The Russian economy is in shambles. Only a few weeks ago the World Bank warned that the world recession could plunge 5.8 million Russians into poverty, but that hasn't stopped extravagant aspiration. Russia's material girls may have been born under Soviet Communism but they are out-lavishing the most decadent American shopaholics. How do I know? Because today I discovered the Russian It girls' It accessory, and I doubt that this country's biggest hoarders of designer Dior and Hermès bags have even heard of it. What is it? Call it the haute hook. (The company web site refers to it as Cute At the Table, but maybe it loses something when translated from the Russian.) It's an accessory for an accessory. A jewel encrusted weight that snaps on to the edge of table and extends a little hook to hang your purse on. "Never will you or your handbag look so good or feel as secure as when it is Cute At the Table," declares the promo page. Created by the Moscow-based jewelry company Tach, the patented designs are crafted in Switzerland and sold in a new boutique on Grafton Street in London. The starter versions, which are solid silver with a filigree etching and only a scattering of sapphires or amethysts, begin at around $3,500. The really desirable pieces in solid gold with more intricate adornments and encrusted with diamonds and rubies don't have prices listed on the web site. And if you have to ask, you probably cannot afford one.
Silly me. I had been thinking that one of the benefits of our current financial maelstrom would be that some excesses would be purged. Yesterday, I went to a discussion on the dire state of our environment and one of the panelists, James Gustave Speth, dean of the Forestry School at Yale, declared that one of the biggest factors negatively impacting our climate is the disease affluenza. Contemporary society's rampant consumerism contributes to major environmental damage, he explained. "We all have too much stuff." And, he pointed out, research is in: getting and spending does not deliver happiness. Psychologists have proven that societies with the greatest happiness quotients are not those chasing after stuff. I have been hoping that people would come around to Speth's point. Maybe the less-is-more mentality would replace the cult of the private plane and all it signifies. I have even argued that companies that fail to recognize how the tide has turned and continue to market on the principles of last year, touting extravagance, exclusivity and indulgence, will not just miss connecting with today's consumers who are looking for something decidedly different but, they will be making a much graver mistake, because they will be seen as being tone deaf. To celebrate over-the-top baubles could seem Marie Antoinetteish when masses of people are losing their jobs and worrying about how to pay for their kids' college, couldn't it? I guess not, since today's Financial Times How To Spend It ran a full page ad for the Tach (tacky?) toy. After all, as Tach declares "You'll never have to put your handbag on the floor or hang it over the back of a chair." Doesn't that put it all in perspective.