Thursday, November 3, 2011

No Holds Barred

by Blair Sabol

I knew something was "off" when I heard "national income is down" and "fear of recession is high," but Tail Waggers (the favorite dog salon/store in West Los Angeles) has been sold out of their pricey dog Halloween costumes for months.

Apparently it is called "pragmatic luxury spending." Pets are high on that list. "You indulge in things that matter to you no matter how hard up you are" explains Karen Grant, a senior global industry analyst at NPD Group Marketing. "People are finding ways to sweeten life in the midst of all this economic madness. Better known as 'treating ourselves.'" I like to call it SPLURGING.

"Pragmatic luxury spending."
According to Grant, "it's not that consumers have lost a sense of reality. Most know times are tough. So instead of buying five cheap throwaway items they'll buy a $25 treat." Or a $2500 blowout!!!!

Obviously expensive shoes and bags never die. Though people are broke, the $600 Manolos and $2000 Louboutins continue to move. Recently New York Times Guy Trebay reported the return of the "comfy" Manolo pumps over the bondage brand of Louboutin.

"There's an element amount of women who are still doing well in their jobs and still believe in that 'I deserve it, I need it, I gotta have my fix.'" So bring on the eight inch spikes and let the pink slips be damned. And in a way ... that says it all.

Personally speaking, I hate the word "frugal." I prefer "discernment." Clearly many people are bored with acting frugal. It is all so depressing. For instance, last year I gave up on my pricey candle habit. I went to Glade "plug ins" and a less expensive soy line. It was awful. I ended up with chronic headaches and nausea.

So last week I made a call to my favorite candle "connection" Anthony Carro at his popular Hollywood Candle Delerium store ( and he welcomed me back. I immediately went overboard and ordered a case of LAFCO candles ($50 a pop) and a few outrageously indulgent Diptyques. I didn't care. I was feeling deprived and sick to my stomach for too long. Life is short.

Anthony is "king of candles" (he stocks every single high/low brand) and welcomed me back to the fold. He said that his business never really slacked off and is now going more gangbusters than ever! He also shared that his pal Todd Warner of the beloved Tailwaggers (up the street) was also over the top and never suffered a slump!

It got me thinking and I decided to turn to some people around me and I ask them what expenditures they have cut back on or have returned to with a vengeance.

It was a large array of the same old reports. No more HBO or Netflix cable ordering. No more personal trainers, but yes to physical therapists, No more limo/town car services, but yes to drivers with their own cars.

A big "yes" to chefs who can cater or leave fresh food dishes in the fridge and leave.

In fact it seem that any "personal service" is still very much in play. A pal of mine insists she now only uses online support instead of calling a handyman. Not me. I will pay double for any private service I can get. I will never give up my "tech head" who makes house calls at all hours to fix my cranky Mac computer. I still can't, and won't stand in line at any Apple Store.

My spending survey continues: Luxury travel is out. NO more "cruises to nowhere" and "weekend getaways." For most people traveling has to have a reason: business, family, weddings and funerals, hotels are just beginning to make a strange comeback at higher rates.

But even that trend is subject to a rollercoaster as more travelers bail out of "pricey packages." Certainly restaurants are booming again. Especially the 5 to 7 "Happy Hour" cheaper eats. Everyone has become an "early bird specialist" and in my neighborhood none of them is over the age of 45.

Food in general is now a big ticket item (minus some cheeses) and people are back spending limited tons on farmers markets, gourmet items and even cooking classes. "Take out" menus are the new means of survival, while Whole Foods is flourishing again, Starbucks is still tops in Latte luxe, and Trader Joe's is bigger than all of them.

As for hair and nails ... the rule of thumb is still to spread out all appointments for as long as you can -- weekly "standings" have faded from many calendars. Women are into doing their own make shift touchups (lots of "do it yourself" root dye products have come out in this recession period) and prefer "polish changes" over full manicures.

But the real story with hair in this economy is the rise of the cheaper " blow-out" salons. Places like Blow (New York City) and Fantastic Sam (Los Angeles) are allowing women to maintain their hair dos for $30 a visit.

Nancy Davis, a dear friend and a design consultant/specialist in "decorative hardware and plumbing fixtures" (she is known as "THE Plumbing Queen") lives for luxury. She will NOT give up on her regular hair color, manis and pedis are won't cut back on anything tech. But she admits to "getting savvy about buying too many magazines, books, theatre tickets and sporting events that are not tops in pops.

Forget expensive shampoos and conditioners, but I won't relinquish my pricey face creams. Oh ... no more cheap jewelry on the fly. In fact all impulse shopping seems to have taken a beating. Though ironically, people will now stop and think about their splurges before the "ka-ching" bell hits.

