Category Archive 'Materialism'

05 Sep 2014

Attacked and Eaten by a $4000 Jacket in Tribeca

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It happens. You walk into Griffin & Howe (or the real Abercrombie & Fitch decades ago) without the slightest intention of buying anything, and you wind up leaving with some English shotgun or Payne fly rod you couldn’t possibly afford, but which has suddenly become a cherished and essential component of your personal existence on the planet.

Women’s clothes work on women, we all understand, the same way best grade London shotguns work on men. Mary H. K. Choi, in New York magazine, delivers a quite amusing account of how it happened that an impecunious struggling writer (herself) wandered into a posh designer boutique and wound up buying a $4000 leather coat. (My God! woman, you can get a pretty decent grouse gun for that kind of money.)

I have no idea what possessed me to walk into the Rick Owens store. To call this flagship a store is hysterical. It’s a miniature fortress of solitude constrained by New York proportions that shrewdly offsets the stark, jagged cave-witch clothes inside. To the uninitiated, it’s uninviting and faintly hospital-ish. Entering is akin to arriving at the cafeteria of a new high school, where said high school is populated entirely by clones of Rihanna. It’s terrifying. You worry you might wet yourself a little.

The mystique of the store has mostly to do with the designer. Rick Owens is a tall, sinewy man with a thin nose, Old World teeth, and fantastic hair. He resembles an Egon Schiele subject and lives in a five-story Parisian mansion with his muse and business partner, Michèle Lamy. (Lamy doubles as Owens’s much older, pygmy-size, polyamorous goth wife.) Together they make $800 shirts that look like lice-infested shrouds worn by medieval serfs.

Their coats appear rough-hewn, essentially untreated hides cut into fascinating shapes of seemingly extraterrestrial origin. The moment you throw one on, however, the weight falls into a mysterious, life-affirming silhouette. The black suede, fur-lined Rick Owens motorcycle jacket I selected made me feel thinner, taller, and infinitely more interesting. I looked as if I were in on a secret. The coat was the distillation of everything I’ve ever found seductive about not only living in New York but the prospect of belonging there, too. …

I dared myself to buy that coat and then dared that coat to rebuke me. I wanted to prove that I could visit the apex of cool-rich-people New York (as opposed to the tacky, evil, overwrought rich-people New York), buy a souvenir, and not turn into a hobo. I know native New Yorkers complain all the time about how anesthetized the City is now. Still, I’ve always found living in New York deeply scary. Without a trust fund or famous parent (and even then, sometimes you need both), the odds of success are ludicrous. It’s not just the fact that you don’t have any money. It’s that money no longer makes sense. This is the part that took me forever to figure out.

Read the whole thing, which is apparently an excerpt from the young lady’s “How-I-Came-to-My-Senses-an-Got-the-Hell-Out-of-NYC” memoir (published as a quite inexpensive eBook).

14 Feb 2010

Mark Helprin’s “Jacob Bayer and the Telephone”

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Mark Helprin

I was just reading Mark Helprin’s recent The Pacific and Other Stories, and came upon the marvellous Jacob Bayer and the Telephone (published originally in Forbes ASAP in October of 2000), a profoundly conservative critique of Modernism presented as a fable set in the turn of the last century Jewish Pale of Settlement in White Russia.

“It will bring peace and assure prosperity. In an era of instant communication, no longer will countries go to war. It cannot but revolutionize all our affairs for the better, as we have begun to witness. The citizens of Koidanyev are not philosophers or theologians. They have not chosen to go on the road, like you, to chase dreams. They simply want to live their lives in peace, and, because of the telephone, they look forward to this century, which will be the greatest century of mankind. We in Koidanyev do not wish to be left out. Is that a sin?”

“Yes,” said Jacob Bayer, “it is a sin. Ceaseless, feverish, desperate activity for fear of not having what someone else has, is a sin. Pride in one’s creations is a sin. The conviction that one has mastered the elements of the universe, or soon will, is a sin. Why? They are sins because they are a turning away from what is true. Your span here is less than the brief flash of a spark, and if, after multiplying all you do by that infinitesimal fraction, you still do not understand the requirement of humility, your wishes and deeds will be monstrous, your affections corrupt, your love false.”

“What does this have to do with the telephone?” the simpleton asked again, painfully.

“The telephone,” said Jacob Bayer, “is a perfectly splendid little instrument, but by your unmetered, graceless enthusiasm you have made it a monument to vacuousness and neglect. Recall the passage: I, Kohelet, was King over Israel in Jerusalem. And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven….I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.”

Now came to Jacob Bayer, without his asking, the gift he had of seeing terrible things. He bowed his head, tears came to his eyes, and he said, in despair, “Koidanyev will be destroyed. The tall trees will be cut, the houses will burn, even the stones will be buried. And the souls that have chased the wind will be scattered by the wind.”

In the long silence that ensued, Jacob Bayer’s vision slowly glided away from the silent onlookers, like a thunderstorm that has cracked and boomed overhead and then flees on cool winds, its flashes and concussions fading gently.

“Nonsense!” cried Haskell Samoa, awakening the crowd and quickly turning them against the man they might have followed a moment before. “The Napoleonic Wars have been over for a century. The nightmare you describe has left the world forever, banished by the light of reason. Man can control his destiny, and this light will grow stronger. What could happen? I do not doubt that before us lie the most glorious years in history, and, in contrast to their coming wonders, you are a specter of the darkness and a reminder of the dreadful past. The commission has decided that you must leave and never return. You may stay the night, but in the morning you must go.”

“It won’t be the first time,” said Jacob Bayer.

“Are all the towns and all the people in the towns wrong? Can that be? Is it only you who knows the truth?”

“Rabbi,” said Jacob Bayer, “the truth sits over Koidanyev like the hot sun. It has nothing to do with me.”

08 Apr 2008

Conspicuous Consumption

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Slate reviews current cognacs, and discloses a pretty outrageous gambit by Hennessy to fleece the excessively affluent and vainglorious consumer. Flaunt your taste, Hennessy advises.

In 2007, a record 158 million bottles were sold worldwide, and the cognac houses are naturally rushing to cash in on the flush times, particularly at the high end. Hennessy recently introduced a new cognac, called Beauté du Siècle, whose specs are as over-the-top as its name: Only 100 bottles are being produced, the bottles are all made of Baccarat crystal, each one comes in an ornate mirrored chest apparently fashioned by a team of 10 artists, and the cognac is hand-delivered to buyers by members of the Hennessy board. The cost? $235,000 per bottle.

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