Blog 2015 january
Elaine de Kooning, muse and wife of the painter Willem, exhorted 'don't scrimp on the luxuries and let the necessities take care of themselves.' It is an apt austerity measure - to have some frivolity to ease the frugality. Luxury does not have to synonymous with money. Luxury is about style and presentation; savour rather than consume. A quarter size bottle of Pommery is preferable to a litre bottle of plonk.
Luxuries awaken the senses. Scent is an affordable luxury. A delectable seage will leave a lasting impression rather than the imprint of a brand new pair of stiletto -heeled boots from Kurt Gieger.
Luxury has become lacklustre, a vicious quotidian indulgence. We are swamped by so called Luxury goods that are barely distinguishable from other brands. Luxury is almost the high street norm, so mainstream that they are no longer that exclusive. Even pot noodles come in luxury form at $43.The luxury market is worth $20 trillion. Heritage and prestige once used to be the hallmarks of luxury and the preserve of royalty and the 'swagger' rich. Louis Vuitton, Burberrys and Thomas Pink have lost their allure and induce 'status anxiety. A £3000 handbag is not a really a luxury it is conspicuous consumption.
Enough said, the real sense of luxury has to be reclaimed. Luxury is a refined intense enjoyment while need is often the spur to the creative process; 'necessity is the mother of invention'.
Elaine was right, necessities can take care of themselves in mysterious ways.
Two paragons and bywords for luxury are Harrods and Aston Martin, one has become vulgarized and the latter has remained quitessentially English with a sense of understated luxury. I had never heard of Aston Martin until my sons talked about their cars in exhalted tones ad nausuem, so out of curiosity and to shut them up, I got to test drive an Aston Martin Rapide, thanks to their publc relations attache. At the 11th hour their dream car came purring down our street and we packed up swiftly and sunk into the luscious leather interior and gawped at all the controls and features; wondering which one to press first. My husband, Stephen, gallantly took the wheel and slipped in the ignition cassette. As soon as the engine roared into action , it was as if we were in one of Branson's space jets and about to orbit the earth.
But in truth we were headed for the west country. People were astonished as we pulled up at the lights and neighbours had come out to admire the Aston. Surely one of the many thrills of such a car is the admiration and stares it engenders. Passers by and other motorists were convinced it was James Bond on a mission, and rubbed their eyes incredulously.
The Aston's engine is hand made, shaved and honed to a hair's-breadth of aerodynamic perfection. It soon turned into my dream car too, elegant, and extremely powerful, when it glides down the road, it is like listening to a piece of profoundly uplifting music. The Aston transports you into a parallel world, in which driving is not a drudge but an experience. This car is so exhilarating, it chases all the blues away, its therapy ; speed therapy.
Lets be blunt this is not a motor for a fat family and fat friends and a couple of fat dogs, who shop a lot, because it is too sleek and slim fitting. The Aston is built for straight highways and the distant horizon, not for the deep narrow lanes of Devonshire jammed with hunts and tractors. And when the road abruptly ended by Tarr Steps, a medieval clapper bridge over a shallow river, I was banking on the Aston Martin going into Amphibious mode. It didn't.
The Aston is a bully and it makes you drive like one. It likes to intimidate, it thinks driving is a competitive sport, and is particularly bad mannered on country roads , where there needs to be a good deal of give and take, of pulling over and it feels like a tank on the steep lanes. Our hosts pronounced the Aston a little "vulgar" and yes it is ostentatious.
Below my elder son, Tarquin (13) is eminently more capable to write on the Aston's finer details.
The Aston Martin Rapide S/ four doors
"Its like being in a winged chariot"
"Its like being in a leather rocket"
This is a car for a family who want 4 doors and a reasonable sized boot, bearing in mind that it is a sports car, but is still has ample space in the boot. It is the dream car for you, if you travel on the motorway a lot or have far to travel, or need to get from A to B 0-60 in 4.7 seconds! And above 70 mph it accelerates faster than other cars by light years. This was manifest when my father, did a six car overtake on a road at 140mph; which was very naughty.
In my opinion it feels as if it accelerates faster at high speeds (probably because it has a top speed of 203mph). The beauty of it is, that when you are travelling, you cannot feel the difference between 90mph and 130 mph, because you scarcely notice when it accelerates, however, if you bury your foot, it turns into a monster, and then a winged super jet gryphon, (if it is in sport mode.) Now you are thinking, "if I want to drive fast on bendy roads, you cannot achieve the full potential of the car's performance, as it is an automatic. However, because it has a sport mode, this is not a problem , but if that is not good enough it has a choice of automatic sport or a flappy paddle gearbox, and different suspension settings.
