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Evaluating Luxury

Evaluating Luxury

As with most mornings, today was no different. I woke up to hot breath on my face and eyes loaded with anticipation. That would be Eddy, she’s an 80 lb Chesapeake Bay Retriever, determined to start each day retrieving. Again, like most mornings, first thing we grab the ‘Chuckit’ and ball and head out to survey our small kingdom to see what happened during the night, we search for tracks from critters that came under the field fence, and those that came over, we look at pond levels and clarity, examine the new trees, admire the weeping willow again… and of course ‘chuck’ the ball repeatedly. That sort of thing.

I’ll confess, this is generally the very best part of my day, I look forward to it when I wake up. What a fine thing to spend the first hour of my day in this way. Most mornings while out poking around and throwing for Eddy, I often feel the depth of how charmed my life is and how it’s the small pleasures that seem to humbly command my sincere presence in life.

After coming indoors this morning and getting her Highness fed, I made a coffee and sat down to look at the latest copy of Dwell magazine. On page 40 was this very sweet little interview with a professor, Augustin Scott de Martinville, who heads a master’s program of “Luxury and Design” at the University of Art and Design in Lausanne, Switzerland. The interview was specifically about “Luxury”. On the heels of my foray in the pasture, his responses struck a chord, they were simply profound and to my mind, really captured some intrinsic essence of modern life.

Here is the interview:

What’s the most important idea for luxury designers to grasp?

The first thing has to be value for money—–a notion that is not always relevant in the world of luxury. But this notion must become very important.

And the luxury goods of the future?

It’s a real cliché, but in the developed countries, people are saturated with food, products, and information. The constant solicitation to buy makes simple things like sleep, time, and relationships the real luxuries.

Marketers like to talk about accessible luxury. Does that make sense to you, or is it just branding?

The ultimate luxury is to have Swiss cheese and bread for lunch after a morning walk in the Alps. But it could also be a short sampan ride during a Hong Kong sunset. It’s all about the right time and place, not the price. A $15 bottle of wine can be a luxury.

What about the ethical ramifications of luxury, when the financial disparity between the producer and user can be preposterously large?

I actually think that luxury, when synonymous with very high quality, is the most ethical field in which to work. Making luxury goods is the only way to preserve certain skills, techniques, and sometimes whole communities, in both developed and Third World countries. Skilled craftspeople can be found everywhere, from the French saddle maker to the village woman weaving raw silk in Cambodia. The challenge is to develop this potential.

Is there a certain product that is pointing the way forward?

A product that represents intelligent anticipation of future luxury is the Milgauss watch series by Rolex. The engineers at Rolex developed a new material called Parachrom, which is resistant to magnetic fields [which harm mechanical watches], and integrated it into their Milgauss series, which was made for people working in research labs and power plants. Rolex could just live off its reputation and make gold versions of the watches it already came up with. But here you have true technical innovation.
Interview Reprinted from Dwell magazine