Think value, think vintage


November 30, 2009


Fashion | Heritage

Luxury is now about a different idea, an out-of-the-world experience, not just products and names…

This week I am in Bombay where, between interviewing the Chief Minister and an encounter specialist who survived 26/11 (but still has a bullet lodged in his right elbow), the city helped me remember something unique about luxury I had discovered here many years ago.

A Parsi friend, from Dadar Parsi Colony no less, used to have a business. About 9/11, when she was fired from a big American bank (yes, it seemed they used to fire people even then), she returned to leafy Dadar and dug out every buried friend of her parents and with her retrenchment money (some people have made new lives, even bought yachts only on the retrenchment money) she began buying up old furniture from the homes of family friends.

These were then sold, almost secretively, to select customers in quiet garage sales. Sometimes, they were literally sold from garages.

The sales were pushed purely by word of mouth (think of Dadar Parsi Colony as an old world Facebook where everyone knows and does not know everyone and everything is known and not known simultaneously and the video of every life is constantly on broadcast mode) and were so successful that the friend imported a Volkswagen Beetle and made it a mascot of her business: the new old world touch she would explain.

So who bought her stuff? Well, a Hollywood casting director, to name one. And through him, curiously enough, she now does set design and sells old furniture on the side, in Hollywood.

What’s the morale of the story? That old things are to be valued? And valued well? That nothing beats Parsi networking?

I thought I would use this example to get into this second part of my promised 10 rules of new luxury. The first five were: Wear Local, Think Global; Fuel Sartorial Patriotism; Think Luxury, not Premium; Outsource ideas, not Garments; and finally Promote Cross Fertilisation. Here’s the last last five:

Appreciate history

More likely than not, there is an age premium in luxury. From Burma teak furniture in forgotten hill stations to hidden away boutiques in the by-lanes of Paris, the old has never had so much shine. Does that mean that antiques have never been better valued? Not really. what it simply means is that since we have rarely ever led more crowded, frantic lives, we have rarely been more nostalgic about the good, ol’ days.

This puts great premium on quality, vintage and lasting power. These, I am arguing, are some of the things you must look out for before you splurge in this new, moderate and money-for-something (as opposed to the earlier era of money-for-almost-nothing) era of luxury.

If you are going to spend a lot of money, relook at what you are buying and for how long you will be able to use it. Does it have lasting power? Does it have quality that will last a generation; like your mother’s Kanjeevarams and the classic Chanel jackets in the antique clothing shops of Paris?

If it doesn’t, then, in the new world of luxury, it is good to ask the question, shouldn’t you use the money for a holiday instead?

Buy things that will fit for years

Let me give you a personal example — last year, in a fit of luxeholicness, I bought three pairs of jeans, Gucci, Valentino and a niche grunge brand called PPD for a sum total of Rs. 30,000 (all on discount and, in retrospect way too much to pay for slim fit jeans).

Guess what? Twelve months later, I am, alas, not slim (even then, the fit was a little strenuous), and I have hardly ever been able to wear any of them. What an utter waste of Rs. 30,000! I could have easily used it on a quick Vietnam holiday.

So if you are buying luxury, look for the vintage stuff and then look for things that you will wear for years. Use and throw luxury is for the boors.

And that is, naturally, not just in luxury. That flourescent orange handbag looks tres-chic but only because you are sushi dunking in Tokyo. It will not, I repeat not, look cool when you step out on Banjara Hills.


Do I hear gasps galore? But may I insist that even in the ultimately fiscally vagabond world of luxury, recycling is every in.

In fact, chances are that from this mini-epochal point onwards, it will be forever chic.

The move towards finding the treasuring vintage clothing actually links to this new world of recycling. There is value to be found in the old and to reinvent it – in the ever cyclical way that only fashion can – is the mood of new luxury.

The challenge in fact of new luxury is to find, in as many ways as possible, the past, to renew that curiosity for the antique and renergise old virtues in myriad, what else, new hues. From old boots to old sweaters, from old cars to old radios, touching up and reusing has never been so cool.

So if there is anything that you can reuse, re-wear in any avatar, then you must. Luxury in the world is not about forgetting the old.

Think value, not money

For some years, luxury, let’s face it, has become slightly trashy. In an increasingly abusive world, the lure of luxury as rare has been subsumed by the idea of luxury as the ever gluttonous, ever obscene, and every merit of refinement has been murdered.

In the new world, when you go to buy luxury, seek the rare and the rarefied, the priceless not the pricy.

That’s why any experience that can bring silence – breathing space as it were for the mind – is invaluable. When I think luxury now, I definitely am not thinking of P. Diddy’s bling binge, I am actually really interested in, and thinking of, the experiential luxury of Blackberry-unsoured solitude in the tree huts of the Garo and Khasi hills in Nagaland. How much would I pay for that? Anything.

Not for just the rich

My final point, in a Manmohanesque way, is about inclusive luxury. I believe that in the new world luxury, which is by textbook an exclusive experience, is all about the not being exclusive in the traditional sense of the term.

Make no mistake, luxury will continue to be exclusive, only it will not be exclusive purely on monetary, price terms. Luxury in the new world is opening its doors to anyone seeking a different idea, a out of the world experience. Can it merely be bought? No.

Welcome to the world of Inclusive Luxury.

Hindol Sengupta is Associate Editor, UTV / for the HINDU