Saturday, 1 December 2012
Tuesday, 31 July 2012
Here it is.
Anything else? Well, let’s think. We have all these ingredients here on this side of the table, and yet we don’t have a Tarte Normande, there must be something we’re missing…
Here is what we’re missing. A recipe.
The recipe is the knowledge. Funnily enough, it includes the list of ingredients itself. It isn’t a physical object, and yet it is a magic ingredient that turns a couple of dollars’ worth of goods into twenty dollars’ worth of dessert. If you really apply a lot of knowledge, people will travel miles and spend even more of their own wealth just to eat your Tarte Normande. So that, in all senses, you could truly say that the recipe is the magic ingredient that turns 1 and 1 into 3.
All right, now, we can all go on Google or Wikipedia and search for the recipe, and it’ll be delivered to us. What’s more, it’ll be delivered to us free of charge.
Why is that? Why is it that this magic ingredient called knowledge that turns two dollars’ worth of stuff into twenty dollars’ worth of better stuff is free?
That’s because knowledge has yet another magic property to it, which is that it is infinitely multipliable. Let’s go back to our ingredients, and take, say, the apples. Here is my apple, and here is your apple. If I give you my apple and you give me your apple, we will each still have an apple. But with our magic ingredient, if I give you my recipe and you give me your recipe, we will each have two recipes!
So, not only is this an ingredient that magically turns 1 and 1 into 3, but it can do it infinitely many times over, without losing any of its power to the original owner of the ingredient, who can still turn his apples and sugar and flour into a delicious Tarte Normande.
In other words, with knowledge – our magic ingredient - new wealth is created. With knowledge, you no longer have to take wealth from someone else if you want more of it for yourself. You can just make it instead.
The moment of realisation of this simple fact changes everything. And it did indeed change everything when humanity first realised it. Among other things, it led to the birth of luxury, as we’ll see later on. First, let’s look at how this happened.
Today, we can go to Google or Wikipedia, look up any information and find it in a mattter of seconds. This wasn’t always the case. It used to be that information was stored in books, which were written by hand, by monks. They took a long time to make and were very expensive. Turning knowledge into a physical thing, a book, meant that replicating knowledge involved replicating a thing, which constrained its level of multipliability. In this environment, knowledge wasn’t infinitely multipliable, because the vehicle, the thing it used to exist on was expensive to make. Most humans didn’t even know how to read, and didn’t have access to the vehicles of information, because they were expensive things to own and access. In other words, the barrier to entry was just too high.
The big change occurred, of course, when Gutenberg developed the printing press, thereby drastically reducing the cost of storing and multiplying knowledge. Now, the barrier to entry was lowered, and knowledge could flow increasingly free from physical constraints. It became the key catalyst for the great societal change, which took us from the mercantilist age to the industrialist age.
During the mercantilist age, wealth was still defined in a context where 1 + 1= 2. If you wanted more wealth, you had to confiscate it from someone else. The biggest players were those who were more adept at confiscating things under the threat of violence: states. Acquisition of wealth via war and oppression of vast populations through conquest was the name of the game for states and their rulers.
During the industrialist age, wealth was created through the application of knowledge, in a context therefore defined as 1 + 1 = 3. If you wanted more wealth, you could now create it, applying more knowledge to the art of making things. The biggest players were those who were more adept at creating things. Creation of wealth via industrialisation and marketing to vast populations through mass communication was the name of the game for companies and entrepreneurs.
Now then, why did this lead to the birth of luxury?
Well, it’s a numbers game, really. Prior to industrialisation, there were craftsmen applying their knowledge to the creation of goods for kings and aristocrats. The number of bourgeois who could afford their services was very little.
Notice how, in France, a century made a lot of difference in the number of bourgeois and the power they yielded over the societal interaction system. In 1673, the most popular theatre play in town was a comedy called “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme” by Molière, poking fun at the ridiculous bourgeois, “pour le divertissement du Roy” as it so happily announces on its opening pages. One century later, it was the bourgeois who had a laugh at the king’s expense in France.
So, two points on this evolution:
1. It was the rise in the number of bourgeois during the industrialist age, that led to a market big enough to enable craftsmen to establish themselves as respectable institutions i.e. luxury brands in their own right, rather than as mere suppliers to a single wealthy person (a market too small to generate the profit required for capital augmentation).
2. It was the increase in the application of knowledge to the art of making things – which industrialisation brought about - which enabled them to do it cost effectively.
