Thursday, March 18, 2010

No Holds Barred - The New Luxury

by Blair Sabol

They call it "the new luxury."

These are THE must-have high end items, goods or services we can’t live without. Meaning quality not quantity.

Remember the T-Shirt and bumper sticker slogan "whoever has the most toys wins?" Now it's "whoever has the best stuff lives." This doesn’t just apply to the super wealthy but to all of us poor slobs as well. We may not be paying our credit card bills, rent or health care but that doesn’t stop some of us from paying $70 for an an eighth of an ounce of good pot. One financially challenged DJ friend of mine confessed: "Hey, I can do without food or clothes but I am not going to give up my daily golden 'one hitter.' It is extravagant but it makes my world worth living and because of this I don’t have a headache, I can sleep and frankly I don’t have to think how bad it all is."

And therein lies the key. I am not talking about "guilty pleasures." Those expensive "one night stands" of shopping that you do for a quick fix and then feel awful later. I am talking about Simply-can't-live-without-whatever-it-takes life requirements.

Women still get orgasms over trying on and buying their Christian Laboutins at Barney's.
The Wall Street Journal keeps saying retail is regaining and shoppers are inching back. All I see are empty malls and restaurants (except for jammed and cheap Early Bird Specials). Recession is receding? Who knows! But I am fascinated by what friends tell me they continue to spend on ... no matter what.

Times are tight and some cut backs have been honored (maybe not as many manicures, pedicures and haircuts, but not eliminated altogether). Remember one man's obscenely extravagant frivolity is another man's hardcore lifestyle staple. I think a regular "necessary" expenditure shows you are still alive and ahead of the game. At least YOU think you deserve it and why not? And don't ever rationalize your reasons. Remember the other T-shirted motto: "life is tough and then you die."

I was suspect of two people who told me that they never spend on high ticket items. Both blow it all at Costco and Sam's Club on tons of marked down crap they never use. ("It was such a bargain"). Sorry, I find that pathetic. You prove nothing nowadays by being egotistically frugal ("naturally" frugal is an art and a whole other thing). Actually if all you can boast about is your lean and mean budgetary lifestyle and how you "want for nothing," I can only dismiss you as a boring masochist.
Onto my survey: I found clothes and food very low on the scale of everyone's must haves. (I kept pet and pet needs out of the question ... that is a separate issue). Items like big bottles of Jo Malone bath gel, high thread count sheets, pricey sunglasses were not so popular. However regular maid service still counts as does good dry cleaning. Jewelry is still a calling. But I don’t mean regular blowouts at Forever 21 but some kind of small bauble that might be "really Ripka" that adds to your already favored collection. Almost all the women admitted to spending on good shoes and bags no matter what. Men loved their tech gadgets and some their internet porn accounts! Cars were in the middle ground for both.

What was interesting was the way men and women raved about their absolute "must haves." Women get orgasms over trying on and buying their Christian Laboutins at Barney's. Men were apoplectic over getting their Vegas "VIP Room" lap dances. Laboutin or lap dancing? Different strokes for different Venus and Mars? Not really. Same thrill different locales. And speaking of locales ... I noticed that West Coast women don't need big bags. In California and here in the southwest ... our cars are our bags. All we need are good wallets. Cashmere has taken a drubbing on both coasts. Not when Old Navy now has it's cheaper line of "Cash and Carry" cashmere.
"... I need my face regularly lasered and lots of good Aida Thibiant products."
"Without a good bra ($135. basic Prima Donna) you look lousy in everything else."
My brother Steve won't give up on his Diptych candle habit.
Judith Regan admitted she couldn't live without her twice weekly private Iyengar Yoga.
As for individual opinions: My fabulous aunt Jeanne Sorenson refuses to spend less than $35 on her regular bottles of wine; "But because of my love of that I need my face regularly lasered and lots of good Aida Thibiant products."

Many mentioned spending on good skincare and not cosmetics. But wasn’t it Helene Rubinstein who once said that during a depression women would spend it all on a good lipstick? Not anymore. Most prefer botox. (Plastic surgery was not mentioned as much). In fact one gal mentioned she canceled all her mammogram and physical check ups to maintain her regular Restalyne appointments. Another wouldn’t relinquish her seasonal visits to L.A.'s Giuseppe Franco's Salon for ace colorist Jeffrey Serra’s $400 24-carat hair "carmelising" technique. Her neighborhood "$80 version simply doesn’t cut it.”

New York Times fashion reporter Susin Fair insists on expensive bras (me too). "Without a good bra ($135. basic Prima Donna) you look lousy in everything else." Ali McGraw nixes most clothing ("not that important") but won’t go without her daily dose of fresh flowers. "I've cut back on little madness spending and all that small impulsive shopping cause it mounts up. Except for gifts for friends I recently started really thinking very deliberately about each thing before I slam the cash down."

