Monday, 25 October 2010

How Luxury Lost It's Lustre:

"Possessions, outward success, publicity, luxury--to me these have always been contemptible. I believe that a simple and unassuming manner of life is best for every one, best for both the body and the mind.” - Albert Einstein

A diamond: The ultimate luxury item, an age old symbol of wealth, beauty,
perfection, love...The traditional engagement gift, excepted as a token of a promise to spend eternity with someone.

A diamond takes over a billion years to form, they are impossibly rare and difficult to obtain These qualities mirror the enormity of the commitment of marriage, the rarity of true love.

What makes one diamond better than another? the clarity? the cut? the number of carats?

All of these things, but actually I would argue that it goes much deeper than that...Where did it come from?
You can now buy man made diamonds that are manufactured in laboratories and all over Africa diamonds are being illegally traded to fund conflict in war torn areas.
Is a diamond still a symbol of wealth, beauty, perfection, love... if it has been synthetically produced in a matter of days instead of naturally evolving over billions of years? Can you still wear it with pride knowing that it’s sale has funded weapons which have killed innocent people?

To me a diamond the size of agrain of sand which is a naturally formed conflict free miracle of nature would be of far more value than a huge rock of a blood diamond or a man made impostor stone.

I believe that the defining features of a true luxury product are all about where it has come from and how it was made.

In Edwardian times hand made lace was valued as much as rare and expensive gem stones and precious metals. It can take a skilled worker up to a day to make a daisy the size of a postage stamp.
On a recent visit to a lace museum I was lucky enough to hold in my hands a piece of lace that would have taken a collective of several workers many years to make.
This particular piece of lace was produced some time in the late 1800‘s, a wealthy merchant had offered to pay £500 for it and was turned down. At the time £500 would have bought 10 houses.
I studied the stitch work carefully and remember remarking that, to me, the creation of that lace flounce, (about a meter wide and maybe ten meters long) was as much a feat of human achievement as building a beautiful cathedral.

The very idea that a team of women would sit and painstakingly weave hundreds of bobbins into minute knots for years and years to produce a flounce for a skirt is almost as ridiculous as it is awe inspiring, but there it is. Luxury is rarely practical.
In the 1920’s when a Couture house wanted a perfume designed they would arrange to meet a ‘nose’ for a decadent lunch often accompanied by fine wine. During this meeting the house would discuss the mood of the perfume with the
‘nose’ as well as what the scent should evoke, who it should represent and how it should relate to their brand.
Sometimes design and packaging may also be discussed.
A few weeks later The parties would arrange a second meeting and the house would hand pick a scent to represent their brand. The scent would be made up of flowers, spices and a base of orange water or rose water.
Chanel No 5 was the 5th scent presented to Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel by her ‘nose’

Most luxury brands today do not own, create, manufacture or distribute their perfumes,
Now a days laboratories make generic chemical bases infused with mostly synthetic scents and keep them in storage until a designer picks one, there is no longer the tailor made process to achieve just the right scent and essence. It’s now just a matter of choosing something that hasn’t already been chosen by someone else.

I agree that these processes by todays standards seem almost ludicrously labour intensive but that is the very essence of what makes them luxury.
We have so much available to us now that we forget how little it is really worth, and more importantly, what the real cost in terms of humanity is.

Our clothes are made in sweat shops our food is farmed and unethical, we waste unthinkable amounts of everything every day when the people working in appalling conditions to produce it all for us have nothing.

The truth is, few of us understand quality artisan craftsmanship nowadays because few of us ever experience it. How can we see an eau du toilet as substandard to an eau du parfume if eau du toilet is all we have ever smelt, how can we appreciate the skill and hours it takes to french seam bias cut silk chiffon by hand when we have bought a vaguely similar looking garment from Primark for less than £30?
It takes just 8 minutes to make a pair of Levis 501’s from cloth on a roll to garment labeled and ready to ship. By contrast it takes me around 18 hours to make a bespoke pair of jeans, I can not even argue that mine will last longer or be better finished, they wont, I don’t have industrial machines that ensure perfect lock stitching and super strong rivets, I make by hand and my product is fragile but it is also unique and that is what makes it valuable.

Luxury products are not practical, or necessary, or utility.

They are fragile, rare treasures, little pieces of history, pieces that have an extraordinary back ground, that only exist because someone cared enough to produce them for the sheer joy of making something beautiful.

True luxury items have no real use other than to seduce, but they can inspire absolute joy.

Boutique businesses are kept alive by those who understand, appreciate and can afford the best that money can buy.

Our high street is saturated with fake luxury products that are designed to kid us into thinking we are living the high life but buying home made bread from a bakery where you can see the flour on the apron of the person who baked it, where
you can feel the heat from the oven it came from, where you can hear tales of secret family recipes handed down through generations. That is far more satisfying than buying a ‘luxury’ loaf from Tesco’s finest or Sainsbury’s taste the difference range.

