IS KNOWLEDGE THE NEW STATUS SYMBOL?
From private clubs to luxury cruises, the new status isn’t about who you know or the riches you own, it’s about what you know. Lysanne Currie explains why smart is most definitely the new sexy
Ever wonder how Innocent Smoothies founder Richard Reed celebrated his 40th birthday party? Well, yes, in fantastically glamorous style of course. But, interestingly, the thing that went down best wasn’t the fine wine, or the mouth-watering canapés – or even the fabulous venue. The real star of the show was a 20-minute talk by author and School of Life founder, Alain de Botton.
Knowledge is now catnip to the elite – the discreet status symbol of the privileged. Think of Serpentine CEO Yana Peel and her super-smart, connected circle. In a digital world where everyone can access anything at the touch of a finger, we crave an experience that can’t be reproduced, a moment that is yours alone; the so-called experience economy. Right now, it’s about what you know even more than who you know. Knowledge is the only capital that counts.
If London’s members clubs were once hedonistic havens, places to let loose with likeminded people and partygoers, they now compete over their cerebrum-stimulating menus to give them that hot ticket status. Recent breakfast briefings at The Ivy have included talks on Immersive Technology, Investment post Brexit, and Benjamin Britten’s Operatic Works; while across town, Shoreditch House’s events programme is keeping itself just as busy with art talks, an Instagram workshop and a debate called ‘Brexit: Will Fashion Suffer?’
The democratisation of luxury has played a part in this shift from the material to the mindful, in a world where designer handbags and supercars are now a bit more affordable. Therefore, the elite now use more tacit signifiers of their status: intellectual capital and knowledge. According to US Consumer Expenditure data, America’s top one per cent has spent less on material goods and more on ‘inconspicuous consumption’ since 2007, and more on health and knowledge.
Knowledge is so desired by the world’s top tier that luxury brands now work that much harder to keep their edge. Take the super wealthy residents on the largest yacht on earth, The World. These travellers crave learning both on their expeditions and back on board, prompting The World to continuously raise the bar with its events programme. Last month it introduced a new quarterly ‘Nobel Laureate Lecture Series’, kicking off with a lecture from the 2014 Nobel Prize winner and inventor of the blue LED, Dr Shuji Nakamura. The program also offers residents the opportunity to personally connect with internationally renowned Nobel Prize Laureates. These are in addition to The World’s itinerary inspired lectures and breakfast forums, where residents discuss current affairs with lecturers and local dignitaries.
Meanwhile, ultra-luxury cruiseline Seabourn’s ‘Conversations’ programme has brought speakers including Lord Digby Jones, Apple’s Steve Wozniak and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Walter Robinson on board to lecture and mingle with guests. While in 2014 they introduced a partnership with Unesco which gives Seabourn clients special access to their sites for ‘truly remarkable learning experiences’.
‘Knowledge’ is even starting to play a part at the conception of new luxury products. Award winning hotel designer Bill Bensley created the JW Marriott in Vietnam’s Phu Quoc in the same physical format as a campus, where the beach bar is built into an old chemistry department filled with periodic tables and busts of the world greatest chemists.
Yes, it's immensely chic to be smart at the moment. If you have wealth enough to buy anything you want, brains become the one thing money can't buy.
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