Multimedia storyteller Malibongwe Tyilo shares why luxury is a personal experience
One of my favourite luxury brands is Cape Town-based Missibaba, which makes a beautiful range of leather bags. I own one and, as I’ve never been a delicate type, I’ve treated it horribly over the years as my daily bag – yet it’s still in great shape.
Some years ago, we were at Missibaba’s Bree Street branch and a friend of a friend went into the shop to take a look. When he came out, he questioned their prices, asking why he would bother buying one of their bags if he could get a Gucci for the same price. We were amazed by his lack of consideration for the product, for the craftsmanship, the creativity, and the time spent on making it. It wasn’t because he’d seen a superior Gucci bag; he didn’t even have a particular style in mind. All that mattered was that it was Gucci. To be clear, I have nothing against Gucci – in fact, I adore the label for the amazing pieces it creates, but the idea that this name alone instantly makes its products better than high-quality local offerings is straight-up offensive to me.
Perhaps I should have been more patient with this potential any-Gucci-bag-will-do buyer. After all, I grew up in the same South Africa, where everyone had a tendency to view things as better and more luxurious if they came from the mysterious lands collectively known as ‘overseas’. His decision as to what brands and items would be worthy of his money was likely informed by the messages blasted through TV screens and advertising in general. That’s something I know all too well.
As a child, those same TV programmes and ads taught me that luxury was something highly desirable. They also taught me that luxe items were shiny, glittery and expensive. I couldn’t relate – actually I found most of them quite repulsive. Eventually, I decided that the rich as seen on TV obviously lacked taste. And being one to throw the baby out with the bathwater, for years I hated anything gold or gold-plated, and diamonds too. And don’t get me started on the faux baroque furniture of the ’80s. I should mention here that I was a child during that decade, on a regular diet of soapies such as Dynasty. As much as I adored Alexis Colby and crew, I was never fond of their gaudy trappings.
Recently, a colleague and I interviewed British-Nigerian designer Tokyo James. The conversation led to the question of luxury, which he described as ‘a combination of attention to detail and time’. I absolutely love this definition. As I’ve come to a much more personal understanding of luxury, I’ve since made peace with the shiny signifiers of opulence that I once hated. They, too, can be a reflection of attention to detail and time spent. The same goes for those covetable Gucci pieces – and those Missibaba bags. Although gilded surroundings do not imbue me with a feeling of luxury and good taste, I appreciate that for someone else this might be so. And that’s OK, because the concept of luxury should always be personal, beyond prescription.
One of my more memorable experiences of luxury is when I stayed at a hotel on a farm in the Cape Winelands, in a simple, no-fuss, plaas-style room. What grabbed me as I walked in was the massive fireplace, where the fire looked as if it had been going for at least 30 minutes. ‘How thoughtful,’ I thought.
Then the room, the bathroom, the bed – everything – looked and felt large and generous. The decor was minimal, in a clean and unpretentious way, and decorated with natural fabrics in neutral tones. Being a farm, there was space all around, and although only 40 minutes from Cape Town, it felt as if we were in a remote village. And this was just one of their standard rooms at a standard price.
Sometimes I write about products and places that market themselves as luxurious, and I’ve had the opportunity to sample a wide variety of experiences, products and places. Time and again, in simple, almost rural encounters, and in pieces crafted slowly from natural materials, I’ve felt closest to my personal definition of luxury. For me it is found in straightforward items and experiences that reflect the creator’s generosity with their time, both in learning their skill and in creating the end product, plus their generosity with the attention they lavished on every single detail. malibongwe