If it’s not artisan produced, it’s not true lux, if it is available in abundance, it’s not artisan produced, it stands to reason. You can’t buy luxury from a chain store.
Why is there a waiting list for Hermes and no other handbag maker?
Because Hemes still use artisan workmanship exclusively. Without exception every Hermes bag is made to individual customer spec by one person by hand, the only thing machine stitched is the inside pocket and sometimes the zip.
The top stitching on an Hermes bag is done by hand, using a traditional saddle stitch and two extra long pieces of thread so that there are never any knots or joins visible in the stitching.
Hermes is such a famous brand name that they could buy a factory in China begin mass production and increase sales (and profits) phenomenally over night. But they don't, because Hermes understands the value of what it is to be a true Luxury brand producing true Luxury products.

Status should always be a by product of quality and not the other way around.
A companies success should always be down to product initially, not marketing.

I realise that this post is romantic and perhaps a little nostalgic, please don't misunderstand it.
Our modern high street offers affordability, choice and convenience in abundance and that's great, I embrace it, but it is harder to find the really special things nowadays and perhaps, harder still, to appreciate them.

Next time you treat your self something special just have a think about where it may have come from first. You never know, that 'special treat' may just lose it's lustre right before your eyes.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

The Last Single Girl?:

"Once upon a time a man asked a girl to marry her. She said “No!” and she lived happily ever after in a lovely tidy house where she never cooked and always looked fabulous.”
After complimenting me on my achievements as a young business women a married man recently said to me:

“Gill, can I ask you a personal question?”
“Of course” I replied a little nervously.
“What about babies?” he said looking worried as if he was frightened for me.

My response? A raised eyebrow and look of utter confusion.

There are two answers to that question if you are single and in your 30’s, one is, “I don’t want kids.” the other is, “I hope I will have kids one day”. Neither ever seems quite satisfactory.

It’s not like I have this perfect man who is waiting for me to be ready to start a family and I’m just ‘choosing’ not to be with him for the sake of my career. Though the amount of times I get asked that question (or similar questions such as “Don’t you want to get married?”) you’d think that that was the case.
Is it really still considered that at my age, if I want a baby I should just take what I can get and marry the first man who’s willing?

I’m not making a conscious choice not to ever have babies and I’m aware of the fact that time is ticking, but short of marrying a man I’m not in love with or running screaming to the sperm bank (before which I would probably have to rob an actual bank) what on earth choice do I have?

Then there is the sympathetic cock of the head accompanied by “awww, you’ll find someone honey” (usually in a baby voice) *puke*. Talk about patronizing!

What about the fact that I am a well rounded confident and self sufficient human being who feels perfectly complete just as she is. What about a “well done for not choosing the wrong guy” or “congratulations on avoiding a divorce.”?

It’s not as if I haven’t tried, I go on dates, I’ve done the internet thing and I’ve had a great time, I’ve had long term relationships and short term relationships and I’ve worked at them. and (with an inevitable couple of exceptions) we are all still friends. It just hasn’t worked out.

What if I don’t find ‘him’, what if I am all there is in my future? Is that so terrible? Is that a reason to feel sorry for me? I don’t feel sorry, I feel fabulous!

And why shouldn’t I?

I have a career that I love, amazing friends who I adore and a tight family unit. I feel secure and loved and lucky every day. What more could anyone ask for?

A while ago I read a wonderful piece of research by an American genealogist which suggested that our genetics could pre-dispose our relationship patterns. She claimed to have found a gene that could be linked to commitment phobia. She went on to explain that in ancient caveman tribes not everyone would have paired up. There would have been monogamous couples who bought up Children in a family unit and there would have been others who may have remained single to play other roles in the community.
Instead of spending time raising infants the singles could be, for example, inventing things and perfecting skills for the good of the tribe.

The research suggests that with out the dictations of our modern society there might be many more bachelors and bachelorettes knocking around happily leading perfectly fulfilled lives without a spouse or children.

Maybe that is my destiny, maybe not, but I’m happy to go with the flow on this one. I won’t have a baby because society suggests that I must to fulfill my role as a woman.

Earlier this year Venue magazine published a piece in their Valentines issue profiling happy successful South West singles...I was one of them...The head line was: “Sartorially Sassy Gill Cockwell - Single Fashion designer from Bristol.”

A local radio station saw the article and asked to interview me live on air. During the interview they suggested that I could not be truly happy on my own and that I must feel a little sad about not having a partner to spend Valentines day with. I argued that whilst I love being part of a couple and I am in no way dismissing the benefits of being in a loving relationship I also genuinely relish my time being single, I don’t feel that I’m missing out and there are many wonderful benefits to being on your own too.
You have to agree that it is perfectly possible to be happy without a significant other in your life, the alternative is utterly destructive.
My lifestyle suits me. I’m more productive, more flexible and more available to my friends and my work, I find it bizarre to have to justify being happy without a boyfriend.

It should come as no surprise to those who know me when I write that there are many crystals in my life... crystal encrusted ball gowns, crystal encrusted jewelry a drag queen named Crystal...and, (before I accidentally smashed them) I did own a couple of crystal champagne flutes once...But. I don’t own (or have access to) a crystal ball. Therefore, I am afraid I am unable to tell you weather or not I will ever marry or have children.

But. I can tell you this: I am, genuinely happy, just as I am.
Now, can someone tell me; Why is that so hard to believe?