Why post-opulence defines post-pandemic luxury
As the global pandemic lockdown begins to ease off, a favourite local independent café has tentatively reopened its doors for takeaway beverages and snacks. We take our place in the orderly socially distanced line, eagerly anticipating sipping macchiatos, brewed expertly by the barista using the house dark roast natural coffee beans. A few of the usual punters are also in line. These are people whom we only know by sight and often see in the café, like us, buried in a book or busy typing away on their laptops. We nod at one another and soon a conversation springs up. They are animated and excited; some have swapped their lockdown dress code of sweatpants and t-shirts for something a little smarter. If having a barista brew a macchiato represents indulgence in the mid-pandemic era, what will luxury look like post-pandemic?
‘Absolutely, the little things we’ve taken for granted have become the rarities and the luxuries,’ Alex Innes tells me that afternoon over Zoom when I describe the coffee scene. ‘The trend was already shifting but still, this coronavirus has been a real drive for change. So much that we took for granted is now out of our direct reach.’ As head of Coachbuild at Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, Innes works at the very pinnacle of luxury. Here, very special clients, or patrons as the company refers to customers, work intimately with Innes and his craft and creative team to personalise their Rolls-Royces. Some get to create their own unique custom-built products.
Innes calls the new mode post-opulence. ‘In my role, I’m afforded quite a lot of direct access to our clients – hearing first-hand their perception of how things are moving. In the luxury sphere there has been a move towards reduction,’ he continues. ‘Our patrons largely want fewer things but better things.’ At Coachbuild, clients are directly involved with the product from the very start. ‘Theirs is a meaningful connection to Rolls-Royce,’ says Innes. ‘Ours is a business of scope not scale and if anything, this trend is bringing that element into focus.’ He talks of premium mediocrity – a term often used in fashion when the value of an object is defined more by the brand than the substance. ‘Rolls-Royce,’ he notes, ‘is the antithesis of this. We take the substance more seriously than the brand that it carries. This is what we mean by post-opulence.’
My next conversation is with Dickie Bannenberg, one half of Bannenberg & Rowell, among the world’s most respected yacht design studios. The team have just announced Estrade, a 43-meter motor yacht imagined for the post-indulgent, post-pandemic world. The Estrade, he says is ‘created for the soul, for relaxed and healthy living and with spaces to change the pace and enjoy life’. He says the vessel is the very reverse of the 100-metre-plus yacht scene – yachts docked away in commercial harbours since they are too bulky to enter pretty harbours.
His father Jon Bannenberg, the pioneer of modern yacht design, is often quoted as saying ‘nobody needs a yacht’, but of course, idly sailing in the seas is possibly the most heightened expression of luxury. Furthermore, for many of us, the global pandemic has highlighted the importance of time with a stronger focus on the minutes and moments of life, of nature, of the changing seasons. Is time the essence of luxury, I ask the yacht designer?
‘You could argue the toss as to whether time is the new luxury, or privacy is the new luxury,’ he offers. ‘Other chroniclers of luxury observe that there is an accelerating move from exclusive to inclusive luxury. Or that luxury will become much more casual. That’s four uses of the word luxury so far for which I would have been thrown down the stairs by my father! Timelessness will always be valid though.’ On the subject of post-opulence, I’m interested to find out if such a concept applies to Bannenberg & Rowell’s exclusive global clientele. He replies: ‘I don’t think the zeitgeist in my time has ever been more aligned against obvious hedonism.’ I think most people would echo this sentiment. Nargess Banks
Images: The Phantom Rose inspires interior details © Rolls-Royce; Estrade is the latest motor yacht by © Bannenberg & Rowell; Workers hand-build cars © Rolls-Royce. See more articles on the wider world of creativity here.