WEALTH CLUB

Fit­ness is swiftly be­com­ing the new sta­tus signifier, with ex­clu­sive ex­er­cise classes and de­signer ac­tivewear the cor­ner­stones of a now tril­lion-dol­lar well­ness in­dus­try. So how much, asks Phoebe Watt, are you will­ing to in­vest in your health?

Fashion Quarterly - - Inside -

Fit­ness gets ex­clu­sive

When I started men­tion­ing to peo­ple that I was writ­ing a story on pre­mi­u­mi­sa­tion within the fit­ness in­dus­try, it wasn’t long be­fore I heard about The Atrium Club, an ex­clu­sive, men’s-only gym pa­tro­n­ised by politi­cians, news­read­ers and na­tional sports stars. At the time, my source couldn’t ac­tu­ally name the cen­tral Auck­land estab­lish­ment be­cause her source — a mem­ber — wouldn’t re­veal it. Con­vinced that I’d stum­bled upon the Skull and Bones of the local gym scene, I started dig­ging, and was al­most dis­ap­pointed at how eas­ily I found what I was look­ing for. One Google search, first re­sult.

The dis­ap­point­ment didn’t end there. A re­cently pub­lished write-up (sec­ond search re­sult) revealed that my source’s source, who’d spo­ken of valet laun­dry ser­vices and lav­ish cater­ing, was se­verely over­hyp­ing the place. All ameni­ties ap­peared pretty stock-stan­dard. There un­doubt­edly are sev­eral famous faces on the books, all shelling out around $2400 per year for their mem­ber­ships. But I’ve been to pricier yoga stu­dios, and I’m not on re­tired-All Black money. I am, how­ever, a mil­len­nial and this ap­par­ently makes all the dif­fer­ence.

The lux­i­fi­ca­tion of ex­er­cise — a re­cent phe­nom­e­non that has made the fit­ness in­dus­try the youngest tril­lion-dol­lar in­dus­try in the world — isn’t be­ing driven by mid­dle-aged men. Rather, it’s be­ing driven by women in their 20s and 30s. 80% of them spend a quar­ter of their dis­pos­able in­comes on health prod­ucts and ser­vices ac­cord­ing to lead­ing gen­er­a­tional in­sights study, The Cas­san­dra Re­port. That means ev­ery­thing from bou­tique fit­ness classes and ac­tivewear, to ionised wa­ter and hi-tech ‘wear­ables’. You know, that nifty thing on your wrist telling you that you’re elec­trolyte-de­pleted enough af­ter your barre class to ne­ces­si­tate said Ionised wa­ter in the first place.

No won­der the in­dus­try is mak­ing gains, with so many of us buy­ing into its self-per­pet­u­at­ing sys­tem and shelling out for items that jus­tify each other’s ex­is­tence. We’re not just en­abling our own spend­ing, ei­ther. A key func­tion of wear­ables like Fit­bit and re­lated mo­bile apps like MapMyRun is that they al­low us to share our work­outs on so­cial me­dia, pres­sur­ing oth­ers to run as far as we did, in an out­fit as cool, and to flaunt this fact us­ing the same ex­pen­sive tech­nol­ogy. The pres­sure is real, too. If you did a work­out but didn’t take a mir­ror selfie at the gym and hash­tag it #fit­spo, did it even hap­pen? For the au­thors of the 196 mil­lion

In­sta­gram posts filed un­der the hash­tag, ap­par­ently not.

The dou­ble-edged sword is that de­spite the pres­sure that so­cial me­dia brings and the well-doc­u­mented ef­fect this is hav­ing on our self-es­teem, plat­forms like In­sta­gram are also an end­less source of free in­for­ma­tion. Through a sin­gle hash­tag, they link us with an in­stant, vir­tual cheer squad of hun­dreds of thou­sands of users ready to mo­ti­vate us to achieve our goals. Once a po­ten­tially lonely and daunt­ing road, get­ting fit has never been more so­cial. It fol­lows that peo­ple want to ex­pe­ri­ence this sense of com­mu­nity in real life.

En­ter, the niche ex­er­cise class. Not for those con­tent to just plug in their head­phones and hit the tread­mill, bou­tique gyms and stu­dios that of­fer ex­pe­ri­en­tial work­outs are tak­ing off be­cause they cater to “a spe­cific, spe­cialised and pas­sion­ate seg­ment who are very will­ing to pay more to be part of a tribe”. This, ac­cord­ing to Mered­ith Pop­pler, spokesper­son for the Bos­ton based In­ter­na­tional Health Rac­quet and Sportsclub Association.

