New York is now the home of the hundred dollar doughnut. I’m serious. The Manila Social Club in Brooklyn (where else) tells us it’s made with Cristal Champagne icing (obvs) has a purple yam cream filling and is topped with 24K gold dust and gold leaf. The world has clearly gone mad, so some explanation seems in order.
It’s important to remember our aspirations constantly shift as our relationship with the things around us develops. As we mature we look back and giggle at the things we once thought were desirable or fashionable. And just like individuals, mature democracies also become more sophisticated over time. Here in the aging West the world of white Lamborghini’s, impossible yachts, see-thru watches and silly-star restaurants starts to look a little tacky to anyone with a mental age above fifteen that’s read a couple of books. But recently the lux-lifestyle that used to belong to fat, cigar-smoking tycoons has been hijacked by the celebrity classes: the rich and poorly educated, the bling crowd. We may gawk with relish at the lifestyles of this meniscus of society but we know in our hearts that a life dressed from top to toe in D&G is not cool, it’s ridiculous.
We’ve all witnessed wealthy Chinese tourists stockpiling super-lux goods like kids in a candy store. It’s as if they believe these brands grant them instant status, instant happiness, and at some level of course they do, but ultimately the poor souls have been duped. Eventually they will learn that the lust for luxury is like Cristal Champagne icing and should be used very sparingly indeed.
As a direct reaction to this sequestering of super-lux, here in the dark and cynical West a new democratic form of luxury is emerging: the luxury of ordinary things. I call it Humblelux. Humblelux is the art of taking the ordinary, the everyday and reimagining it for the connoisseur and I have good evidence that it started here in New York. Along with the $100 doughnut there is Andrew Carmellini’s foie gras hot dog, Daniel Boulud’s DBGB dog and burger (served with home made lemonade, another Humblelux contender). In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a trendy restaurant in New York that doesn’t have a signature burger on the menu. Denim too may have been mainstream fashion for fifty years but only recently has it become fetishized to the point that shop assistants talk selvedge looms and weft before they mention the fit.
As with all trends, their currents often run much deeper than at first sight. If Humblelux is a backlash against conventional luxury it follows that it’s also a movement to redefine luxury itself, a movement that’s actively, though subconsciously, seeking out new products to enroll into its exclusive yet democratic club. The common man is now at the helm of the super-yacht, taking us to the places and the things that he really loves, showing us his own proud heritage. It’s denim and pizza rather than Dior and Per Se. Listen to any New Yorker enthuse over their favourite pizza. They don’t mention how gooey or delicious it is, they talk oven construction and varieties of flour. Humblelux connoisseurs are into the science, not subjective emotion.
While we’re on the subject, there’s no question to my mind which is New York’s greatest pizza; it’s Roberta’s. It’s also happens to be the answer I give when asked to name New York’s best restaurant. Step inside the scruffy Bushwick shack and watch the future play out in front of you. Nerdy teenagers, beardy hipsters (of course) and families with pushchairs squeeze together with clusters of crisply-shirted businessmen. The servers are equally mismatched being heavily tattooed, well educated, and with manners to make their parents proud. Cultish pizza here is married with salt-baked celery root, grilled sunchoke and asian pear. A relentless, thumping dub soundtrack binds the whole crazy cocktail together, perfectly as it happens. This is democracy in action and very probably the spiritual home of Humblelux.
Traditional luxury brands now face the very real risk of being ‘Kardashianed’ or ‘Chinezed’. That is not to judge either of these lovely groups of people, I’m simply saying that for all their money, glamour, cosmetic surgery and millions of Instagrammers, they are not cool. And clearly I’m not alone in this assumption. If they were cool, then luxury brands would be leveraging the crap out of their new ambassadors, instead of keeping them at the end of a very long bargepole.
The world has turned. As traditional glam-advertising withers in the shadow of its younger, brighter, more genuine social media sister then the cool factor is sure to become the very nucleus of every luxury brand’s strategy, however humble its origins.