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(Published: 2008-02-19)

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 night’s sleep or a sumptuous plate of pasta without too much guilt.

Although pillows can be considered basic equipment for premium zzzzz’s, today’s 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 today’s 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. There’s even a Cold and Flu pillow, infused with essential oils, including eucalyptus, tea tree, bergamot, and sandalwood. For today’s road warriors, the right pillow can mean the difference between catching a few restless winks and waking thoroughly refreshed after a great night’s 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 it’s well worth the price. But that doesn’t guarantee a truly memorable meal—one that you’ll 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 folk’s 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. Here’s 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 1920’s, 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.” It’s 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 doesn’t 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, I’ll take the pasta, thank you very much.

Deluxe pillows

Spaghetti cacio e pepe

Robyn Waters is president and founder of RW Trend, LLC. She is the author of The Trendmaster’s Guide: Get a Jump on What Your Customer Wants Next, and The Hummer and the Mini: Navigating the Contradictions of the New Trend Landscape. Learn more about Robyn at All Rights Reserved.

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