If coffee per se cannot ever be a true luxury, then just what is luxury? The French guru of luxury, Jean-Noël Kapferer, used the concept of a “golden triangle” whose apex is formed by heritage, status and experience. Heritage represents the brand’s roots: its territory, history, dynasties, style, supremacies and knowledge. Status is conferred by the recognition of opinion leaders, while experience comes through the product’s consumption and its brand. To be a luxury item, a brand must have beautiful, well-made products that reflect a high level of culture and experience. In short, they must be so rare and expensive that they leave a mark on history. Not by chance, cultural heritage goods and family jewels, passed down from generation to generation, have always been luxury objects. Beauty is in the details, like a painting by Canaletto. But we have to know how to recognize beauty and our taste must be educated to do so. Remo Bodei – a philosopher who has dedicated much research to the aesthetics of beauty and the sublime – has said that the canons of Greek metrics (whose goal was to find beauty through the harmony of the whole) are no longer valid today. In the modern era, beauty has been surpassed by the idea of taste. So the central point is how to educate our taste, or rather, how to create the preconditions in order for beauty to be recognized and appreciated.
I say it over and over again at Altagamma, the Association of Italian high-end companies I have the honor to chair: people who produce luxury goods serve a maieutic purpose; they must educate their clients in taste, not just sell merchandise. I first realized this in China. One time, I forgot to pack socks on a trip to China. I had just returned from a different trip, I had prepared my suitcase in a rush and I left with only the socks I was wearing. No problem, I said to myself, I’ll do some shopping when I arrive. There are nine big luxury malls in Shanghai. I searched them all; I entered every Italian and French boutique I found. Do you think I was able to find a single pair of suitable socks? Of course not! This is because Chinese men prefer to wear short socks and the boutiques have adapted to their clients’ taste, offering them what they want to find. And yet, if there is one inviolable rule of elegance – and there is – it states that short socks are not advisable. As ambassadors of the Italian lifestyle, our brands cannot simply adapt themselves to the customs of another country. They must also promote Italian style and elegance, which is what the whole world loves about us.