What do pillows and pasta have in common? More than you might think. Both are great examples of Basic Deluxe, everyday products that when presented artfully, can create desire, deliver delight, or transport you to your own version of nirvana. We may be on the verge of a recession, but we can easily justify paying a small premium for a good nights sleep or a sumptuous plate of pasta without too much guilt.
Although pillows can be considered basic equipment for premium zzzzzs, todays pillows are anything but basic. The art of sleep has been raised to deluxe new heights at fine hotels around the world. Top of the line mattresses, high thread count sheets and down comforters are merely the price of entry in todays bed wars. Sleep Concierges and Sleep Doctors are now on call to help you select the perfect pillow for your ultimate sleep pleasure.
The Conrad Hotel in Chicago is considered the Taj Majal of pillow emporiums, offering more than 75 varieties. Their pillow menu includes everything from anti-stress pillows to pregnancy pillows. There are pillows filled with organic buckwheat and pillows plumped with a super-soft hypoallergenic fiber filling. Theres even a Cold and Flu pillow, infused with essential oils, including eucalyptus, tea tree, bergamot, and sandalwood. For todays road warriors, the right pillow can mean the difference between catching a few restless winks and waking thoroughly refreshed after a great nights sleep. Peace of Mind, the ultimate luxury, served on a pillow.
Pasta comes in even more sizes and shapes than pillows, and a platter can just as easily transport you to dreamland. A basic food item made from simple ingredients, pasta is a staple of many diets. To be sure, anyone can dine in an exclusive, expensive Italian restaurant, spend a $100 on a gourmet Italian meal, enjoy it immensely and think its well worth the price. But that doesnt guarantee a truly memorable mealone that youll remember in great detail many years later.
Last summer I had a platter of pasta at a small restaurant in Rome that I will remember forever. The trattoria served cucina povera (poor folks cooking); everything was simple and fresh, nothing was fancy or elegant. Or expensive. My spaghetti a cacio e pepe (pasta with grated Pecorino Romano cheese and freshly ground black pepper) was a prima classe ticket to bliss, and it only cost $12.
I realize not everyone can be transported to heaven on a plate of pasta. Luxury, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Luxuries tend to be prohibitively expensive; the high price provides exclusivity, and exclusivity grants status. But status alone does not denote luxury. Heres a good example. I read last week in the New York Times that Hickey Freeman recently unveiled a new presidential line of suits. For $3,000 a gentleman can buy a finely tailored ready-to-wear suit with a gold-plated zipper. I mean really. What is a gold-plated zipper supposed to do? Transport you to some exclusive realm of menswear luxury? Make you feel presidential?
Granted, luxury items are supposed to have a certain snob appeal. The word snobbery has an interesting history. In the 1920s, top universities in England started writing sine nobilitate (without nobility), or s.nob, next to the names of the non-aristocratic entrants. This new practice of admitting ordinary, working class students into the venerated halls of Oxford and Cambridge was the first crack in the hallowed halls of privilege.
Our modern concept of luxury has been further democratized. Dana Thomas, in her new book Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, suggests that this very democratization has contributed greatly to the demise of luxury. She observes: by making luxury accessible, tycoons have stripped away all that has made it special. Its oxymoronic that just as luxury is stripped of its luster, basics find new relevance by going deluxe.
In a society where shopping is recreation and prosperity is a badge of honor, having it all doesnt necessarily mean that he who owns the most pillows or eats the most pasta wins. But it does beg the question: If anyone can have it, is it still a luxury?
Given the choice between a gold-plated zipper and another plate of that spaghetti, Ill take the pasta, thank you very much.
Spaghetti cacio e pepe