The virtues of slow time
Enjoying the wait instead of seeking speed brings new limitations, but also new standards and less dependency on the instantaneousness of “everything, now”.
LESS IMPULSIVENESS, MORE DESIRE…
The prevailing uncertainty in these troubled times is driving us to introspection and, necessarily, to biding our time. Long-distance travels are postponed, haute couture no longer walks the runway, and craftsmanship is being honed as it waits to show off its collections once more. The French are breaking records when it comes to saving money, falling back on their own territory, remaining expectant. It will be necessary to invent new destinations, appeal to desire, and fan the flames of longing for the understated yet exceptional; a meaningful, discreet kind of luxury; a desire to get away from it all while not going too far.
A “yes, but…” society is emerging: indecisive, paradoxical, contradictory, torn between a desire for grandeur and excess and the temptation to withdraw, make things at home and stay close. A continual back-and-forth between the grandiosity of the untouchable and the serenity of the little pleasures.
This new kind of luxury must forge new, more ephemeral paths in keeping with the expectations of our times, and draw the taste for its projects from its outbursts.
EXPECTATION AND IMAGINATION
“Creating distance, continually prolonging the moment: what if that were the meaning of luxury? The luxury of waiting, dreaming, imagining, fantasising”
Perhaps possession will no longer be enough. Desire will blossom once more because it necessarily creates distance. That distance, which we experience each day, is leaving a wake in our consciousness that will certainly remain for some time. Creating distance, continually prolonging the moment: what if that were the meaning of luxury? The luxury of waiting, dreaming, imagining, fantasising, and not that of possessing everything now. “I think therefore I consume?” No, from now on “I am therefore I wait.” I know how to wait, plan, imagine the future, and build a bridge between my intention and the object. In order for luxury to become a luxury once more: elitist in the sense of limited; motivated by meaning, beauty and implication. It takes time to produce these unique objects and to contemplate untouched destinations. The time to seek, imagine, understand, experiment and test… And this time is the only source of value. Luxury is not just a monetary notion: it is not exclusively measured by price, but by its rarity and the emotion that it inspires.
And what greater emotion is there than hoped-for contentment? The joy of waiting and the pleasure of enjoying an extraordinary experience, not just consuming and discarding. Rather, fully living and taking part for the duration of one’s time, one’s history.
“And what if space was the real luxury?” asked a 1998 automobile advertisement. Twenty years later, the luxury of time joins in: time as a space between objects, desires, satisfactions, stretching into a perpetual wait. It takes time to appreciate, time to know, time to evaluate, understand and consider.
For brands, taking time also means allowing collections to ripen, reinforcing them with long-term reflection, and becoming part of a more global determination to bring a stronger resonance to identity. Contending with the major ready-to-wear brands, producing two or four collections per year and then counting on sales: that is an outdated model. Just as outdated is the concept of quickly clearing lines to target “zero stock”, continual renewal – next!
“Slowing down time is already underway in luxury boutiques, and the movement might – and should – expand.”
Luxury boutiques are cocoons: little universes to withdraw into, little retreats from the world. Entering one is accessing a different time frame, an enchanted hiatus of softness, attention, beauty and an eye for detail. Where each little intention reveals another one, like the folds of origami that slowly unfurl to reveal the essential at its heart.
In these capsules of luxury, time slows down, and we wait with it. Customers do not just purchase a product: they seek an experience, a little break, a way to disconnect.
Slowing down time is already underway in luxury boutiques, and the movement might – and should – expand. Because people are returning to boutiques. Even though the digital marketplace is important and relevant, the human presence will remain the greatest degree of luxury. A living presence in the service of the client. Perhaps there will be an increase in planned visits, where the customer makes an appointment to be received as a guest… Or better yet, as the only guest. In the discount corner are automation and artificial intelligence; in the exceptional corner are the last remaining humans and silence…
It also takes time to forge a brand, to make it part of the collective imagination, to shade it with nuance, to layer it with complexity. A brand is not an improvisation: it is born from intuition, often a vision; but it remains through intention and sincerity. Permanence is a matter of stability and of building relationships with clients. And it is well known that authentic relationships take time.