Wine remains a tricky expenditure; Some people must have nothing below their $35 bottle a night. Others have found a whole new world in anything under $12. Aside from shoes and bags I never hear anyone talking about spending on clothes anymore. No one uses that line of "I bought this luxury piece because it will last forever." Obviously "it" and no one does.

But Target, T.J. Maxx, and Ross have all certainly come in their own. Not to mention the popularity of any outlet store and all department store sales. Hardly anyone I know buys anything at full price. "THE Bargain" still dominates consumers' consciousness. "High/Low" dressing has arrived for good. It is no longer a "look," but a lifestyle.

On other fronts, the economy is less schizophrenic. Recently a nurse told me that her hospital's plastic surgery floor has been empty for some time. Yet a gynecologist I know has taken up aesthetic injections (in faces, NOT vaginas).

She admitted to me "I can't make it with just pelvic exams, Pap smears and yeast infections anymore." She assured me that her "face fillers" (she does injections from the fat of a patient's ass into their upper lips ... better known as "ass to mouth cosmetology") are no longer a luxury but a necessity. (Forget medical insurance.) And her biggest seller is the Latisse Eyelash Lengthening drops at $129. for a tiny 3 milligram, bottle.

Which brings me to another personal shameless extravagance (and I am NOT alone). I have returned to my deluxe skincare line: Epicuren Discovery. Yes, it's a pricey routine of the same old serum, elixirs, sprays and salves.

But this line really works for me and if anything REALLY WORKS then it is "bang for the buck." (Okay. ... that's called consumer rationalization). I honestly tried going to CVS for my choice of cheaper "anti aging" (none of it ever is) selections. They all chemically burned my face and body off. Not everything cheaper is better.

And speaking of everyone's obsession with face and body, I think a great "recession retailer" is Sephora. The salesgirls are friendly and quasi intelligent (in that Kim Kardashian way) and their "try it and return it" policy (with no questions asked) is a WIN in this day and age of who wants to get stuck with anything that is a major shopping faux pas.

Sephora is like a high end drugstore and more fun than the first floor of most department stores. And there is available sales help on the floor!

And they provide "promise" on a bad luck day with defrizz hair products, non detergent soap, permanent lip stain, and collagen lift cream. Plus the sales help appears honest. Last week I had one salesgirl take me from skincare shelf to skincare shelf and when I told her I was using Epicuren (Sephora doesn't carry it) she stopped cold in her tracks and said "Party over." You are already using the best." Instantly I felt validated in my overindulgence.

More on my Epicuren Discovery "shameless plug": Epicuren is considered to be "the Cadillac" of skincare. It is a luxury line that has been a well kept secret by many dermatologists and is not sold everywhere (which might be its allure). You have to call 800.235.1217 or go to www.epicuren for a "connection" near you.

Their new ORAC "age protectant" (at least they don't say "anti aging") serum ($150) is truly cutting age and something to smell (berries and aromatic oils but technology to back it up) and feel on the skin. It is NOT "hope in a jar," but seems to be an actual remedy and has real results on the face! Or so I have experienced.

Epicuren has been into product layering and enzyme technology for years and are way past promises of just "plumping and soothing." Their peptides and colostrum creams have already been popular headliners in the cosmetic and medical world (especially burn victims and chemo patients). The problem is once you become an Epicuren Discovery devotee you hardly ever stray. For many of us it is THE beginning and THE end in skin care.

Along with face and body potions I found one other recent popular "splurge product." The Clarisonic face (and body) scrub brush. This used to be considered a ridiculous luxury item.

What's wrong with your basic wash cloth? But now that I have blown $113 on their Mia Sonicare I consider it a MUST HAVE!!! Some people describe it as 'the electric toothbrush" for the face ... I think it is more like the facial iPhone. It's micro sonic massage and cleansing technology not only cuts out any need for any professional facial treatment ever again ... it actually cured me of my chronic morning sinus headaches.

And speaking of physical indulgences; I have given up on most generic drugs. Though cost effective they are not all the same as the brand name. So I am back to my real Ambien and though I may go broke at $100 a month at least I will be able to sleep through it all.

Last week I asked my favorite shopaholic how she was surviving lately in this "mixed signal" economy and she admitted that she was cruising less department store aisles and into more consignment shops.

"I realize I truly have enough of everything and no longer go out as much as I used to. That requires a whole new attitude." She's changed her extravagant lifestyle a lot.

I asked her what " luxury" she recently gave up that she no longer misses. She answered "My husband. I now live better and happier divorced than ever before." Another friend answered the same question with: "I gave up the luxury of depression. You need time and some money to chronically indulge yourself on that level. Now I'm merely agitated, aggravated and hassled."

How current! From what seems to be demonstrating in our city streets, "rage" now rules. Splurging and raging? Fasten your seat belts it might be a bumpy ride!
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