My brother Steve Sabol (president of NFL Films) won't give up on his Diptych candle habit ("they smell great all the way to burnout") or his version of "madness spending" on his regular trips to the hardware store and flea markets.
I see a big shift in spending on wellness items. Still YES to some pricey supplements but NO to private consults with nutritionists and "body balancers." And a big NO to masseurs and private trainers. Nowadays people are going to physical therapists and "body workers."

Notorious publisher Judith Regan admitted she couldn't live without her twice weekly private Iyengar Yoga. "To hell with restaurants and food except for spending on good produce." Nobody seems to go for spa treatments anymore unless they have a gift card. In fact our local five star hotel and resorts are cutting way back on all that and stays in general. They are offering "slash cost" packages for spring break. Three nights for the price of two. The problem with that is they are attracting the ugliest clientele. Pool sides are now zoos of 300 pound monsters.

As my connection at the Beverly Hills Peninsula Hotel (they never offer "slash packages") warned me: "Beware of certain low special hotel rates. In most cases it means lowered quality and no service because they are cutting back on maintenance and help."

In other words ... Cheap is cheap. NO one has stopped drinking their $7 Starbucks triple shotted low fat mocha Frappacinos. Or those special $3 Sprinkle cupcakes. But they have pulled back on lunches. House Beautiful editor Barbara King insists"; No more $35 hamburger joints but yes to jewelry and never a subway, only cabs for me."

Me too. I openly confess to having an "out of town" car and driver addiction. Sorry, but I am too old to rent cars and take Super Shuttles. I firmly believe that a car service (not necessarily limos) will prolong your life.

Speaking of travel I see more people spending more on their personal travel. Maybe taking less trips but many want to spend on First class or Business travel. That's obvious because the whole "up in the Air" airport experience has become such a sewer. Even with "VIP" lounges and Ambassador/Admiral Club benefits. Another magazine editor-in-chief puts it this way:

"I still happily spend $4,000 for Air France to Paris or Virgin Atlantic Upper Class to London because it's truly a luxurious experience worth every penny. But now when I fly domestic, I fly Jet Blue, never biz class on American Airlines. Jet Blue takes great care of you in a coach seat. You get real service. AA Biz class is a Greyhound Bus.

I'm not fooled by the name "Business Class" anymore. It's full of jerks on upgrades and dirty old cabins and flight attendants who hate their jobs and hate you. So I still happily pay the premium for real service, but I've stopped paying the premium for faux service from businesses that fake it. Like American Airlines."  

So much for Frequent Flyer benefits.
Your humble NYSD diarist David Patrick Columbia feels that he's "not a spender except on restaurants and books. Nowadays a little less on both." However my Mom wouldn’t dare give up her "prime shopping" Amazon and Alibris accounts. She makes her book "wish list" a daily "order completed and check out" reality. Kindles and libraries are not an option for her and used book stores continue to be her big fan base. My favorite pop historian and pal Chanelised Kitty Kelley (don't miss her next book on Oprah being published in April) confessed "it's not so much what I don’t spend money on but the change of my mental attitude. For example I will now ask the boutique sales lady to call me "when it goes on sale."

I still drive a 1987 Mercedes 560 SL with a "MEOW" license plate. And I've always been into investment shopping."
Translation: if you can’t reduce it from this absurd price, forget it. And I no longer snicker at coupon mentality. Bear in mind I still drive a 1987 Mercedes 560 SL with a "MEOW" license plate. And I've always been into investment shopping."

And my money has always been on Kitty! But coupon shopping is not on the mind of my Hermes bag collector acquaintance. She may have lost most of her beauty salon business lately but she will not give up spending $10,000 to $15,000 on Birkin bags. She has an all color and skin array of them, "but I will never say to anyone how much I spend on these bags ... even anonymously. When I wind up in hell, which I will because of this Hermes habit, I might tell the Devil." Who will, no doubt, own more Birkins than she.

My 94-year-old Dad has recently pulled back on his Wilkes Bashford wardrobe ("where the hell am I going to wear all that?") but doesn't let a day go by without his last bastion of truth and joy ... his $25. Davidoff Double R cigar." Don't kid yourself. Anything that is THE BEST makes you feel THE BEST. Best is best." Ah, the new version of "more is more."

One more personal confession from me: I refuse to give up on my annual pilgrimage (I've been doing it for 30 years!) to the Golden Door. Not for their usual pampering and spa experience, but for their seven days of "retreat, fasting, and silence.” No cell phones, TV, computers and/or media allowed. For me that kind of true cultural disconnect is the only luxury worth paying for. If I have to dump my Blue Cross/ Shield for that ... So be it!!!!

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