These days it is in bad taste to encourage conspicuous consumption. The state of the world, the state of the world’s economies, and the collective state-of-mind instinctively tells us to slow down. But how are we supposed to slow down in a world that in so many ways is speeding up around us? It is human nature to want to keep up at top speed, to be the first, and to have the most. The most Louboutins of all your friends, the most homes in exotic places, the most twitter followers; whatever language of consumption you speak and whatever meter of social standing you measure by, we are encouraged from all fronts to believe that what we have is not enough.
But still we want less. Or at least we say we want less. Yet we don’t know how to put that into action. We don’t know how to have less and to really be ok with it. We don’t know how to commit to having less. As businesspeople, the goal is to sell sell sell. And the pleasure is in growth, growth in sales and expanding customer base- always more, otherwise we’re doing something wrong. This is true and will always be true, just like the pleasure of being a consumer is to want something, and then experience the satisfaction of the purchase.
The ultimate way to experience this satisfaction is when there is some element of ‘need’ within the ‘desire.’ Pure desire fades as quickly as it is ignited. Those are the purchases that sit in your closet with their price tag still hanging from the sleeve until you finally need to make room for the new round of indulgent buying.
Is this luxury? It is a question I’ve asked myself many times when browsing through crowded racks at high-end department stores, seeing unraveling hems on a dress with a $2,000 price tag, or seeing a woman who too obviously has access to loads of disposable money. Is this something to aspire to? Is this worth the price tag that we place based on the promise of luxury as it originated? I think of the Acropolis that I visited this summer, a symbol of ingenuity and engineering, the kind of thinking that lead us into the modern world, sitting in ruin, surrounded by the ever faster, ever growing capital it’s ideas gave birth to. Luxury is an old idea that we still allege to honor, but in reality we left it behind long ago for the ‘cheaper,’ the ‘faster,’ and the ‘more.’ Luxury is an artifact.
So what we have now is an opportunity. After the fire, the forest is cleared for new growth. It is the opening for the birth of a Neo-Luxury: a new set of values for a new era of consumerism. The world has changed enormously, continuing at an ever-more-rapid pace, and we’ve gotten wildly ahead of ourselves. It’s time to reset, reboot – start over.
We can end the discussion of whose responsibility it is to instigate this change, and take the it on ourselves. We have direct means to promote the development of this new market conscious. Offer less, but offer better. Offer with a purpose. Produce with integrity. Make fewer things, and make them Great.
I feel a bit like Jerry McGuire writing a manifesto that comes from a moment of enlightenment but ends up causing his exile from the world of business he once embodied fully. “Help me Help you,” he said to his sole, loyal client. As designers we can ask the same of the industry: help us help you. We want to offer the customer a better product, we want for luxury to mean something again, and we want to be part of making the world better through our practices and our imprint in the world. And it’s not about abandoning the prerogative to sell, sell sell, or to deny oneself the pleasure of a purchase- but to create that item that fills both the ‘need’ and the ‘desire’, to be the piece that never sits with its price tag, gathering dust. To create the product that is produced with integrity, gets worn with gusto and stands the test of time. That is the new Luxury.