Apple just announced that they will sell the Hermès straps separately, as of later this month, at a drastically reduced price. This will drop the lowest price of an ‘Hermès Apple Watch’ to $639USD (around half of what it was previously). Which, inevitably, got me thinking about the concept of luxury.
Luxury is one of those catch-all terms. It can mean a million different things to a million different people. Like art. Or beauty. Or dumpling.
But, in all seriousness, in the lifestyle sector, the word luxury is being used in myriad obfuscatory ways, engendering the push of endless sad-sack products, and becoming both meaningless and valueless, in equal measure. They might as well just say Gluten free.
Ironic, for a word whose meaning is literally: “a condition or situation of great comfort, ease, and wealth” Although, amusingly, my Mirriam-Webster has added updated definitions, including “something adding to pleasure or comfort but not absolutely necessary”, and “an indulgence in something that provides pleasure, satisfaction, or ease”. They must be talking about cucumber water. And $56 bottles of shampoo in the bathrooms of 20-something stylists who make 30K/year.
I’m not at the beginning of an anti-consumerist rant here. Far from it. I expect I’ve at least occasionally proved myself quite the avaricious little capitalist piglet. But, we do seem to have lost touch with the genuine meaning of luxury, as well as the concept of relative value. High prices are par for today’s course, but I’d like to at least get something for the money I’m spending that I don’t really have.
Since the ‘90s days of rappers hollering about brand names (and getting ever more esoteric about it; see: “I like Diptyque candles and Maharishi sandals/Dita sunglasses and Purple Murder Service samples”), many ‘luxury products’ have become less about genuine luxury, and more about signifiers of success. Instagrammatic Cliffs Notes to the continued pursuit of a digital life-cum-avatar that presents the version we aspire to, not the one we live. The university student slurring “do you know how much this cost?” about the LV makeup pouch she’s brought to the bar as a clutch. The guys ordering $400 bottles of Grey Goose at the weekend, and then eating KD all week in their studio apartment. Like posting photos of food > actually eating the food.
I’m all about equal distribution of wealth. What I’m not about is everyone, including myself, constantly yearning for products that likely aren’t actually worth their exorbitant price tags, and really won’t actually change our lives in any meaningful way.
Those pink George Esquivel desert boots you see on Waris Ahluwalia are totally worth their crazy ass price tag. They’re hand-made, and will get better looking and more comfortable with age. But several thousand dollars for a canvas/leather-trimmed weekender (from any of a dozen major houses) is hilarious. Neither the quality nor scarcity of that product in any way justifies the price tag. And, these days, the customer service level doesn’t always even assist in justifying the cost. One time, Louis Vuitton fixed my mother’s suitcase for free over the weekend, and had it dropped off via chauffeured car at her hotel. Another time, a Gucci salesperson literally told me that ‘they couldn’t be bothered’ fixing a pair of broken $500 sunglasses because they were ‘from last season’. Like it was my fault because I kept them, unforgotten in a taxi, for more than four months.
Worldwide ‘luxury’ product sales are slowing (even as prices continue to go up at a rate of roughly 8% per year). Consumers are becoming ever more savvy, and increasingly likely to instinctively perform a relatively sophisticated cost-benefit analysis on quality vs. cost vs. worth. The market is taking notice, and will have to bear this out.
Locally-sourced, artisanal, and hand-crafted may all be buzzwords, but they’re also taglines for where we’re headed. It has been an unfortunate reality in recent years that more creativity goes into the marketing of a product than into creating the product itself. This simply isn’t sustainable. If you want our hard-earned money you’re going to have to work for it. And a logo isn’t gonna cut it.