Archive for Wall Street Journal
How Rich People Do Burning Man
By Lauri Apple | Gawker
Unless you’re wealthy, you’ve probably been spending Burning Man Week moping about how you couldn’t afford tickets to America‘s favorite festival of radical self-expression this year. But make no mistake: Those rich people touring the playa on their Mad Max cruisers are suffering, too.
As the Wall Street Journal tells us, many of this year’s Burners With Money to Burn are doing all they can to avoid the heat, food shortages, and other potential inconveniences of Black Rock City life by spending shitloads of money to recreate the comforts of home. Reps from the RV rental company Classic Adventures RV, for example, tell the WSJ that Vanity Fair New Establishmentarian and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk hired them to set up “an elaborate compound consisting of eight recreational vehicles and trailers stocked with food, linens, groceries and other essentials for himself and his friends and family.” That’s not all:
[Classic Adventures] charges $5,500 to $10,000 per RV for its Camp Classic Concierge packages like Mr. Musk’s. At Mr. Musk’s RV enclave, the help empties septic tanks, brings water and makes sure the vehicles’ electricity, refrigeration, air conditioning, televisions, DVD players and other systems are ship shape. The staff also stocked the campers with Diet Coke, Gatorade and Cruzan rum.
But isn’t part of the point of Burning Man to “rough it,” radically? Perhaps in the olden days this was true. But rich people bring to the festival their own values and beliefs:
- Sleeping in a tent sucks
- Being really hot sucks
- Making your own art is hard, especially when you have no artistic skills or actual creativity whatsoever
About that last item: The WSJ tells us about one San Francisco real estate mogul who either didn’t feel like or lacked the capacity to construct their own sculpture, and therefore they hired a “team of artists and metalworkers” to built one on their behalf. The mogul wasn’t available for comment, but a chef who cooks up gourmet meals for Burners with refined tastes explains: “People have less and less time to be radically self-reliant.”
Despite their relatively resplendent accommodations, upper-crust Burners can’t shield themselves from every hardship:
Adam Stephenson, a 40-year-old marketing director for Symantec Corp., says that even though he is paying a premium for RV service, he put a lot of work into building a shade tent and buying costumes and supplies. And the RV isn’t the Ritz. “It’s not super easy,” he says. “The air conditioner is not on all the time.”
And when the A/C does break, the rich people sweat just like the poor people sweat. The sun treats everyone the same. This is one of the lessons you learn out there on the desert, when you’re not mastering leadership and contemplating how creativity can bourguignon-beef up your bottom line.
If you’re still sad about missing out on all the adventure and enlightenment and rich-people whining, this live-cam takes you to the action:
Live Video app for Facebook by Ustream
Burning Man 2011: Rites of Passage | Palm Beach Post
Tens of thousands of people have descended on a great expanse of Nevada desert to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Burning Man, a gathering of free spirits, artists, entrepreneurs — and anyone else who managed to get a ticket.
Several thousand more would-be participants will have to wait until next year, as 2011 marks another historic milestone: the first time the event has ever sold out, said Burning Man communications manager Andie Grace.
(Story continues below)
TIP: You can use your keyboard’s left and right arrow keys to navigate through the gallery
According to an agreement with the Bureau of Land Management, the event is permitted an average of only 50,000 people per day, Grace said.
The theme of this year’s festival, “Rites of Passage,” is an appropriate one as it also previews a change in the structure of the California-based Black Rock City, L.L.C., which runs the event, from a for-profit organization to a not-for-profit that will continue to promote the festival’s ideology throughout the year.
Richemont to Buy Net-a-Porter
By PAUL SONNE
Ltd., a transaction that signals the increasing importance high-end
consumer goods companies are assigning to online sales.
Richemont, the owner of brands such as Cartier, Montblanc and Chloe,
previously held a 33% stake in closely held Net-a-Porter, but agreed
to acquire a majority of the company from a group of private
shareholders for up to £225 million ($341 million). Richemont said the
transaction values the overall company at £350 million.
Net-a-Porter, founded in 2000 by former fashion journalist Natalie
Massenet, has been a forerunner in selling expensive designer women’s
clothes and accessories online. That is a space that was long
overlooked by big luxury goods houses like Richemont, Burberry PLC and
LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA , which jumped on the online sales
bandwagon far later than their lower-priced counterparts did.
Lately, however, the big luxury brands have made digital retailing a
higher priority, having recognized that shoppers are increasingly
willing to buy very expensive products on the Web. But selling $1,000
dresses online is different from hawking groceries or second-hand
books: Customers want an editorial element, a guiding hand to replace
the in-store salesperson and signal what’s in style, which is where
Net-a-Porter has carved out its niche.
The Web site, which says it has been profitable since 2004 and
reported sales of about £120 million for the fiscal year ended Jan. 31,
has established itself as an interactive shopping fashion magazine,
publishing 52 weeks of editorial content each year alongside its
designer clothes sales operation.
“It’s just as much a magazine as it is a store,” said Ms. Massenet
in an interview. “That really has served us well, because when you’re
online you lose the offline experience of walking into a store.”
