3.29.2010

PROLOGUE

Our architectural education, among many other things, creates a strong sense of appreciation for fine craftsmanship, innovation, and quality of materials, yet not necessarily always the salaries to acquire them. This is a cruel irony I am still trying to come to terms with. And by virtue of looking at movies, I recognize the paradox of the issue of authenticity with a form of media that is inherently fictional. But it is in this construct that allows for the evolving nature of luxury to be unveiled -- by a sort of distorted mirror principle.

Since writers are by nature outsiders, often standing at the edges looking in (in line with the characters I focus on), then writing this thesis about luxury makes me an outsider, squared. Still, the credo of writing floated to the surface of my thoughts: write about what you know. My exposure to luxury, in terms of travel, goods, and services, is by global standards a healthy average. I am not immune to the omnipresent marketing and advertising of designer brands that infiltrate our modern lives. Yet, I am also not one to (too easily) buy into their hallow promises of status and respectability. Still, I fall prey.

I have tried on more than one occasion to chase the fashionable milieu dream. Visits to the south of France, Rome, and New York always included specially planned outings to the boutique of the moment, the restaurant du jour, the famed and illustrious hotel. But today, when it hardly makes any difference whether you walk into a Louis Vuitton store in Xiamen or Stuttgart or Denver, the face of true luxury eludes us. I recall back to the time I was in Santee Alley in Los Angeles, looking at an array of counterfeit merchandise, the crooked and weathered wooden table it was placed upon, the dirty tarp that covered the niche for the storage of more of the same. The smell of cheap leather and over-use of glue, the dull clang of shoddy metalwork clasps in highly-recognizable logo shapes. Not to mention the alarming probability that these untaxed profits will go on to fund illegal firearms or drug trafficking. And finally, it came full circle during the documentary of Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) called “Living in Emergency”. The incredulousness and irrelevancy of seeing an LV scarf wrapped around the head of an MSF national volunteer from Liberia as he was helping usher a gun wound victim in a DKNY shirt into the free hospital NGOs have set up in the war-torn country. That's when I realized what our general sense of self-presentation of wealth has become -- a rootless, thoughtless, fully-compromised mirage of symbols.

I want to find the root of this change. I want to figure out the mechanisms with which this propagated. I do not want to reverse the evolution nor do I want to shut the gates for exclusivity. But if everything boiled down to false homages and fabricated authenticity, at least I need to know the originating source. And perhaps even find a cure to undo this spell.

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