Regarding the first point, notice how, in the UK, the act of supplying a single member of the royal family continued to lend credibility to the knowledge-augmented craftsmen. The UK was a nation much more open to trade within the existing system of royalty and aristocracy. Hence, the key message in British luxury brands remains, to this day, about “serving the best”, expressed in the royal warrants which form a key part of their brand identities. In France, by contrast, the bourgeois having replaced and become the new kings and aristocrats, the message is oriented not so much towards serving the best, but being the best.
This is most noticeable in the way British luxury brands have a culture of service and friendly advice at the heart of their brand communications, and a very open and welcoming attitude as you walk into their stores. In France, by contrast, the first message as you walk into their stores is that the brand is better than you and that you should aspire to be worthy of the staff’s attention. Serving vs. Being.
Regarding the second point, it becomes clear that it was industrialisation - in other words knowledge-augmented craftsmanship - that made possible the actual production of luxury goods at a price which the growing middle classes was able and happy to pay.
Now, when 1 + 1 = 3, something interesting starts to happen to the economic output of society. Or, rather, something interesting starts to happen when this extra output (the 1 extra) is re-input into the economic equation: the line showing the increase in output stops being linear, and starts being exponential. This is shown in the following graphic. Exponential growth is what our favourite inventor and design scientist, R. Buckminster Fuller, termed “ephemeralization”: doing more and more with less and less, until you get to do almost everything with almost nothing.
The best example of ephemeralization covering the historic period that spanned the impact of Gutenberg’s printing press, is the one often given by Bucky himself: in 1520, it took Magellan two years to sail around the planet in a sailing ship. Three centuries later it took a steamship two months to do the same. One century later a plane took 2 weeks to fly around the planet. Half a century later a space capsule could do the job in under an hour.
Not only can we do more with less, the rate of doing-more-with-less-ness is increasing. In other words, there is an acceleration taking place.
Nowhere is this acceleration more obvious than in the knowledge applied to the art of spreading knowledge itself: information technology. The exponential curve displayed in this sector since the ‘70s – often referred to as Moore’s Law - is simply phenomenal: every two years, double the power at half the cost.
The importance of this phenomenon, although discussed rather often, can not be overstated. We have argued earlier that the introduction of knowledge into the system is the reason why we moved from a mercantilist age to an industrialist age, in which knowledge augmented output: 1 + 1 = 3.
Today, the complete freeflow of this knowledge - through the acceleration occurring in the technological vehicle carrying it - and its output’s subsequent reintroduction into the equation (ephemeralization) will not just mean that 1 + 1 = 3, but 9, and then 27, and then 81, … Welcome to the technologist age.
Just as the industrialist age gave birth to luxury, via the development of knowledge-augmented craftsmanship, so the technologist age gives birth to an entirely new category of luxury, which I will call “technoluxe”.
One great example of technoluxe is the new McLaren supercar, released just under a year ago now… This, for two reasons:
1. The first McLaren, the F1, was priced around £1.2 million in the early ‘90s. The MP4 12C, released last year, is a superior car in every possible way and is priced at a tenth of this figure.
2. The technology used in the McLaren MP4 12C ensures the car is not replicable without it. It not only takes the car into the technological age, but it has, since the car’s release last year, already been subject to improvements of a similar nature to the kind of upgrade in technology consumers experience in the software sector. In essence, you could call this upgrade the MP4 12C v.1.2. Upgrades in technology will continue to improve the car at a steadily increasing pace, in much the same way that, say, tablet computers keep being released, each one outdoing the performance of the last one.
Just as the original luxury sector relied on an industry-fuelled increase in the number of bourgeois across Europe (an increase most noticeable in the most industrial nations of the time, France and the UK), so the technoluxe sector will rely on a technology-fuelled increase in the number of bourgeois across the planet, which has already happened in emerging economies from Asia to Latin America to some parts of Africa.
The enormous expansion of wealth - which is created when 1 + 1 = 9, 27, 81, etc. - will be most noticeable in emerging economies, which will eventually take over much of the power of global societal interaction, much in the way the industrially empowered bourgeois took over societal interaction in the UK and France.
It is in those economies that you will not only see the biggest growth in technoluxe consumption, but also in technoluxe production. In the technologist age, new technoluxe brands will be born in exactly those countries that were least developed during the industrialist age. We will see Chinese, Latin American and African luxury brands raising the bar and redefining the playing field.
The word luxury’s etymological root is in the Latin word “lux”, meaning “light”. It is no coincidence that the luxury sector was born in an age sometimes referred to as the “Enlightenment”.
Over the coming century, it is clear that many aspects of humanity left untouched by the industrial age of enlightenment will not be left untouched by technology. Technology will ignite a new period of enlightenment. In this context, technoluxe can be defined as luxury evolving into its true, original and etymological purpose: an enlightened life.
