On my regular trips to London, my first destination was always Hilditch & Key, a shirtmaker in Jermyn Street. While South Africa has a tradition of producing affordable, high-quality, fashionably tailored woollen suits, its lounge shirts are no match for British craftsmanship, with its fine cotton, hand-turned collars, and long tails.
Arriving at work attired in a crisply ironed shirt, silk tie, and a neatly pressed dark suit invariably helped me set a bright tone for the day, no matter whether the stock market was headed up or down.
Opening my cupboards now, I wonder if I will ever wear my Hilditch & Key shirts again, or whether I will be condemned to ending my working life seated behind a home computer in H&M trackpants, off-white Converse sneakers, and a faded, navy-blue Woolworths t-shirt.
So much has happened in the past year that will shape the way we think about our lives in the future — our careers, relationships, leisure-time, and homes. After initial fears about our health and financial well-being that gripped us when Covid-19 first broke, we are beginning to accept our circumstances and adapt our lifestyles accordingly. We sanitise our hands, do not complain about wearing masks, and communicate with everyone we know on Zoom or Teams.
Yet, by keeping social distance — avoiding restaurants, the theatre, sporting events, and the bustle of the office — worries are mounting that we are losing our relevance. It is nudging us to recalibrate our lives and become healthier, fitter, better-informed, more germane. I term the patterns of expenditure we have embraced to achieve this new purpose “the new luxury”.
With children being schooled remotely and both parents compelled to work from home, formerly comfortable living spaces now appear congested. The upshot is that, in cities like New York, apartment rentals have collapsed, while the prices of houses in surrounding areas have rocketed as families surrender the pace of city life in search of an ecosystem that meets these freshly imposed needs. One of which is the battle for bandwidth. To accommodate the struggle for access to high-speed data and virtual storage among the family gamers, Instagrammers, TikTokers, and income earners, outlays for dependable networks, powerful desktops, laptops, printers, and scanners have climbed dramatically.
Spending extended hours at home, people have become more conscious of their surroundings and are splashing out heavily on structural improvements, furniture, accessories, artworks, and other collectables. American home-improvement giants Home Depot and Lowes have reported double-digit increases in revenues over the past year. And, although art sales have been hit hard by the closure of international art fairs and the forced shutting of galleries, online sales of artworks and antiques have risen threefold. In a survey conducted by investment bank UBS, which covered the spending habits of high-net-worth collectors, 92% of the respondents indicated that they had bought a work in 2020, with the majority paying more than $100,000 on various pieces.
In the suburbs, without convenient public-transport systems, families have splurged on lavish motor vehicles, while other must-have items include the companionship of a canine friend. Dog ownership has surged, and prices have doubled. According to the Financial Times, there are 200 potential buyers in Britain for every pet advert online. Cocker spaniels seem to be the family’s top choice, with bulldogs, bull terriers and Labradors a sniff behind.
Online sales of artworks and antiques have risen threefold... with the majority [of buyers] paying more than $100,000 on various pieces
Removed from the convenience of a corner gym and the instruction of a beefy personal trainer, housebound fitness freaks have turned to Peloton for treadmills, spinning bikes, and the offer of online cardio, boot camps, and yoga workouts. But do not think for a minute you can appear on a Peloton screen in a worn-out sweater and soiled running shoes. No, stylish brands are de rigueur. And sorry to break this to you, but in a list of the 31 best athleisure and activewear brands published by Luxe Digital, Lululemon is ranked only 18, Under Armour 20, and Nike 21. If you want to perspire fashionably you must be seen in Alo Yoga, Unbridled Apparel or Alala.
You can hide your melancholy and wrinkles behind a mask in public, but not on social media. Feigning appearances that life is good has sustained the demand for makeup and skincare products. When Kylie Jenner, the celebrity behind Kylie Cosmetics, releases a new lip kit or high gloss on Instagram, her 200-million followers usually crash the company’s website. Estée Lauder, serving a more conventional market, recently reported quarterly revenues that were well ahead of analysts’ forecasts. The return of Asian shoppers and the success of their online channels buoyed the sales of La Mer, Clinique, and Dr Jart+.
Turning to conventional luxury markets, the closing of borders, lockdowns, and the suspension of international travel were expected to weigh heavily on the sales of expensive bags and accessories. Yet LVMH, the world’s most valuable luxury business, surprised markets with remarkably strong revenue and earnings numbers. Global online sales and the opening of the Chinese economy bolstered trade in its largest and most profitable division, fashion and leather. Watches, jewellery, and fragrances remained under pressure, while the shutdown of taverns and restaurants battered the consumption of wines and spirits.
I have accepted that I might never tie a Windsor knot again or thread links through my double-cuffed shirts, but I have installed a new computer in my apartment and have purchased a low-tech cross-trainer for those rainy days when I can’t jog outside. But more excitingly, I have acquired a colourful new artwork by Clare Woods from the Cristea Roberts Gallery in London that is presently in transit. It’s my big contribution to the luxury market this year.
• Shapiro is a market analyst at Sasfin.
• From the March edition of Wanted, 2021.