terribly different from one another, yet they’re worlds apart in their craftsmanship. When you know that Repetto styles are a limited edition for the season (meaning, when they’re gone, they’re gone) and see how the leather upper is sewn (not glued) to the leather sole and then turned rightside out by shoemakers in the Dordogne, you know it’s a shoe that can last you many, many years. Their craftsmanship makes them comfortable, which, in turn, makes them such a pleasure to wear.
I also think that if you’re lucky enough to own beautiful things, you ought to know how to care for them. For example, leather is skin. It needs to be cleaned and moisturized, just like the skin on your face. Sometimes when we buy leather, we forget that we need to give it a little attention from time to time. But by the same token, we needn’t leave all of the care to “experts.” Much of it we can do ourselves. Woolens and silks can be hand-washed to great success, and, in fact, are often better off for it. It may just be my frugality coming through here, but if I can do it myself, that’s my preference. And if I can do it, than so can you.
Q: I know that you feel small, personal or best of all something lovingly handmade are great luxuries, then you take these items and wrap them in beauty and fragrance. Is that an extension of your idea of luxury?
A: I think luxury is a sensual experience. It’s not just the look, for example, of a hand-knit cashmere scarf. It’s also the feel of it, its sublime warmth and coziness around your neck, the way that the fiber holds onto perfume so that you can still smell it the next time you don your scarf.
I think that maybe people tend to think of luxury as a durable, long-lasting item — which it is, and, in my opinion, should be. But ephemeral experiences can be luxurious, too, as in the difference between opening a gift in an ordinary wrap versus a gift swathed in tissue paper and an unusual ribbon. People can tell when you’ve taken a bit more care with something that you’ve prepared for them, and it makes a small, perhaps ordinary, moment more memorable.
Ed. Note: These two cadeaux were snatched from the gloriously gorgeous blog, A Gift Wrapped Life.
Q: What is the ultimate luxury for you? (You may interpret this in any way you wish.)