“You don’t watch Gossip Girl?” he said, incredulous. “But you’re in luxury!”
(That, of course, was when I still was In Luxury).
The next Monday I settled in to learn about my industry from a CW television drama about New York private school kids. After five minutes, I flipped it off, rattled. How was it luxury to watch 16-year-olds sporting handbags that even I couldn’t justify spending $10,000 on? How were they supposed to have acquired said bags? Is that what luxury had come to? Glee in watching people with expensive purses, and hoping that one day we might be able to own something similar?
How did this happen?
My career has been in jewelry, diamonds and watches. I did not grow up surrounded by these things, so it was kind of thrilling to interact with these beautiful things—if only to market and promote them and then put them back in the safe. Working in that world of appearance and brand worship, I learned a lot about how people think about luxury. But my first and most important lessons came from my parents.
The didn’t have such extravagances when they were young, either. Not in Brooklyn or Staten Island. The way they see it, you work hard all your life and live frugally. And then—maybe one day—you splurge. On a Rolex. A mink coat. A fine bottle of wine or whiskey. But only when you’ve earned it.
A 16-year-old does not deserve such things, not just because they haven’t earned it. They also have no idea what they’re holding.
Real luxury is about knowing what you are holding. Not how much something costs, but understanding the time, passion, materials, research, development and dreaming that went into it. This is the lesson we should all take away from this financial mess–the ability to see things not just for their monetary value, but for their worth.
That especially hits home now, as I sit on my front porch in suburban New Jersey, watching the weeks of Unemployment Insurance slip by. Yes, I lost my job in luxury. But I’m not sad about it. In fact, I had expected it. It was a smart financial decision for the brand. People obviously weren’t spending $25,000 on watches with as much abandon. Some of them probably shouldn’t have been doing it in the first place.
The recession has changed the way we think about a lot of things. The question now is where do we go from here? (Instead of: What do we buy next?) Do we return to the old meaning of luxury—where things are appreciated for their craftsmanship, rarity, exclusivity? Or do we go back to tweenagers wearing Chanel bags? Or worse, sporting knock-offs just to fit in with their local Gossip Girl clique?
There are great products out there that enhance life. And especially in times of trouble, we can all use some pampering and pleasure. But those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to buy luxury goods should be evaluating each purchase for how it fits into our lives. Can we enjoy it with someone else? Share happiness with a friend or loved one? Use your enjoyment to encourage others? Celebrate something really meaningful?
Luxury should not die in the recession—just be redefined. We all need something to look forward to, after all.