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Although we have yet to undertake a formal taxonomy of bad press releases, here at Hyperallergic we have discerned different kinds: there are the bad press releases that contain claims so exaggerated they make you question reality; there are those whose words are thrown together in an unpalatable salad; and then there are the ones that aren’t so much badly written as written for bad reasons — like, say, a half-day museum program organized to consider “the present and future of luxury crafts.”

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: “Luxury in Today’s Society: Between Excellence and Excess.”

Hosted by the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD), the institution that produced a luxury boutique exhibition about perfume, the “Luxury in Today’s Society” symposium will bring together “luxury brand CEOs and international academics” — partners in crime if ever I knew! — to discuss luxury. To wit:

Both celebrated and controversial throughout history, luxury goods have simultaneously acted as personal keepsakes, cultural artifacts collected by museums, and symbols of privilege. Often examples of the highest skill and craftsmanship possible, these items have supported the development of new possibilities, but also raise questions of society’s attitude towards success, wealth, leadership and progress. The luxury business has been transformed by two decades of rapid growth, and by the technological change, globalization and economic winds that have swept across society. So what does luxury – that most alluring and emotional of product categories – look like today? How are the public’s expectations and understanding of it changing? How are luxury brands responding?

Are you feeling concerned about the state of the luxury goods market yet? Do you ever lie awake at night wondering what might happen to luxury if capitalism imploded and there were no more wealthy people? Luxury, a woman’s best friend. Luxury, who’ll stay by your side (literally) through thick and thin (unless stolen).

The press release continues:

Indeed, many forces are putting pressure on luxury to find new forms of expression and value. … Whether it chooses to or not, luxury plays an important role as an embodiment of what people consider worth striving towards, which is both evolving and fragmenting as people increasingly pursue their own definitions of success. This undermines luxury brands’ ability to hold themselves up as a universal target of aspiration. And it means looking beyond business and marketing practice to understand the sociological context within which luxury must maintain its relevance.

You know, I have to admit, I’ve never quite been able to imagine a world in which luxury was irrelevant. But that’s probably a failure of imagination on my part.

This probably makes me an ideal candidate to attend “Luxury in Today’s Society: Between Excellence and Excess,” which is being co-hosted by La Fondazione NY, an organization that promotes cultural exchange between Italy and the US. A natural fit, you may say, as Italy is known as a home for luxury brands and houses. It’s also the birthplace of the Mafia. And maybe, on second thought, rather than attend an absurd “academic” conference where CEOs pimp their own products, we’d all do better to stay home and read up on the discomfiting connection between the two. I highly recommend Roberto Saviano’s Gomorrah, a chilling book that will make you think twice about what you buy and where.

Worst.Press.Release.Ever is a sometime feature on Hyperallergic.

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Jillian Steinhauer

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art...

14 replies on “Worst.Press.Release.Ever: Luxury”

  1. Just a look at the NYT’s sunday magazine ad’s is a mind boggling experience of excess. Their ‘Style’ issues feel like a major ‘f**k you’ to the commoners who don’t earn in a year what one stylishly destroyed outfit costs.

    1. Agreed. The idea that luxury is at all threatened when we are blitzed by it in magazines and pop-up ads constantly is ludicrous. Frankly I would love to see it “threatened.” I haven’t been following the MAD’s programming, but I hope this symposium is the extreme minority in a line-up that mostly focuses on design for social betterment.

  2. I love how they leave the academics unidentified. Not sure I would want my name to appear publicly on this thing, either.

  3. Funny, and I read this and thought it would be an interesting thing to attend! I work in the industry, certainly not the “luxury” one, but I find what we buy and why pretty fascinating if rather disgusting at times. I write business oriented “think” pieces and I thought one that considers the role of luxury in light of a changing economy might be fair game. That said, I totally understand your reaction as well. It’s probably the more…ethical one.

    1. I actually totally understand. I think there’s probably a way to do this that’s smart and useful, and of course, if you want to study the economy, you should study the luxury goods world/market. But I think having brand CEOs present on panels sort of kills a symposium/program’s potential to do deep critical thinking. And the language of the press release just makes it sound absurd to me. I don’t think luxury, as a topic, is unworthy, but this one made my skin crawl.

      1. Fair enough, if I do go I shall be sure to report back on if it was critical or just promotional whitewashing. It’s a shame it’s three hours AND on a Sat. I certainly expect them to have food, drinks and gift bags.

        1. Alissa, Jillian, The comments by k i m and Severine7 are a testament to the issue of relevance raised in the press release. That and that you don’t trust CEO’s to do anything but promote their own products. But what use and how ethical is an academic discussion about the values of an industry that doesn’t include members of that industry? The unfawning attitude to luxury is made clear in the title (not to mention the image). Have you looked up the brands invited, their approaches, seen what they have in common and given a thought about why it was these brands and not others? The whole knee-jerk cynicism of your reaction demonstrates precisely the reason a discussion about luxury is worthwhile. So why not listen to it before dismissing it as absurd? But come for the topic. Not just to mooch free cookies. I’ll be speaking and I’d love to meet you.

          1. The realization that corporations–and by extension their CEOs–likely have more power over our lives than do our governments is not a knee-jerk reaction. A healthy dose of skepticism toward this event, esp given the press release is, well, healthy.

    2. Alissa, Jillian, The comments by k i m and Severine7 are a testament to the issue of relevance raised in the press release. That and that you don’t trust CEO’s to do anything but promote their own products. But of what use and how ethical is an academic discussion about the values of an industry that doesn’t include members of that industry? The unfawning attitude to luxury is made clear in the title (not to mention the image). Have you looked up the brands invited, their approaches, seen what they have in common and given a thought to why it was these brands and not others? The whole knee-jerk cynicism of your reaction is precisely the reason a discussion about luxury is worthwhile. So why not listen to it before dismissing it as absurd? But come for the topic. Not just to mooch free cookies. I’ll be speaking and I’d love to meet you.

  4. I think this is exactly the kind of program a museum concerned with consumerism at the intersection of design and craftsmanship should be presenting. I wonder whether, if the term “luxury” had been replaced by “finely crafted goods,” you would have reacted to the release in the same way? To me, “luxury” does not automatically imply wealth or excess. In my life, the term represents something beautiful or talismanic that I choose to consume because I am struck by its beauty or identify with its perceived creator. “Luxury” does not have to mean “logo,” or “unethical,” or any of the usual negative terms it’s saddled with. Wish I could be at this program. (Full disclosure: I worked at MAD for many years, and have a continuing interest in what happens there.)

  5. I believe it is necessary for a museum focused art, CRAFT, and DESIGN to query our relationship to luxury as consumers, as producers, and as individuals who form part of a larger sociological engagement with goods and services and experiences — the varied ways of engaging luxury. What is luxury for one person is not luxury for another. If there is a balance of perspectives in the conversation something truly useful can result. Owning handcrafted items (e.g. shoes, spirits, furniture with their corresponding luxury price tags) is important for those who want to support traditional ways of making that have since become mass-produced. The danger is giving a platform to brands to sell themselves to the museum audience without giving more space for audiences to critically examine the meaning of luxury and how by “buying in” they function as part of a system, and to undertand whether these are indeed the systems of luxury they want to support.

  6. Misha, Judy and Michelle. Good points all around. There’s something to be said for excellence of form, function and craft as a tonic for excess and mindless consumerism.

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