Monday, September 10, 2007

Consumption and luxury

Today, I start publishing my blog anew with the following three paragraphs drawn from a first version of Consommation et luxe (Consumption and luxury), my next book, to be published this fall (in French only for the time being).

« These Romans are crazy! » Many remember Obelix’s trademark phrase in the famed adventures of Asterix the Gaul (Uderzo and Goscinny, Book series, Paris: Dargaud editor). Confronted to the, strange to him, culture of the Roman people, he was thus expressing his dismay. I believe we will soon hear similar words from people to whom the consumer society culture will appear just as strange. « Cute baby » one could read on the front page of La Presse, one of Montreal’s daily French newspapers, on Thursday December 8, 2005. This catchy title referred to a series of articles relating to luxury products for babies, in the « Actuel » section of the day. « Luxury products for babies? », may some say to me. Well, yes! Our little ones have discovered a craving for luxury! The time is over when all babies were content with the same brand of soap, shampoo or powder, Johnson's in Quebec or Mustela in France; although these two brands are still very popular, in some circles the baby’s beauty of baby calls for Anthony, Kiehl's, Klorane and many others.

How did we get to there? Consumption has become an activity of foremost importance for most people in industrialized countries. Moreover, if branding, this business philosophy which emphasizes brand production, allowed said brands to experience stunning growth, it has also democratized, sometimes even damaged, them. Consequently, wearing brands does not allow one to sufficiently distinguish oneself, to project a unique image. What the hell, how can one appear to be different if everyone wears Nike or Tommy Hilfiger? What can people eager for differentiation do when brands no longer suffice? Luxury! Only luxury now allows some to distinguish from others, to rise, so they believe, above masses.

This said, don’t believe that I condemn all luxury goods and services. Luxury is necessary… even for those who are penniless, perhaps even more so for them since they, above all people, need a few pleasures in life. In fact, even Gilles Lipovetsky, famous critic of consumption, writes: « For a long time, the best minds have emphasized the universal, anthropological nature of luxury », supporting his words with this quotation from Shakespeare, « The poorest beggar always has superfluous little things! Reduce nature to the needs of nature and man is an animal », and concludes « Luxury is a dream, that which embellishes life’s decor, perfection made good by human genius. » (G. Lipovetsky, Le luxe éternel, De l’âge du sacré au temps des marques, Paris, éditions Gallimard, 2003, p. 19) If, for a rich person, luxury is the buying a condo in the Bahamas, for a less fortunate person it can be a treat such as an occasional dinner in a prestigious restaurant. To each his own luxury!

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