I was just looking through your latest Wall Street Journal magazine – the Men’s style issue with Tom Brady on the cover – and was enjoying it immensely, as I have all of them. It may be your best, or maybe just close, but my reaction was different this time. I see it as expressing something more than what luxury catalogs are intended to do, which is to sell expensive products. But it’s not that simple any more.
We’re in a war of culture today in America, with, thankfully, very little bloodshed. So far. It has struck me that the WSJ catalog is symbolic of that war, even a standard bearer. Today, the concept of luxury itself is under attack. The latest issue of the catalog lasers in on the conflict brilliantly.
The content itself is an ethical challenge. With so much economic inequality perceived today, the very existence of these luxury items can be considered unethical. Granted, the content of the issue is not something you could design by yourself; it depends on the list of advertisers who have these items to sell. Well, they got their money’s worth!
What you convey to the reader is more than the simple product. You are selling the experience of having it, using it and, above all, enjoying the very lifestyle that values that experience. And without apology. Page after page washes the reader in style and beauty, and at such an uncommon level! Your presentation of these products – from Armani, Dior, Minotti, Tiffany and many others – shows a consistency that can only come from a single artistic vision. Every one of the ads is based on the assumption that the reader knows these items are very expensive, but that buying them will offer them something that is rare: the satisfaction that their wealth is vindication of a lifetime pursuing quality, beauty, comfort and refinement.
To really enjoy that level of beauty today, and show it in public, is much more controversial than it used to be. The ostentatious display of what has been called “obscene wealth” has become a political statement. Like it or not, Kristina, it will be seen that way.
In addition, the catalog shows that, for the reader, the act of discovering the product is a separate, but corollary experience. There is pleasure in that, as you well know. The size of each ad, its placement on the page, the variety and intensity of the colors, the very weight of the paper as you turn the page, they are the result of a unified sensibility cultivated over many years.
But that kind of pleasure is being threatened now. The commercial justification for such a catalog is shrinking daily. There are ads for the same products on the internet. The same potential buyers – the wealthy elite – see them every day, and may order them in minutes. Those ads may be unspeakably ugly compared to your catalog, but the costs win the argument. The very elements you take pride in cost too much money, and, worse, lose time that could squeeze the competition.
I’m a film critic, Kristina, and I see an analogy with the convulsions in the film industry. What all superior films have in common is that they were made by artists who designed them to be seen in an open theatre, surrounded by the public, with wide-screen visuals and top-level sound. Today, however, filmmakers know that the future is in streaming their films into your private home. As with the sumptuous luxury catalog, in all its sensuous splendor, the industry may not continue to support that level of quality.
But I see you as a serious defender of it. I want you to know how much I appreciate that, even though I, unfortunately, am not one of your intended consumers.
P.S. to my readers. I realize this blog is meaningless to you if you haven’t read the catalog. I advise you to do so, preferably with a thrilling music background. Might I suggest “Brazil”?