Our modern society’s relationship with time is very specific: the key phrase that sums up this relationship is ‘time is money’, meaning that lost time is lost money and time gained is money gained. At a time when thanks to improved nutrition and advances in medicine we are all living much longer, we have this paradoxical dread of wasting this additional time; we seem obsessed with finding ways of using it instead of enjoying it.
Our society lives under this tyranny of time, having become the society of instant gratification, of the ephemeral, accelerated still further by the modern sources of entertainment, like the movies and TV, imposing their own tempo on the passive viewer, displacing books, which gave us the freedom to make time for reading; expendable starlets and public entertainers have replaced philosophers. To enjoy luxury you have to devote time to it, and conversely, luxury is an opportunity to enjoy some free time.
Let us take that a little further: one of the most significant aspects of our society is that not only have we monetized the relationship to time (interest rates), but also created from it a basis for managing it (forecast return on an investment, discount rates); time, like money, being a one-dimensional vari- able, this invasion of measured, quantified, time makes for a one-dimensional society – time is no longer ‘the form of inner sense’ in human experience, as Kant put it, but becomes an objective external variable, eventually being inte- grated as a single dimension of the four-dimensional universe of General Relativity, where Man no longer has any place. We shall be dealing in greater detail with this one-dimensionality, this representation of the universe, in the section on luxury and money below.
Finally, as we saw earlier, the role of luxury is to recreate social stratifica- tion; however, social stratification has a time dimension; consequently luxury, in contrast to fashion, should not be the slave of time but stand aloof from time, or at the very least it should not be dominated by it, and hence the second contradiction of luxury: a luxury item is both timeless and of the here and now. Put another way, a luxury item has to appear both perfectly modern to the society of the day and at the same time laden with history; one of the conventional ways of dealing with this contradiction is for the brand to
have the stamp of timelessness while the product has every appearance of being modern or vice versa.
To wind up these remarks about the basics of luxury and be able to go about the practical business of putting in place a system for managing luxury effec- tively, we need to consider in depth the analysis of the relationship between three sociocultural concepts closely associated with it, namely money, fashion and art.
Luxury and money
The first of the three is the one that requires us to take the analysis the furthest. ‘Luxury’ is so often taken as a synonym for ‘money’ that to confuse the two ends up seeming natural, and to call into question the idea that luxury and money are just two sides of the same coin may shock some people (see our earlier example of the yachts in St Tropez). And yet, an insufficient understanding of the relationship between luxury and money, without of course comparing the two, is one of the main causes of failure in the management of luxury.
At first sight the relationship between luxury and money may seem so obvious that one might begin to wonder whether the word ‘luxury’ should not disappear altogether from everyday language and be replaced by the word ‘money’.
In fact, money is generally the ‘brute force’ of luxury in its ‘public’ or ‘for others’ manifestation, sometimes the only form of luxury in unstructured (the ‘Far West’) societies, or societies that have broken down. In China today, for example, people still leave the price label showing on ‘luxury’ clothes. Even in wealthy and socially structured countries, claiming to be ‘the most expensive in the world’ can be part of a marketing strategy for products that are unmis- takably luxury products, whether it is Jean Patou’s Joy perfume or the Bugatti Veyron. Having said that, regardless of the fact that this is a particularly ephemeral claim – for anyone can always, and perfectly easily, make things ‘more expensive’ – these products have never been a financial success; now, the point of this book is precisely to explain how to succeed financially and commercially, and especially when it comes to products or services whose price is not particularly high.
Let us take that a little further: there is little similarity between ‘luxury for oneself ’ and money; the roots, the basic elements of luxury, are extremely abstract concepts (‘beauty’, ‘pleasure’), or not very concrete in themselves, even though their consequences are very concrete (‘youth’, ‘health’, ‘happi- ness’); they are difficult – impossible even – to quantify and therefore to connect with the notion of money. To find the connection between these two concepts of luxury and money we have to resort to myths, like the one about Faust – it is the pact with the devil, not money, that brings wealth and eternal youth. Sometimes, as in the myth of the Golden Age, it is lack of money that makes it possible to achieve this happiness.
It is therefore manifestly clear that luxury is not only money, and money by itself is not luxury.
Let us look a little deeper, from the theoretical point of view, at the complex relationship between ‘luxury’ and ‘money’, the practical point of view of which we shall be discussing later in Chapter 9 on price. In this analysis we shall be basing ourselves on the concepts developed by Georg Simmel in his celebrated book Philosophie des Geldes (Philosophy of Money), published in 1900, the most
In the beginning there was luxury 27
28 Back to luxury fundamentals
profound and complete treatise ever written on the subject of money as seen from the conceptual point of view.
Luxury and money as purely sociocultural phenomena
Ever since people emerged from the subsistence society, we have had to trade in order to obtain the means of survival, and at that point money became indispensable. To quote Simmel (page 193): ‘Money is the hypostasis of trade between human beings… if the economic value of objects lies in the exchange relationship that they form, money is the expression of this relationship that has achieved autonomy.’
Sooner or later, money always becomes an instrument for measuring and grading the social scale; it even has a strong natural tendency to want to be the only one, especially in our globalized and multicultural society, where it is the only universally recognized power, for it alone can provide society with the means to economic fluidity, indispensable to globalization – as soon as you have a universal currency, all products of all human societies then become comparable.