Tuesday, 19 June 2012
A culture of creation
The youngest son, Tonino, grew up in this environment and became a race driver. He won a few prizes on motorbikes that were increasingly improved upon by his brothers, until one day, 10 years after the company had first started, it occurred to them that, since they knew how to build every part of the motorbike themselves, they might as well start building their own bikes, under their own name. Tonino rode Benelli bikes and became a national hero, while the company went on to become one of Italy's classic 20th century brands.
The rationale was as follows: Moro is said to have been a big fan of American movies, and he was aware that America projected - through the movies of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, etc. - an image of freedom and liberty which Italians bought into when they bought a pair of Levi's denims or a packet of Marlboro cigarettes.
Every product in the world has an Italian version you can fall in love with. If you've ever watched car critics review an Alfa Romeo, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. Every other car may be analysed for its comparative advantages and faults, but when they come to review an Alfa Romeo, they just sigh, turn up the opera music on their car stereos and talk about how much they love the car.
That's not to say it wasn't successful. An entire generation of women will remember the films 'Jean de Florette' and 'Manon des Sources', which were effectively feature-length adverts for the Provence region of France. Since the 80s, there are entire regions of rural France that are populated with English bourgeoises who, having seen those films, seek to live the chic rustique lifestyle. Their kitchens are lined with copper pans, their dinner plates are padded with straw. French cuisine was, in the '80s, universally regarded as one of the very best.
Peruvian brands, made by Peruvian heroes
Friday, 8 June 2012
by Alexander Gallé
Sunday, 1 April 2012
Gallé design website for Fabergé, the iconic jewellery brand.
The new Fabergé website was designed to focus on good brand immersion and storytelling rather than bells and whistles. Fabergé is a brand with an incredible history, a rich iconographic tapestry rooted in Russian folk tales, 19th century royalty and artistocracy, impressionist art, modern art, ballet, all of which ended up being weaved into beautiful, elegant illustrations and photography, combined with a website design that was simple, structured and easy to understand. With this kind of imagery and story, there is no need for Flash animation or special effects, just deep research and authentic expression of brand values, combined with disciplined, simple and uncomplicated graphic design. It took us quite a while finding an illustrator who really got this balance of feminine grace and depth of iconography, but the result was certainly worth it, as the beauty of the jewels is complemented by their historic context. The new Fabergé website was a joy to design because it was a journey of discovery and deeper understanding of what authentic luxury is all about..
Monday, 26 March 2012
Gallé design website for Villa Feltrinelli, the wonderful hotel on the shores of Lake Garda, Italy.
Tuesday, 28 February 2012
2012 is the year of mobile. Of course, so was 2011, and 2010, and every year since the first internet enabled phones came on the market.
But 2012 is definitely more interesting for mobile, because of the mesh this particular medium – and I am calling it a new medium – is now able to lay over reality as we experience it.
We have all seen the way citizens around the planet used their mobile phones to film and upload footage at demonstrations throughout 2011. Looking at the resulting footage on YouTube, one might even be tempted to say the filming and uploading was the action: for every tiniest bit of police interaction, hundreds of citizen-journalists raised their mobile phones to record the event.The next step in mobile interaction is, I believe, very much the other way round: rather than sending out information, it’ll be about receiving information that completes the reality in front of you while you point your camera phone at it. The killer apps that will make all the difference will be the ones that manage to forge an intelligent connection between the two.
Games will be the leaders in the sector, defining the medium itself. It’s one thing playing a game of shoot-em-up in an imaginary 3D world, it’s something else playing it on your iPad, shooting fictional characters that appear on your screen while you run around the corridors of your own house. On your tablet, a ghost may appear sitting at your kitchen table, using the perimeter and lighting set-up of the real space as you walk around it.
Such interaction would, once and for all, enable the platform to truly become a medium in its own right, with its own, intrinsic idiosyncrasies that stimulate a user engagement of an entirely different kind.
A simple adaptation of this technology for the luxury sector would be a printed paper strap that shows the user what a particular watch might look like on his wrist: just wrap the strap around your wrist, point your phone camera at it and see a 3D file of the watch around your wrist instead. This way, online watch retailers could replicate the in-store experience of trying on a watch.
From here, it’s only a small step thinking that augmented information could be networked, searchable and shareable, enabling you the kind of interaction with reality that is normally associated with web 2.0 websites. Were you ever enchanted by the way experts on Antiques Roadshow manage to weave stories around the antiques placed in front of them, enhancing the emotional connection we have with them? If you were, then you will understand the true potential of this technology and the relevance it has to the luxury sector, a sector in which objects are always iconic, always imbued with some kind of information that reinforces our emotional connection with them.