And we are pay­ing — up­wards of $35 for a one-off, one hour work­out. But for that price, we’re get­ting some­thing in­no­va­tive and fun (think hip hop yoga, yo­galates, dan­gling from aerial silks...) more akin to a fit­ness event than a reg­u­lar gym ses­sion. We’re reap­ing the benefits of top in­struc­tors, ultra-mod­ern fa­cil­i­ties, lux­ury ameni­ties and beau­ti­ful en­vi­ron­ments en­vi­sioned by cel­e­brated ar­chi­tects and in­te­rior de­sign­ers. Sure, the bucks are big­ger, but we’re de­mand­ing — and get­ting — much more bang for them.

It’s a de­mand be­ing felt not just by the fit­ness in­dus­try, but high-end sports­wear man­u­fac­tur­ers. Kiwi

An­jhe Mules, a for­mer swimwear de­signer, worked for Marc Ja­cobs and Alexan­der McQueen be­fore launch­ing lux­ury ac­tivewear la­bel Lu­cas Hugh in 2010. Im­me­di­ately picked up by Net-a-Porter where you can cur­rently pur­chase a lim­ited-edi­tion pair of Lu­cas Hugh leg­gings for around $500, the brand is about as luxe as you can get in the world of ly­cra. But its cus­tomer base ex­pects a lot in re­turn.

“She wants the full pack­age from our prod­uct as well as our brand”, says An­jhe from her London home, where she has lived since 2000. In this time she’s wit­nessed the rise of pricey, full-service health clubs, which has opened her eyes to the pre­mium con­sumers are will­ing to pay for fa­cil­i­ties that tick sev­eral boxes. Sim­i­larly, she says, the Lu­cas Hugh wo­man wants to see a fu­sion of per­for­mance, in­no­va­tion and style not just in the prod­uct it­self, but across all of the brand’s touch­points, in­clud­ing its on­line store and so­cial me­dia chan­nels.

Not that the av­er­age Lu­cas Hugh wo­man is a so­cial me­dia ad­dicted mil­len­nial (see: $500 leg­gings). But as a high-fly­ing ca­reer wo­man she is em­pow­ered by tech­nol­ogy, and so also val­ues the highly tech­ni­cal fab­ri­ca­tions and con­struc­tion meth­ods that make a Lu­cas Hugh gar­ment. Mois­ture-wick­ing tex­tiles, bonded seams and ven­ti­lated mesh pan­els to max­imise com­fort and per­for­mance, and the use of 3D graphic map­ping in the ex­e­cu­tion of unique prints, of­ten de­signed as part of col­lab­o­ra­tions with es­teemed artists, are all fea­tures. “She wants tech­ni­cal de­signs that sup­port her fit­ness goals, with­out com­pro­mis­ing her per­sonal style,” says An­jhe.

If it sounds like An­jhe knows this wo­man in­side-out, it’s be­cause she’s one of them. Lu­cas Hugh’s con­cep­tion cen­tres around the de­signer be­ing locked out of her ho­tel room wear­ing a gym kit that didn’t meet her other­wise im­pec­ca­ble stan­dards of dress — an ex­pe­ri­ence which alerted her to a gap in the mar­ket for high-per­for­mance ac­tivewear that wouldn’t look out of place in pub­lic. Prov­ing that she was right on the money, a global trend for mix­ing ac­tivewear with ready-to-wear emerged around the same time, and to­day it’s an en­tire cat­e­gory in many women’s wardrobes; sig­ni­fy­ing, says An­jhe, a so­ci­etal shift that has seen an increased im­por­tance placed on fit­ness, food and men­tal health, and le­git­imised spend­ing across these cat­e­gories.

In a 2015 Vogue ar­ti­cle, this le­git­imi­sa­tion was linked to the idea of ‘stealth wealth’ which, post-re­ces­sion, saw con­sumers curb their os­ten­ta­tious spend­ing on de­signer goods in favour of less-braggy pur­chases like ex­clu­sive gym mem­ber­ships and ex­er­cise classes. “[Spend­ing] big bucks on ex­pe­ri­ences that are sup­pos­edly good for you seems to carry less guilt than buy­ing just a phys­i­cal lux­ury item,” ex­plained Larry D. Com­peau, pro­fes­sor of mar­ket­ing and con­sumer psy­chol­ogy at New York’s Clark­son

The bucks are big­ger, but we’re get­ting much more

bang for them

Uni­ver­sity. In the same ar­ti­cle, Com­peau’s thoughts were echoed by Man­hat­tan-based spin­ning en­thu­si­ast, Ana. “It’s like, the only ac­cept­able life­style brag,” she said.

