One of the most beautiful times of the year in Mallorca is from October until the end of January, when the crowds of tourists have gone, and clear blue skies give the island a unique bright light. You really feel blessed to live in such a beautiful place.
As I drive to work along the Paseo Marítimo, I’m quite distracted by the sight of so many beautiful luxury yachts lining the port of Palma. And I sometimes wonder about the owners of these yachts; who are they? Where do they live? And how often do they actually enjoy the privilege of their luxury lifestyle on board their yacht? Are they killing themselves working to pay for the luxury lifestyle in some overcrowded, polluted city in the northern hemisphere? Do they realise that the real joy of owning such a luxury is having the time to enjoy it with their friends and family?
That is the beginning of my story about the relevance of time and its impact on luxury. The difference between having and being! Luxury is not about having the latest fashion or showing off your flashy new sporty car to your friends – luxury is not about envy; luxury, as we define it, is about achieving a sense of fulfilment – not gratification for its own sake.
In the modern world, with all its demands, unrelenting pace of change and the constant drive for instantaneous self-gratification can become tiring; hence the reason why so many people – particularly those who belong to generation x (born between the early 1960s and the early 1980s) – are no longer satisfied by devoting their time to working and missing out on living. They are searching for an alternative way of life based on quality not quantity.
In the 1970s, there was a theory put forward by Harvard political scientist Edward Banfield in his book The Unheavenly City that caused quite a stir at the time. He claimed that taking a long-time perspective is a simple way to join the elite class. Banfield proposed that ‘lower class’ people were that way because of their extreme ‘present-orientation’. He argued that they were unwilling to plan for the future in terms of education and saving up for something important in the future. The further you moved up the social scale, the more future-orientated people were and the more likely they were to delay gratification now for their future goal.
Banfield, and another renowned author, Tom Butler-Bowdon – whose recent book Never to late to be Great – argue strongly that what separates the well-off in society (in every sense of the word) from the poor was their appreciation of time. “Class was not simply a matter of material wealth, education or social status, but a set of values and attitudes relating to time which were being transmitted from one generation to the next”.
Climbing out of poverty to become part of the middle class is not easy, but there are real opportunities for class movement in most developed countries (except perhaps the likes of India, where the caste system is still very strong). But the poorer class will only take advantage of these opportunities when they factor the future into decisions made daily; for example, saving now to educate their children in the future.
Another example is the buying decision of a woman who wants a new dress for a special occasion. Does she save up and buy that special designer dress – a timeless piece that will still look great in ten years? Or does she go to the high street and buy something she likes, which she knows, after three wears, she won’t want anymore?
A luxury item is both timeless and contemporary. Put another way, a luxury item has to appear both modern and at the same time be laden with history; according to Kapferer & Bastien in The Luxury Strategy, one of the conventional ways of dealing with this contradiction is for the brand to have the stamp of timelessness while the product has the appearance of being modern, for example Hermés (founded in 1837), Louis Vuitton (1854), Gucci (1921).
The luxury object is durable and even increases in value with time – think of a vintage wine, a classic handbag, i.e. Chanel, and modern classic furniture. The same goes for buying a car. Once you put a number plate on a new car, the value drops by 30%. Whereas a classic car will increase in value over time, with the level of increase depending on how many of the same model exist.
The materials used in luxury products are, by design, chosen to stand the test of time and to look more attractive with age. Time only serves to enhance the object and add character, which ultimately makes it unique and rare – think of a worn leather armchair or Louis Vuitton luggage.
Taking this a step further, every luxury product should have the imprint of a craftsman, handmade to perfection, and sold by one individual to another individual. This explains the dilemma luxury brands have with the Internet, which promotes very different values to the traditional characteristics of luxury (a topic for another day).
The gift of time
A growing industry worldwide is one which offers services to the rich, such as a personal concierge service – increasing the time available and potential for life’s pleasures, of those who earn annual fortunes as bankers and traders but are too time-starved to enjoy the fruits of their labour.
“Service is the future of luxury,” claims Emmanuel Isaia, who runs Luxemode – a blend of concierge and style counsellor; he helps his clients to save on the most precious commodity of all: time. “My job is to make their life more enjoyable – take care of the details so they can concentrate on how they would like to spend their time.” This is without doubt the greatest luxury of all – freedom to choose what you do; when and where you do it. So many people miss this most important point!
Like many luxuries – including perhaps the sumptuous yachts moored in Palma – they are the toys for those who aspire to status rather than those who have made it. For the truly fortunate could be those who have the time to enjoy the pleasure of living on a beautiful island in the Mediterranean year-round!