restaurant is well-known and highly regarded. Finishing up my
entree, I looked over the dessert menu, and the descriptions were
so detailed and the prices so high that I double-checked to see if
perhaps I were being charged by the word.
My eyes were drawn to
one offering in particular: "Lychee and lemongrass-infused
shortcake with papaya tartare and olive oil gelato."
Were they serious? I
was tempted to ask the waiter if I could perhaps substitute the
papaya for some thin slices of watermelon carpaccio. I had gone to
the restaurant for a special treat, but reading the description
made me feel silly for having splurged. I had been served, with my
coffee, a generous helping of pretension.
A few days later, I
was listening to the marketing manager of an upscale hotel chain
say, straight-faced, that a new breakfast menu would be "curated"
by a certain celebrity chef.
Curated? Would diners
be served a still life of fruit? An artful platter of preserved
vegetables? Scrambled 100-year-old eggs?
I'm beginning to
think that, just as some municipalities pay citizens to turn in
their guns for the general safety of the community, chapters of the
Luxury Council should refund the full cover price of any thesaurus
a member hands over. Some marketers are giving luxury a bad name,
or worse, opening the door to ridicule.
I write this not as
someone for whom luxury is a way of life, but someone who likes to
indulge from time to time. It's possible that the truly wealthy see
no irony in using "tartare" as a descriptor for a tropical fruit or
believe it's quite logical to curate an omelet, but I doubt
In fact, historically
there's some danger in trying to lure the wealthy with a few extra
syllables. The novelist and biographer Nancy Mitford wrote in 1954
that the rich (at least, the rich in London at the time) tended to
separate themselves from the lower classes by adopting simplicity
in language. They would say, for example, "sofa," "rich" and "jam,"
while the hoi polloi would affect airs by using "settee," "wealthy"
Even today, the risks
of upsetting the nobles with an overambitious display of language
can, in England at least, have dire consequences. Britain's Prince
William apparently split with his girlfriend, Kate Middleton,
because of her middle-class mother's overuse of high-falutin'
But some marketers of
luxury are getting it right. I recently came across a real estate
brochure for a wealthy New England community and read this
(abridged) description for a "Berkshire Cottage":
"House some mirth.
Live life grandly, and in grand style. Throw a ball, have 100 over
for dinner (the dining room can easily accommodate), sunsets on the
expansive porch, croquet on the lawn. Let the children play in the
tower while you enjoy the on-site spa. ... The good life is
What's striking about
this description is what's absent. It does not tell how many
bedrooms this "cottage" has. It does not say whether the kitchen
has been updated. It omits how many bathrooms and fractional
bathrooms the residence has.
Ultimately, it is
selling feeling, not footage. The description is not understated,
but it is economical. In a few sentences, it describes not only a
property that's for sale but also the life a buyer might envision
for himself or herself.
The lessons for
marketers of luxury travel are fairly straightforward: Throw away
Roget's. Focus on evoking emotion rather than listing
specifications. And let the price tag take up more lineage than any
single word that comes before it.