How public shaming changed status signaling
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Gwyneth Palthrow’s personal book curator is in overdrive.
“What you say is not as important as the bookcase behind you,” is the motto of the newly created Twitter account dedicated to our latest aspiration: bookcases. They are a more socially acceptable Zoom background than lurking pools, private gardens, or antiques. They also signal the somewhat accessible privilege of knowledge.
Still, Financial Times’ “How to Spend It” Editor’s Letter in April defensively asked, “What does a luxury magazine have to contribute to the world during a pandemic? To put it bluntly - who cares about expensive chairs?”
In fact, a lot of people do. Luxury domesticity is the term that Venkatesh Rao coined in our email exchange from a few weeks back. My take was that the traditional luxury - and its stability, permanence, and security - are making a comeback. Rao and I went back and forth about what’s aspirational at the moment, and what kind of aspiration we can expect once the pandemic is over. Luxury domesticity is gaining steam, and I believe it is hard cold assets are where things are at: the rich are right now at their luxury bunkers, acres of New Zealand real estate, private yachts, and remote islands. Others are in the Hamptons or, upstate or, wherever their second homes are.
Kanye West already tapped into this trend back in the Fall of 2019 when he bought a ranch in Wyoming, where he’s building a “Yeezy campus” and a “paradigm shift for humanity.” Given Kanye’s track record of paradigm shifts in music, fashion, and culture, I eagerly await the campus’ completion.
Luxury domesticity describes the tangible assets that we all wish we had right now: spacious real estate, yachts, private planes, a car, rare whiskeys. But it also refers to the “socially-approved” status-signaling behaviors like cooking, re-decorating, exercising. Peloton’s sales in April jumped sixty-six percent YoY, to $524.6 million. Tonal sales tripled in March. If Amazon speeds up release of its Echo Look, a personal stylist device with a built-in camera, consumers will be able to try on clothes at the time when retailers are slowly re-opening, but without the fitting rooms service. A Mirror-like try-on service may cater to luxury clientele, who can virtually try outfits from home. With an e-commerce spike that’s likely to continue even after the physical stores re-open, virtual mirrors create a likely at-home shopping ecosystem.