Over the weekend there was an excellent article in the New York Times about Town & Country and the new social trends it is adapting to under the able new leadership of Mr. Stephen Drucker.  If you have a client who has a computer, or iphone, and has heard of the Internet – you need to read this article….

Here is an excerpt:

It [T&C] once covered a clearly defined world of high society. But now the wealthy include TV reality stars and Google entrepreneurs. People look to celebrities rather than to oil heiresses for fashion inspiration, and to Wikipedia rather than Emily Post for etiquette.

That leaves Mr. Drucker with the task of not only reflecting a widening world of society, but also making people care about a stratum that seems to have become largely irrelevant.

“Everyone is following a different leader,” Mr. Drucker said over lunch on the 44th floor of the Hearst Tower. “There’s so much money now, there’s so much other money, that all eyes are not on old money the way it was.”

We all know that the Internet has leveled the playing field and made style, taste and luxury more “democratic” and I doubt I am alone when I get scarred and think, “how the hell will a luxury business be able to stay afloat!”  Everyone can see their clients sitting on a computer shopping all night on 1st dibs, second guessing, and price checking; not to mention that the appearance of luxury and sophistication is all that matters sometimes. 

But after I calm down, I begin to realize the “democratization of luxury” could also mean a much, much broader group of people hungry for “luxury” with a much wider array of definitions of “luxury.”  This was the main take-away for me from this article – plus, it’s always nice to find reassuring views!

Of course, this doesn’t mean it will be easy for luxury trades.  As I mentioned in my last market post, I think clients are going to be demanding top value for each dollar they spend.  In fact, things will likely be tougher.  One huge issue that must be addressed is what happens to pricing?  This probably needs its own post, but will Retail and Trade pricing still be viable?  How will decorators price their services?  How will a firm like us price items against goods made in China? 

Tough questions that I don’t have answers for.  Not helping is the fact that delinquency rates for residential real estate, consumer loans and credit cards are EACH at 20 year highs (Federal Reserve data).  Things may be broadly on the mend; personal consumptions expenditures are up 3.5% year over year, but with all the debt households have and the cost of servicing it, I gotta think some of that rebound is due to inflation being almost non-existent and the fact that people simply aren’t as scarred as they were a year ago.    

But I do believe that there will always be a desire for luxury – for someone to live well.  But that luxury could mean truly exclusive materials and artisanal production, or the luxury of actually having items someone desires in their own home, of living how they aspire to live – these are two of the many different definitions of luxury now.  And it won’t do your business any good to place a value on one versus the other. 

This may not be the answer, but what we are currently doing is: continuing  our made-to-order and our limited editions, like the LED Hurricane, to address a clientele who define luxury as tailored, customizable, handcrafted and unique; while with the Essential FPV collection, something like the architects stool for example, we are attempting to address a clientele who appreciate good design and are happy with something that looks good in their home, period.

This is our experiment.  Keep you fingers crossed and we’ll let you know how it goes.

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