Closer to home, there’s no bet­ter place to get your life­style brag on than at Stu­dio Red in Auck­land’s CBD — an im­pos­si­bly chic, hot yoga stu­dio where the spe­cially-cush­ioned floor is im­ported from Ger­many, the heat­ing sys­tem is state-of-the-art, the ex­tremely-lim­ited class sizes guar­an­tee that clients re­ceive per­son­alised in­struc­tion from highly ex­pe­ri­enced tu­tors, and the couch in the foyer is ac­ces­sorised with an Her­mès throw.

Owner Vicky Cul­li­nane (in­ci­den­tally a big Lu­cas Hugh fan) opened the stu­dio’s doors in 2016 af­ter at­tend­ing a life-chang­ing yoga teacher train­ing course in Koh Sa­mui. “On re­turn­ing home I wanted to cre­ate a world-class yoga fa­cil­ity where I could share [the prac­tice] in a beau­ti­ful space with the very best teach­ers,” says the 52-year-old for­mer art gallery man­ager. What sets Stu­dio Red apart from its com­peti­tors, says Vicky, is her team’s com­mit­ment to en­sur­ing that the client ex­pe­ri­ence is as good as it can pos­si­bly be, “from the mo­ment they walk in, to the mo­ment they leave”. As for what sets her clients apart, she be­lieves it’s a com­mit­ment to mak­ing the most of them­selves and the world around them.

“I have a favourite say­ing: we’re all given the same amount of time ev­ery day, and it’s how we spend our time that dif­fer­en­ti­ates us,” says Vicky. “Our clients have very full lives”.

On the other side of the coin, our in­creas­ingly full lives may also have a part to play in the re-emer­gence of low-tech work­outs. Bri­tish Vogue re­cently re­ported that in the UK, swim­ming is en­joy­ing a surge in pop­u­lar­ity. One can’t help but won­der whether this is be­cause it’s just about the only form of ex­er­cise that grants us com­plete amnesty from an­swer­ing the phone or check­ing our emails. Talk about go­ing to great lengths to drown out the noise.

And there is a lot of noise — es­pe­cially to do with well­ness it­self. For An­jhe and Vicky, so­cial me­dia is an in­cred­i­bly valu­able busi­ness tool. “It opens doors and sets stan­dards, pro­vid­ing an in­stant feed­back loop that’s both en­cour­ag­ing and in­form­ing,” says Vicky. “I love the di­rect con­nec­tion it fa­cil­i­tates be­tween our clients and our team.”

For the av­er­age user, though, it could be con­tribut­ing to some­thing known as ‘well­ness fa­tigue’, a tangible ef­fect of which has been the steady de­cline in the sales of wear­ables in the past 12 months. If you’re of the camp that be­lieves such de­vices are merely a money-mak­ing scheme de­signed to ben­e­fit both tech and fit­ness cor­po­ra­tions, you might see this as a win for the peo­ple. But let’s not dis­miss the role that tech­nol­ogy has played in democratis­ing fit­ness; cut­ting out the need for ex­pen­sive per­sonal trainers and gym mem­ber­ships and giv­ing the pub­lic the tools to work out from home, all for the price of an app.

This kind of can­ni­bal­i­sa­tion within the in­dus­try means it’s a scary time for tra­di­tional service providers. Some, like global gym Les Mills, which in 2016 launched a sub­scrip­tion service al­low­ing users to pay to stream work­outs on­line, are adapt­ing. And in­deed, in this age of dig­i­tal in­ven­tion, ‘dis­rupt or be dis­rupted’ are words to live by — es­pe­cially if you’re a mid­dle-of-the-road op­er­a­tion that doesn’t of­fer the pre­mium ex­pe­ri­ence or ex­treme value needed to at­tract and main­tain a loyal cus­tomer base.

But shiny new fit­ness stu­dios must also be­ware. Af­ter all, mil­len­ni­als might be known for splash­ing their cash in the name of health and well­ness (or at least, Emily Rata­jkowski’s abs), but they aren’t nec­es­sar­ily known for their loy­alty. As long as newer, shinier fit­ness stu­dios con­tinue to pop up ev­ery few weeks, there’s a dis­in­cen­tive to com­mit to an­nual mem­ber­ships. And with vir­tual work­outs per­haps the next step, one thing rings truer than ever: to stay healthy, con­sumers needn’t be wealthy, but to stay wealthy, busi­nesses have to be wise.

Auck­land’s Stu­dio Red is

known for its stylish in­te­ri­ors. A Lu­cas Hugh

en­sem­ble (left) is an ac­tivewear must for many

of the stu­dio’s clients.

Stu­dio Red owner

Vicky Cul­li­nane (right) has cre­ated a world-class yoga

en­vi­ron­ment.

London-based Kiwi An­jhe Mules worked for Marc Ja­cobs and Alexan­der McQueen be­fore launch­ing lux­ury ac­tivewear la­bel Lu­cas

Hugh in 2010.

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