Several years ago I worked in the luxury brand industry, developing marketing campaigns for Johnnie Walker Blue and Gold Label. I went to a seminar on luxury marketing in London and got chatting to a Italian luxury shoe designer. We played a game to test his knowledge. He could tell the brand of shoe that every woman was wearing just from the quickest glance. He worked out that every single woman in that room was wearing a pair of shoes that would have cost over £300. Apart from me.
I started to think that for the next conference I would have to buy a pair of designer shoes so that I could fit in. I felt my heart sink. I didn’t want to spend that much on shoes. I didn’t care that much about them. I just wanted a pair of shoes that were comfortable and complemented my outfit. Nothing more.
I talked about this with the designer. He had the completely opposite view. He loved shoes. He took enormous joy in the craftsmanship and design. For him shoes were works of art and beauty. The materials used, the shape, the embellishment, the cut of the leather and sole – every detail had meaning for him.
For the designer and, I suspect, for many others in the room, buying a beautiful pair of shoes would have been a life enhancing pleasure, bringing a work of art into the everyday.
For me on the other hand, and also, I suspect, others in the room, buying those shoes would have come from a sense of need or lack, of not feeling good enough, of having to do something in order to feel comfortable and accepted.
I think it matters a great deal why we are buying something.
Do you think if I had bought a pair of Manolo Blahniks and worn them to the next conference, I would have felt accepted? Of course not. It would have then been the handbag, the coat, the dress, the way I talked.
The designer didn’t need to buy anything to be part of that world. It was his world. He was at the centre, thinking, designing, creating and not worrying for one second about what people thought of him. He could have arrived in flip flops and probably before long others would have done the same.
When we are at ease in ourselves, we live in a state freedom. We can choose to bring things into our world that add to the beauty and wealth of our existence. When we are unsure and looking to the outside for validation, we seek refuge in buying the ‘right’ products, doing the ‘right’ thing and using brand names to prop us up.
It matters why we buy.