They all work like a dream, but you may wonder if the car has changed gear or not, as it is so smooth, nevertheless it clearly shows what the gear is, on a screen, between the speedo and rev counter.
What I like about the automatic gear box, is that there are big chunky buttons along the dashboard. P R, START ENGINE, where you put the cassette key, Neutral,and Drive . The handbrake operates, when you slip your hand under a curvy slot, which you can push down or up, in order to take the car out of, or in handbrake. The car with its controls and luscious leather , is tactile and super user friendly.
The cassette is the ingenious ignition key (a glass narrow cube); it opens the boot, (complete with a furled up umbrella),turns on the lights, so you can find it in the dark , and opens and closes the door. However we did not manage to launch the missiles hidden in the headlights or test its ejector seat 007 style. The only design flaw, is when you push the cassette into the 'start engine slot' the engine will usually start right away but you may have to repeat the process; that is the only snag in this uber slick car.
Hand made in England; how great to fly the flag, Aston Martin is a shining example of British craftsmanship.
Now on the other hand, Harrods aint what it used to be. When Warhol's mother died he said "my mama didn't go to up to heaven, she went to Bloomingdales."; my mother, went to a Harrods heaven I hope. She left a large unpaid bill and did not write a will. Everything was on account, including the weekly groceries, which were guzzled fairly swiftly ,and the rest of the week my brother and I were Kellogs kids, as our outrageous nanny sashayed down the Kings Road in her platform boots, practically as high as stilts, and could only manage to carry back a few feather light cerial packets from the Co-op.
One typical Saturday afternoon, my mother, brother and I were, as usual in Harrods; we were on the top floor in Way In, trying on some outfits, when an IRA bomb, went off, the blast shattered the glass windows with tremendous force and we were thrown to the ground. We slowly picked ourselves up shaking off the shards of glass and were miraculously unscathed, though shaken. There was not enough time to return the clothes to the racks of course. My mother said "hold my hand and don't let go, The great hall and escalators were jammed with screaming people in the pitch dark, like rats leaving the sinking Titanic, shoppers slid down the escalators and trampled over each other to try and get out; everyone was terrified a second bomb would go off. My mother knew Harrods like the back of her hand, even in the dark she was able to locate the back stairs used by the staff and we got out safely.
Back home in Chelsea, my mother was incandescent with rage, when she looked at the news, reporting that Harrods staff acted efficiently and ushered everyone calmly out to safety. "Nonsense!" And she rang up the press to complain. The next thing we knew there was a battery of reporters and photographers in our sitting room. The next day we were splashed all over the papers and worse on the front pages- 'typical Harrods shoppers caught in blast.'
This was publicity I really did not want, as I had started at a new flagship comprehrensive, and being a mockney cockney, my cover was blown . Strangely I learnt Latin there, as only ten other pupils were in the class and I bunked off all the others, because the classes , which were called 'periods' numbered 25 pupils, at least and I could not hear the teachers, it was so noisy; it was all about crowd control, not learning, so I gave up and got stuck into the Aeneid and the Golden Ass.
This was class betrayal, big time, I was friendless and worse, bullied. I carried a pair of fire tongs in my satchel to defend myself. When my mother found them in my satchel, plus a pair of 'banned' platform shoes, "that was just the last straw," and my mother me sent away to a progressive school in Devon, called Dartington Hall,.
One has selective memory about how, we then lived under the spectre of the IRA, just as we do now - the invisible enemy or 5th column. Our square was targeted , as the IRA were trying to blow up a Tory M.P, luckily his split second timing of putting out the milk bottles on the door steps, where the bomb exploded was thwarted by his cat escaping.
But back to Harrods, it is horrid now, the store used to be so soothing, quiet and civilised. At the foyer I spotted an elderly Irish peer asking where the harrods scarf dept was, which is now in the basement and the pet store has gone, where you could get anything from piranha to a parrot. You used to be able to go the stationary department and 'while u wait', they personised pencils in gold. . Many of the Harrods departments have been relegated to the the basement, except for the food halls, to be replaced by luxury bling brand outlets, and worse in each one, there is a fresh new acoustic hell , witless wailing dirges by Beyonce, Justin Beaver, Bruno Mars et alia. While the perfumery department caters mainly for the Arabs. Harrods is a fiefdom for the petro-dollars rich.