The next time you're waiting for your bags to arrive at O'Hare, ponder this: In Milan there's a leather goods store called Valextra, just down the road from the famed La Scala opera house, whose signature product is a line of exquisite luggage quite unsuited to modern life.
The suitcases, which start at about $5,000 apiece, have no wheels, no pull straps, no retractable handles. Most striking of all, they come in gorgeous white leather with a subtle creamy hue that would scuff instantly if checked onto a commercial airline. As Valextra sales assistant Martina Terazzi discreetly points out, they are best suited for people who travel by private jet.
This is what "luxury" used to mean: beautifully crafted, hideously expensive, and unashamedly elitist. Owning such items was not just a question of wealth; it was also a question of class. Luxury goods were sold in stuffy stores with intimidating personnel in white gloves who glanced at your shoes before deigning to show you their merchandise.