The poor will always be with us, sure. But in times of economic uncertainty, it is a relief to know that plenty of rich people linger in the midst, too. It is especially gratifying to see evidence of the silly rich, the filthy kind, with their jets and diamonds, their $400 facials and $1,000 sandals. When times are tough, it is soothing to know there are still plenty of people living high on the hog. Like all of those creamy Fred and Ginger films during the Great Depression, we thrive on the knowledge that pockets of luxury persist with reckless, decadent abandon. We need the rich: to ogle and envy, to resent and aspire to. Their conspicuous consumption is essential to the natural order of things.
In a time when luxury spending has been curtailed (or it has at least become more discreet, with more money spent on home interiors than on travel and apparel), it is reassuring to learn of a new poll that predicts a considerable increase in luxury spending in 2010. The "Survey of Affluence and Wealth in America"—an online study of 1,900 affluent households by American Express Publishing and Harrison Group—finds that an interest “in luxury is trending up.” More pointedly, wealthy people have reported feeling happier lately, in part because many have realised that they can comfortably live on less, and that it isn’t so bad to spend more time with their families. "It's because they didn't know they could survive something this bad," said Jim Taylor, Harrison Group's vice chairman to the Luxury Marketing Council of New York on Wednesday. "Happiness is now the abiding object of affluent American life, not success," he said. "They're really happy with their ability to operate under pressure."
So all of this is good news, both for humanity and luxury retailers. In a similar vein, it was weirdly fortifying to learn what doting dog owners can buy for their pooches at the Neue Galerie, a beautiful little museum on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. In a recent e-mail, the gallery’s staff reminded fans of its collection of early 20th-century German and Austrian art—all those Klimts and Schieles—that its lovely shop of tasteful goods with surprisingly expensive prices has a proper "hund" section. This is where shoppers can buy something described as a Bohemian Glass Bead Evening Collar (priced at $2,400, pictured) for when Fifi is going out for a night on the town (putting on the dog, as they say). There is also something called a “Doggie Weekender” Kit ($795), "a compact, elegant ensemble of unique products all created to keep your dog healthy and happy," all in a rather nice hand-stitched pebbled calfskin travel case.
Earlier this year The Economist published an excellent article on the complicated economics of the so-called American Dream. It posited that unlike people in other rich countries, "Americans tend to accept relatively high levels of income inequality because they believe they may move up over time". (The article then clarified that while America does offer opportunity, it's not nearly as much as its citizens believe.) So it's hard to begrudge the wealthy canine lovers spending thousands of dollars on antique beaded doggie collars. They reveal the inspiring potential to splurge in wonderfully ridiculous ways.
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