Posts from the “Living Well” Category

Telling stories

Posted on June 9, 2015

Over the last few years, the collective wisdom of marketers and pretty much everyone else focuses on storytelling. Want to sell something, the wisdom goes: you gotta tell its story. Story is part of humanity: we are hard-wired to want to take in things this way. In the context of marketing, it connects me – the consumer – emotionally to whatever is being sold. And that kind of connection, we all know, is the way to a sale. In recent years, storytelling has become an alternative to the brand. Don’t have the money to build a brand? Oh never mind, just have a good story. A good enough story and you’ll triumph over the big boy brands. And with that storytelling became marketing, the new packaging, a form of advertising. And I,…

Modern patronage

Posted on May 23, 2015

A word popped up in my consciousness as I was reading a review of the recent exhibit called What is Luxury? at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Patronage. It’s a word I hadn’t heard in a long while. Hopelessly old fashioned, it smacks of elitism, class, and (in political circles) cronyism, “favors” and general corruption. And the “p” word was even applied to the “relationship” between dancers and their “patrons”.) In the realm of art and culture, it conjures up images of that rich cigar-puffer, badgered into (often by a wife) agreeing to fund the work of some obscure, flat-out-broke artist / watchmaker / musician, in return for which they got bragging rights if the artist’s star rose, and first pick of the output whatever happened. Fast forward to places like New York today,…


Posted on February 23, 2015

Secrets. They’re not supposed to exist, are they? We’re supposed to tell it all, share it all, let it all hang out, preferably online. Mental health types talk about the corrosive effects of secrets.  We barely tolerate the notion that some state secrets should remain that way.  And TMZ’s created a $100 million empire on spilling celebrity secrets that readers lap up then lean back to savor, purse their lips, feeling smug that no secret should be safe from the public. As goes the broader culture goes the material, consuming world. “Authenticism” is the thing where every live edge table or industrial makes clear its material roots. Function is form and form is function (and nothing else.) Radical transparency is the by-word of companies like Everlane. And we’ve come to…

The art and the craft of service, part two

Posted on February 16, 2015

It happens like this doesn’t it? Just when you’re decrying the lack of something – in my case, the lack of good service in the world these days – you find it. I am delighted to have been made wrong. Best yet, while I experienced a new high in service at what is an unabashedly luxury establishment, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to find that kind of service at price points way south of what most people consider “luxury”. Because, of course, luxury isn’t about price. It’s about mindset. The Amangani in Jackson Hole, WY was the venue for a rare blow-out holiday. First spied in a design or travel magazine ages ago. the image of this austere-looking retreat in the snow had lingered with me for years, the very epitome…

Further musings on the culture of smoking

Posted on February 7, 2015

It’s no doubt a good thing that smoking is no longer as popular a pastime as it once was. It’s better to live in a world where one can experience the joy of walking into a bar without reeling at the thickness of cigarette smoke. It’s better to not have to wash cigarette smoke out of your hair (let alone deal with the dry cleaning consequences) after sitting in a smoky conference room for hours.  (Yes, boys and girls, back in the day, people were allowed to smoke indoors, let alone within 10 feet of a building. Moreover, there really were smoke-filled rooms in which deals were done.) And obviously there are those nagging little issues of death and disease. But the world is missing something now that many of the…

The art and the craft of service

Posted on January 25, 2015

Service is one of those funny things. It’s such a huge thing in our lives: unless you’re a hermit, it touches pretty much every area of your life: the things we buy and do; the utilities; even the web. And pretty much, whatever you do – even if you’re a maker or artist – a big part of what you deliver to others is about service.

On the getting side of things, we expect “good” service but we’re not really sure what that is. We mostly suspect that service can be better.

And fundamentally, we have a love-hate relationship with it.

It’s probably deeply ingrained. Since ancient times, service is something that’s never been top dog in the societal pecking order. Being an artist, teaching, and, of course, ruling the whole thing gets you a higher notch than shopkeeper, craftsman, doctor, lawyer or refuse collector. (Obviously this has nothing to do with money, just status and in some sense, respect.) It doesn’t seem to come naturally to most people, and outside of corporations that spend tens of millions of training in it (utterly wasted money) precious few of us seem to improve ourselves in the area of service. And for those of us in societies in which we like to think that status and rank don’t matter, we feel squeamish about receiving service.

It’s this ambivalence about service that’s part of the problem. We need to start respecting service more. We need to start treating it as a real craft, and while we’re at it, we need to start expecting more.