Glorifying slow time is therefore a model of virtue. Since it is the only way to attain concentration, to get back to ourselves in the sense that we choose a brand and appreciate it for the message that it expresses and how it resonates with us. “You don’t choose a brand by accident: you have to support it, determine its approach and share its values,” explains Jérôme Hue, chairman of the Omedia agency.
TAKING TIME IS A VIRTUE
No obligation, no rush. A Hermès store in Shanghai invites clients to take a seat in a small reception room with a private changing area as they make their selection, or to sip a glass of champagne at the bar from a flute from Cristalleries Saint-Louis, a brand of the same group. Inviting clients to take their time: what could be more admirable?
“Digital technology must be used to prepare the experience, to initiate it. Providing the keys to the brand’s imaginary realm, its dream time, its temporal dimension.”
So what about digital technology? It must be used to prepare the experience, to initiate it. Providing the keys to the brand’s imaginary realm, its dream time, its temporal dimension. So that customers can project themselves, imagining the purchase. And, after the purchase, allowing them to perhaps buy the same thing again, have it delivered, and not worry about logistics. The digital path is a sensory one, a slow stroll offering an immersion in the universe of a brand, where customers ascertain their own expectations and imagine themselves in the setting.
At the dawn of this new era, luxury remains a capsule of serenity protected from the contingencies of time. Finally free from the imperative of speed. Moving slowly, surely and soundly!
Luxury is indeed a unique, precious area of inventiveness. No need to overdo it: a little place for privilege is sufficiently exceptional. But to access it requires the respect of codes: carrying forward a promise of uniqueness and, from now on, purpose. No more futile, ostentatious, “bling” luxury, reserved to a caste that displays its wealth on social networks, indecently exhibiting their materialism. That kind of luxury is now obsolete. It takes elegance – which strikes a pause as much as a pose – that surpasses the contingencies of exhibitionism. Being without showing; striding without flaunting; asserting without saturating.
The most sought-out destinations are no longer necessarily the farthest-flung: these are not the most favourable for escape and tranquillity. “Luxury, calm and pleasure”, as the poet put it: and those words have never rung so true as they do now, in refusal of the demand for immediacy.
“The emerging luxury carries the virtues of purpose and observation of the world. (…) The reign of urgency and rapidity is dead: long live the present moment.”
The emerging luxury carries forth the virtues of purpose and observation of the world. Contemplation – that suspended moment when we examine others and our surroundings through our own eyes, without judgement, with mindfulness – contributes to the same undertaking. The reign of urgency and rapidity is dead: long live the present moment.
Surpassing time limitations as well as spatial ones. And what if space was the real luxury? Perhaps it is, in the end: space in the literal sense, with orbits around the Earth and, maybe someday, trips to Mars. Breaking time down – bending it to one’s own measurement and one’s own pace, and eventually escaping it to experience an exceptional moment – is reserved to a handful of human beings.
Slowing time down is a dream that is becoming a reality with the release from the Earth’s gravity, because in space, minutes actually do tick by more slowly. Are Elon Musk and Richard Bronson visionaries of luxury tourism? Some professionals, in any case, appear to be converging towards this possibility: the Earth viewed from above, the ultimate contemplation of the infinitely vast, the ephemeral vision of eternal luxury.
But will we be wise enough to surrender to it, converting brave words into actions? Will luxury brands manage to combine a sustainable, ecological vision and an attachment to slow time with the drive for instant satisfaction? Is this transformation to slow time already taking place, or are we simply in the throes of an egotistical volte-face to deal with an emergency? To protect the future of the planet, get the younger generations involved, and bring a virtuous approach to luxury will necessarily require a collective awakening on a large scale. For each of us to do our part, however small, in striving towards this new era.