Wednesday, March 20, 2013

On Aspirations

 You Know You Want It, 2012
(Click on image to see larger)

Having spent most of my career in and around the world of advertising, I know a thing or two about aspirations. Much of advertising is about nothing but aspirations. Anyone who’s ever bought anything that came off the drawing board at Ralph Lauren or any of dozens of other brands like it has absolutely no ground to stand on when it comes to disavowing aspirations.
Still, I got more than a few chuckles from a Talk of the Town piece in the March 18th issue of The New Yorker magazine that tells the story of a young New York City man who works in the design industry and, more notably, recently purchased a $12,000 Hermès Birkin bag.
I wouldn’t know a Birkin bag from a grocery bag, though I gather they have about the same carrying capacity. I’m pretty sure, though, that capacity has nothing to do with it. The person who spends twelve thousand dollars on a bag probably has people who do the heavy lifting.
I don’t think I’ve ever spent $12,000 on anything I couldn’t drive or live in. But when I have purchased high-ticket items, I’ve generally been treated pretty nicely. Because I like to study store design, I’ve been in very fancy boutiques in New York, Rome and Paris where I had absolutely no intention of buying anything and still been treated as if I had potential.
Not so at Hermès, it seems, where apparently they’ve mastered the art of understated customer service. When the young man asked a saleswoman at the Hermès store if he could bring a friend by to look at the Birkin bag before he paid for it, she said she could hold it “for five minutes.” Asked if he could see one in the other colors the bag comes in, she replied that there was just the one bag in New York. And when the young man told the saleswoman he’d take it, she was, in his words, “zero excited.”
Yes, I’ll take your $12,000. But don’t think that buys my respect.
I’ll be the last person to criticize anyone for aspiring to own something. I’ve had my own aspirations, though on things far less costly than Birkin bags. I’ve also learned just how meaningless the subjects of my aspirations things are in the long run of things that matter in life.
Still, I always get a kick out of people who tell me, “Advertising and status don’t influence me,” and then go on to tell me about their fancy cars, clothing labels and electronics and how superior each is. Believe me, they didn’t buy them because of their durability and engineering.
But if I’ve learned anything, and I’ve been fortunate to meet people from many different walks of life, it’s that dreams are not a bad thing and that it’s the people who don’t have dreams or aspirations who are probably not worth spending much time with.
As for the young man with the Birkin bag, he told The New Yorker writer, “Don’t get me wrong. I do not think this is worth twelve thousand dollars. But I think [my boyfriend] understands that it was worth it to me.”

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