Do you remember the scene from the film An Education where the delightful Carey Mulligan’s character, a 16-year-old suburban schoolgirl Jenny, upon meeting the grown-up and glamorous Helen played by the drop-dead gorgeous Rosamund Pike, just cannot help touching her fur stole – the most luxurious and marvellous thing she’d ever seen in her life?
That scene played in my head this week as I was giving a talk about sustainable luxury to some 14-16 year olds at Switzerland’s – and possibly the world’s – most expensive private school. What was it like for these young and plainly well-off people to experience that first touch of luxury? When did it happen? And did they actually appreciate it?
I remember mine: it was my first Swiss watch. Years later, after I moved to Switzerland, I found out that it was actually one of the cheaper brands, very popular with tourists. At the time, however, this watch represented a world that I could only read about in magazines or dream about at the movies.
Today, still, I get the same sense of awe when I see truly luxurious items of clothing or jewellery – some of which I am fortunate enough to be able to afford and some of which remain on my wish list. But above all, I think that – just like with food – we have to train our palates to appreciate luxury. It is, really, all about an education.
By the way, getting that education is becoming easier. Among the top schools offering degrees in luxury management are Frances’s HEC and Switzerland’s BSL. And as of this year, there is even a course on Sustainable Luxury at the new Sustainability Management School of Switzerland (more on that soon!).
As I was chatting with these teenage students after my presentation, many of these future luxury consumers were enthusiastic about nature conservation. I hope that this passion accompanies them throughout their life journey – and that they eventually play their part in bringing sustainability and luxury closer together.
But it also made me ponder whether luxury should be reserved for grown-ups, just like some age-rated movies. When I see little tots decked out in Baby Dior and Ralph Lauren for Kids, I ask myself what would be left for them to discover later on, what would they look forward to, aspire to, save up for as they get older?
I know that my first Swiss watch taught me a lot about the concept of luxury, and that I’ve been enjoying learning about it ever since. And it also taught me that elegance is, indeed, an attitude.