James B. Twitchell: Luxury spending and the Voice of the American People

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Well, okay, so Marie Antoinette never said, “Let them eat cake.” When Rousseau wrote those words, Marie was just 11 years old and living in Austria. But Americans used to like the story that, when the French queen was told by an official that the people were angry because they had no bread, she responded, “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.” We liked to imagine her saying it with a snarl and a curled lip. She was a luxury bimbo whose ­out-­of-­control spending grated on the poor and unfortunate French people. We fought a revolution to separate ourselves from exactly that kind of uppercrustiness. She got her just “­desserts.”


But that was 200 years ago. Now cake is one of our favorite foods, part of the fifth food group, totally unnecessary luxury consumption. We’re not talking about a few crumbs, but the real stuff. Brioche by the loaf. Not for nothing has Marie become a favorite subject for current infotainment. Novelists, historians, biographers, and even hip young filmmaker Sofia Coppola are telling her story, not because we want her reviled but because we want to be like ­her.

And we’re doing a pretty good job. Luxury spending in the United States has been growing more than four times as fast as overall spending, and the rest of the West is not far behind. You might think that modern wannabe Maries are grayhairs with poodles. Not so. This spending is being done by younger and younger consumers. Take a walk up Fifth Avenue, and then, at 58th, cross over and continue up Madison. You’ll see who is swarming through the stores with names we all recognize: Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, Dior, Coach. . . . Or cruise Worth Avenue or Rodeo Drive, and you’ll see the same furious down-marketing and up-crusting. This is the Twinkiefication of ­deluxe.

Read it all.



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Posted August 29, 2007 at 12:39 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]
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