I recently received a gift from no less than Francois-Henri Pinault, the head of Kering, which holds a good chunk of the luxury industry.
No, it wasn’t a little something from McQueen or Stella McCartney, or even a pair of Pumas.
No, M. Pinault said something a few months back that really got me thinking differently. The occasion was his comment on an announcement by Burberry that it would move toward letting consumers “shop the runway”, doing away with the practice of having Fall collections shown in Spring and Spring collections shown in the Fall. Paul Smith and Michael Kors followed. The Guardian dubbed it “See Now, Shop Now”.
Now, all this made eminent sense to me: the idea that in this day and age there’d be this time lag between showing and making available seemed the epitome of silliness, but M. Pinault had a different spin. For him, Burberry’s plan “negated the dream” of luxury; making consumers wait as long as six months to buy a collection “creates desire”.
This comment prodded something in my consciousness. Of course, the cynic in me saw the self-serving nature of the remark in its unwillingness to change. That same cynic was repelled by the notion of engineering more time for “desire” to build so as to stoke demand and justify high prices.
But was there something interesting and true in the idea that waiting is a good thing, that desire should be allowed to build? And how integral to “luxury” is this idea of waiting?
I admit it: I am by nature a “want it now” kind of person. But age and observation have tempered that in many aspects of my life. And embracing craft and artisanship as I do, I’ve had to change my expectations about objects of desire being available on demand. And yes, since traditional luxury has been hand-made to order, luxury has a strong element of waiting to it.
There was even a recent NY Times piece that seemed to pick up on this notion. In Has Waiting for Things Become the Ultimate Luxury? writer Heidi Julavits tracks a series of mini trends that seem to point to “waiting” as being trendy – epitomized by the (in)famous waiting list for Hermes Birkin Bag.
Now, I’m all for waiting if it reflects the time it takes to make something (anything hard to make or made to order or customized), or is specifically designed to separate instagratification trendsters from the true believers (Hermes, on a charitable day) then the waiting is good.
But if it’s just another marketing gimmick – to stoke demand, to invent desire – it is cynical and manipulative. It is, unfortunately, what many have come to expect of the business of luxury.
Still, it makes me think about what it means to wait.
Let’s say you’re waiting, as I recently did, for that holy grail of pants – edgy but flattering – that I was having cut to order by my friend Diana Slavin. (No, it wasn’t couture, I’m just hard to fit.) It took four weeks and gave me ample insight into the ways and byways of desire and waiting.
Not that I was completely obsessive about these pants, but at certain moments, I found myself thinking about them a fair amount (a welcome distraction from other life woes). A 30-second sampling of my thoughts would run like this:
These pants are going to be great: they’ll solve all of my wardrobe problems, giving all those outfits the je ne sais quoi they sorely need. Snap out of it. Be in the moment. Don’t future trip. No, they’re going to be great. With them, I could…What’s four weeks? It’ll all be sweeter for the waiting. Just get on with your life, focus on your work. OK, you know, the other thing I really need is the perfect white T-shirt. When are they going to be ready? Maybe the studio can speed it up if I ask nicely, or maybe they’re already there and they just haven’t called? Maybe I could have them tonight? I can cancel that meeting and head over. Don’t be silly. Those pants will not change your life. Yes they will…and the cycle would begin anew.
This kind of thinking isn’t much different from what went down in grade school: Does he like me? Does he like her more than me? I’m so perfect for him. Maybe if I walk by him real slow in the cafeteria…). It zips between desire, competition, stalking, and high fantasy, as much True Detective as True Romance. If this is the flavor of desire that M. Pinault had in mind, then no thanks. This kind of energy can follow an item around, leaving behind the aura resentment, spoiling the beauty, the pleasure of ownership.
Waiting shouldn’t be passive – some thing that’s imposed on you. In fact, the origins of the word “wait” lie in notions like waking, and watching. This suggests an engagement, an active component to the process. The quality of the wait should be match what you’re waiting for.
A healthier approach to waiting builds that long-term appreciation, taking more of a wakeful, watching role in the waiting process and making the most of the wait. Anticipating but not fantasizing. Deepening appreciation by understanding why the hell those pants or shoes or bookshelves are taking so long. Creating space (mental or physical) for them. And yes, watching, exploring and learning from that crazy arc of desire.
It’s all part of the essence of the thing. For me and my pants, the wait is an intrinsic part of the worth. And were they worth the wait? Yes. They were.