Net-a-Porter plans to expand its operation in the U.S. as the market
for luxury online retailing heats up. The company currently operates a
50,000 square foot distribution center in New York’s Long Island City,
which handles about 30% of the company’s business. CEO Mark Sebba says
Net-a-Porter intends to more than double the U.S. operation’s capacity
in the coming year and open a new distribution center in Southeast
The deal with Richemont takes away Net-a-Porter’s independence, and
some retailers selling their goods through the luxury Web vendor could
be upset that it is now owned by a competing company. But Ms. Massenet
says Richemont lets its divisions operate independently and
Net-a-Porter’s suppliers have never had a problem with the Geneva-based
company being a shareholder. Richemont first invested in Net-a-Porter
website has made designer fashion easily accessible to women around the
A year ago, Net-a-Porter launched a sister site, theOutnet.com,
which offers discounted designer clothes. The move indicated the newest
frontier in online luxury shopping: discount Web sites, some of which
luxury sector too.
Ms. Massenet held an undisclosed stake in the company she founded,
and will stay on as executive chairman.
Write to Paul Sonne at firstname.lastname@example.org
- JCTV Presents: Natalie Massenet Live Interview (jcreport.com)
The Bonhomie Of Buying
Shoptimism: Why the American Consumer Will Keep on Buying No Matter What by Lee Eisenberg
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Our shopping habits may be easily manipulated, but they are not as irrational as critics like to believe.
By LAURA VANDERKAM
As the economy tanked last year, pundits claimed that we were entering a new age of frugality. We would stop shopping and learn to “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without,” like our grandparents who lived through the Depression.
There was just one problem with this prediction: Given how much money is riding on the consumer economy, legions of people now spend their lives figuring out how to make the buying experience more alluring than the days of pulling Gold Medal Flour down from the shelves of the general store. As an IBM report once noted: “We probably know as much about the behavior of the human shopper in its natural habitat, the mall, the grocery, or the department store, as we do about the activities of any species of animal in the wild.” Now former Esquire editor Lee Eisenberg adds his own take, examining why modern Americans find shopping so irresistible.
Mr. Eisenberg’s previous book, “The Number,” was magnificently hyped as offering a new way of looking at retirement; “Shoptimism” aims to offer a similarly novel view on the big idea of buying and selling. There is a coincidental affinity between the subjects: One of the reasons we have such trouble saving for retirement is that merchandisers are so good at getting us to part with our money in the here and now. As for his credentials, Mr. Eisenberg tells us that he was once a senior executive at Lands’ End, in addition to being “a breadwinner, which means I take a proprietary and sometimes overbearing interest in how my wife and kids choose to disburse what hard-earned money I bring to the party.”
Mr. Eisenberg approaches consumer culture more as an anthropologist than as what he calls a Buy Scold (berating Americans for spending money on things they neither want nor need). He turns up some interesting tidbits. Black Friday shoppers, just after Thanksgiving, say that they’re battling the crowds on behalf of themselves rather than shopping for loved ones. November is usually the second biggest month for buying things, after December, “but not every year—global warming,” Mr. Eisenberg says, “can play havoc with sales of sweaters and winter outerwear.” The brains of tight-fisted folks react to high prices in the same way they do to physical pain. We absorb advertising messages so well that—in a world saturated with PC Guy vs. Mac Dude ads—we actually perform better on creativity tests after being cued by references to Apple products. At the same time, brands are losing their vice grip as shoppers figure out that generic items are often made in the same factories as branded ones and as retailers like Whole Foods manage to turn their private labels into desirable goods.
Much of this information has been written about before—Paco Underhill, the author of “Why We Buy” (who makes an appearance in “Shoptimism”), has explored shopping habits for some time now, and Martin Lindstrom‘s “Buyology” tackled the neuroscience of shopping last year. But it’s entertaining to have it compiled in one big box store of a book, packaged in Mr. Eisenberg’s genial prose.
After a while, though, his endless taxonomies of shoppers (e.g., Bring-Back Queens and Friends of Faux, with a soft spot for designer knock-offs) get as tedious as finding the right tie from a sales rack at Macy’s. And Mr. Eisenberg misses opportunities to create a more compelling narrative. As part of writing “Shoptimism,” he took a job working at a Target store during the holiday season, but he offers maddeningly few details about the day-to-day realities of the experience, aside from the fact that he learned not to touch the wheelchairs of disabled customers. By contrast, we hear more than we need to about his field trip to help his wife buy a little black dress. This escapade is supposed to show the shopping experience from initial idea to postgame wrap-up, but it seems to take the same hour and 45 minutes to read that Mr. Eisenberg reports he spent in the store.
Despite such meandering, Mr. Eisenberg does eventually stumble onto the overarching argument inherent in his title: Shopping, in modern America, is fundamentally an optimistic activity. While our shopping habits are easily manipulated, they are not quite as irrational as critics like to believe. For most of us shopping, when done right, really does make us feel better. We buy because it “confers instant membership in a community.” We buy “to express ourselves.” Most important, we buy because “buying is fun, sociable, and diverting, an escape from boring, predictable existence.” If a sweater or an iPod can do that, and Mr. Eisenberg is convincing that it can, then no wonder, recession or not, it’s hard to keep Americans out of the stores.
Ms. Vanderkam is a writer in New York.