‘Some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It is not. It is the opposite of vulgarity.’

Coco Chanel

‘Manchester United?’ said Michael Jackson, after watching a football match with Mohamed Fayed at Fulham in 1999. ‘I don’t know them. How much are they?’

How do we define vulgarity?

‘Rich Indians are vulgar; big projects are creating neo-zamindars’ claims the India Tribune; ‘Two seemingly unconnected events point to our most urgent contemporary dilemma: how should the rich behave in a country of the poor? A week after Corporate Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid asked CEOs not to take “vulgar” salaries, Naxals beheaded police officer Francis Induvar in Jharkhand and around 200 Naxals attacked a police station in Gadchiroli. Four Indian CEOs recently made it to the Forbes list of 10 wealthiest CEOs in the world, yet almost half of India lives on less than a dollar a day.’

It is vulgar to show off, then, especially in delicate economic times or situations – remember the Loewe affair?

A Daily Mail article describes the vibe with interesting words: ‘Good taste — once something this country did reasonably well — has too often been swallowed up by crass monuments to bling that make a mockery of the Prime Minister’s now infamous sentiment that ‘we are all in this together’.’

Although the Mail is not exactly what I consider a serious newspaper, I liked the way the journalist talks about the new Hotel Bulgari – which he calls Hotel Vulgari – in London, and its guests, summarising the often paradoxical philosophy of the ultra-rich: ‘If an original Van Gogh were to come with a price-tag of £1.50, how many billionaires would still be interested in it?

In the same way, if a tin of sardines cost £750 and a tin of caviar 75p, which of these two dishes would billionaire diners be ordering for their starters at The Ritz?’

It’s all about the price tag, then. At least for the uncultured, often the price tells the truth: expensive good, no expensive no good.

Moreover, showing off seems to be the mega-rich’s favourite sport; from mega yachts to gold-plated cars, to be noticed is de rigueur.

The bottom line is, there are two main categories of rich people – among other types that are somehow difficult to label – as we stated elsewhere: Oligarchs and Patricians.
The former usually confuses outrageous with luxurious, the latter fears vulgarity but likes eccentricity, and always stops before reaching the Kim-Kardashian-over-the-top-Katie-Price-glow-in-the-dark-fake-tan-pink-Lamborghini critical point.

Now the difficult part: how to be eccentric without trespassing the line that divides taste and trash?
Even before fake tan was invented, the debate was on, and to tell the Dandy from the clown has never been easy; while David Niven looked cooler than cool in a white tuxedo, almost everybody else would look like a waiter.

3 case studies.

The sophisticated gentleman – Alfred Dunhill.
Alfred Dunhill is synonymous with class, and the new website proves the brand is very contemporary and forward-thinking, following the equation:

Luxury + craftsmanship + tech savvy attitude + a well-curated but discreet social media presence = WIN

Beautiful website aside, the brand’s YouTube channel features stunning videos, their Facebook page is image-driven and their Twitter account is almost purely functional to the other platforms. It could be said that their Achilles heel is the lack of content – lifestyle etc. – but they smartly opted for an App (dunhill DAY 8) which delivers it to the exigent customer.

(photo courtesy of Falcon Motorcycles)

The contemporary Dandy – Paul Smith.
“Quintessentially British” means, according to popular wisdom, Stephen Fry, Martin Parr, Paul Smith, and Paul Weller. And cupcakes.
Style, attitude, a certain eccentric aura, charisma and a witty cleverness – combined with traditional yet hip shoes – are what define the good old British coolness.

In a sentence, Paul Smith showed the world that a luxury brand can be funny, laid back and hip, comfortable everywhere, on the red carpet or at the Coaches & Horses in Soho.

If lifestyle and content are the pillars of a healthy online presence, then Sir Paul has everything under control: along with several lines of stylish clothes, the website offers interesting sections, such as Paul Smith World, Paul Smith Opinion, Paul Smith Blog and Paul Smith TV. There is no chance to get bored, with articles, videos and photos about cycling, art, shows, movie, music, and so on. One of my favourite posts explains ‘Why Philately Has So Many Fans’, for instance.

The result of a well-planned strategy can be seen on Facebook: Paul Smith’s page counts 250k fans, with 14k people “talking about this”. Good numbers. Not to mention Instagram, Twitter, and the rest, which are just as good.

The attention to new trends from the streets is also paramount: since the fixed-gear bike craze exploded a few years ago, Paul Smith – an avid cyclist himself – included related content everywhere, and eventually launched a line co-designed with Rapha, the stylish cyclist’s reference.

Result: 10 out of 10

(photo courtesy of Paul Smith’s Facebook page)


The Oligarch – Roberto Cavalli.
Please go back to Coco Chanel’s quote, at the top of the page. Thank you.

(photo courtesy of Harper’s Bazaar)


What do you think?

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