September 10, 2013 by James Calbraith
Our ongoing journey around the British coast has, among other things, re-evaluated my idea of what makes a luxurious item.
Not that I ever shared the illusion that luxury is whatever currently fashionable item among the super-rich at the moment. There was always something terribly false about items which, true, cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, but are, ultimately, repeatable, and that makes them common. In a world with more millionaires and billionaires than ever in history, anyone with enough money can buy a LV bag, a Prada suit or the newest Ferrari. The luxury item producers are forced to introduce artificial waiting lists, fake production delays, all the more to give the rich people an illusion of exclusivity. But that is all it is: an illusion. Given enough time and resources, each of these items will eventually be replicated, and, I strongly suspect, at a much lower cost than what is asked for them.
Meanwhile, on a distant island on Outer Hebrides, I bought a jumper. The jumper was made of wool of the sheep born, raised and shorn by hand on this very island, then spun by hand by the locals, and knit into a jumper to design perfected to stand the local weather. I’m pretty certain there are fewer jumpers of this kind than there are Jimmy Choo shoes in the world – and yet it cost me less than £100.
In a former nuclear watch facility, at the wind-swept north-western corner of Scotland, an ancient sycamore, the last tree in the village, finally fell down; a local sculptor made three bowls of its wood. They are priced between £300-£400, and yet their intrinsic value is immeasurable: there will never be another bowl made quite like it.
In a tiny workshop in central Kyoto, a single family of broom makers has been making their brooms for centuries. When the last generation is gone, their brooms will be gone forever as well; they are simple items – some twigs tied with string and copper binding – but they are the best possible tool for the job and will be sorely missed.
In a village in eastern China, local craftsmen produce simple three-legged stools; each of them is a singular work of art, worthy of presence in a design gallery; each of them tells the story of its creator and his land. All would be lost forever if an intrepid store-owner in Tokyo didn’t find them and decide to put them up in his shop.
There are such dying crafts, forgotten craftsmen, all over the world; items made for one last time, or simply unrepeatable due to their very nature – not quite works of art, but far more than what are basically mass-made luxuries. If I was truly rich, I would travel the world (or have people do it for me) and search for these things, rather than go to a Dubai mall and buy another fashion item that any other rich person could just as well buy.