More than anything else, the iconic image of service comes in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

It’s that scene that takes place in Tiffany’s flagship. Our cash-poor hero and heroine go hunting for something to buy at Tiffany’s, with a paltry (even in 1961) $10 in hand. A bemused salesman played by George McGiver with a most lovely Mid Atlantic accent, first suggests a $6.75 (including tax) sterling silver telephone dialer, but that lacks in romance. Then, George Peppard’s character produces a ring from a Cracker Jack box for engraving. The salesman agrees. Never a note of talking down, never a sense of derision. He even elevates their cause: “Do they still really have prizes in Cracker Jack boxes? Nice to know. Gives one a feeling of solidarity, a continuity with the past.” Lovely, just lovely.

That interaction has shaped my sense of what great service actually is: something practiced with honor, sensitivity, individuality, intelligence, kindness.
Of course, this is a film. Of course, it’s from the Stone Age of 1961. Of course, it’s probably not possible in this world of corporatized service and slavishly intensive focus on the bottom line. But it encapsulates the essence of exquisitely crafted service, and an intensely pleasurable, almost magical moment. It encapsulates what we all deep down think it can be.
But when did you experience service like that? When did you give that to others? And when did you last receive service with grace and appreciation and awe, the kind you give to someone who’s made you an exquisite meal or crafted a perfect pot?
Then, there’s the craft of being served. For every person who’s terrible at service, there’s someone who’s equally bad at being served. You know: the silent type, the oblivious, the grunter, the abuser, the entitled, the ungracious, the ungrateful. While these bad customers deserve basic respect, there is a little of sowing what they reap. Service is a dance. Audrey and George probably made our Tiffany salesman’s day, too. Connection, kindness, and humanity go both ways.
Given how much time we all spend getting and giving service, it’s high time we became better connoisseurs of great service.  We need to get more discriminating about what constitutes good service, being appreciative of it, investing time in those that seem to have a handle on the craft of it, and avoiding the rest like the plague. Like anything, it’s about practice and commitment and discipline, but it’s also about learning to live life really well.

The pleasures of giving

Posted on December 26, 2014

The holiday “giving” season is finally, blissfully, playing itself out. The moment brings with it a sense of relief, smugness, and finally, some time to reflect – over a festive negroni, please – on how to improve it. Because [spoiler alert] the gifting season isn’t just a season. Think back. Ever give anyone a gift because you just had found them something that meant something to the two of you, something personal, something that acknowledged that you’d heard them or knew them? Remember how it felt? Remember how your givee smiled and laughed and maybe even had a tear in their eye? That’s what giving should feel like. So why doesn’t it? Now you might be one of those people (you know who you are) for whom…

Lessons on pleasure from Mandy Aftel

Posted on December 7, 2014

I recently had a chance to interview one of my favorite people, Mandy Aftel (the artisan fragrance genius), about her book, Fragrant, one of the best books of the year, perhaps the decade. (Read more here, then make sure you pick up her book.) As our conversation often does, it meandered around to the topic of luxury and pleasure. It’s easy to think that someone in the field of fragrance – and in particular the fragrance industrial complex with its preponderance of glitzy ads, celebrity scents, and its ties to the the 20th century’s notions of luxury and sensuality – might be sucked into the norms of the industry. But she’s honed her own sensibility, values and ethos along the way and precisely because of the prevailing…

The New Disney

Posted on June 9, 2014

There was a time, not so terribly long ago, that there was really no such thing as a “boutique” hotel. There were big chain hotels (Hyatt, Sheraton, Hilton, Marriott), luxury hotels (the Ritz, the Four Seasons) and there were motels. And there were others: bed and breakfasts, pensiones, and ryokans. Oh, and since we’re talking Japan: there were love hotels.  There was no AirBnB, no VRBO. Boutique hotels really got their start in the late 70s, in London, courtesy of Anouska Hempel and Blakes. They were small (under 50 rooms), idiosynchratically decorated, with service that promised to be more intimate, more personal, and restaurant food that was actually edible. The fashion and media crowds gravitated to this kind of thing. And it was then that things got out of…

Understated Luxe

Posted on May 31, 2014

A nice summation on the alt luxe look, via an interview by the fab Sarah Lonsdale of Remodeslita with Richard Ostell. Bottom line: Form follows feeling: the incredible importance of emotion in design Trust your intuition Design for now Mix different textures Use humble materials: “Pare down to the essence, but don’t remove the poetry.” Love that quote from Leonard Koren’s book Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers. Surround yourself with the real deal Balance old with new Stick with a neutral palette Mix styles. “But don’t do it just for decoration.” Yes. Practice restraint. “Know when to stop.” Rules to live by for more than interior design, I think. More images and text over on Remodelista.