Accessing the Aspirational

There are those who occasionally splurge. And then there are those for whom luxury is a lifestyle. The overall Long Island demographic supports both sides of the spectrum, but the lust factor across the board is decidedly tilted towards the marvelous. Just as Egyptians indulged in decadent perfumes, Romans tirelessly decorated their living spaces and Europeans have pursued art for art’s sake, modern consumers seek to attain the special, if not sublime, no matter how taut their purse strings. Whether guiltless self-indulgence or escape is the excuse, the reason is man, at his core, is simply driven to want the best.

On Long Island, there are two bastions of luxury enterprise that seek out the best practices of global luxury markets to deliver a one-of-a-kind experience here at home. London Jewelers and Americana Manhasset respectfully see the core of their mission as something that runs deeper than the seemingly superficial shopping spree, but is instead about history, reputation and helping educated consumers make decisions about their material investments. The histories, missions and instincts of these two luxury outposts have both defined and helped reflect the state of 21st century Long Island.
When Charles London opened a small watch repair shop in Glen Cove 85 years ago, he likely had no idea it would evolve into London Jewelers, one of Long Island’s (indeed the country’s) most venerable outposts of luxury, with five stores featuring bespoke jewelry designs and timepieces. Some may bemoan the evolution (de-evolution?) of luxury, however, at London Jewelers, the notion of luxury is not something that fluctuates with the fickle tides of the economy, the public and fashion.

Candy Udell, President of London Jewelers certainly believes in timelessness. “Luxury items are here to stay. In the jewelry world, owning something special made of rare materials like gold, platinum and diamonds is a true luxury that can be enjoyed from generation to generation,” Udell says. This viewpoint is seen in London’s successful efforts to develop and maintain partnerships with august jewelry houses such as Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, as well representing work by celebrated American designer David Yurman.

Americana Manhasset also began modestly, starting in 1959 as an innocuous neighborhood strip center at Northern Boulevard and Searington Road in the north shore community of Manhasset. What would become a colony of luxury was once an unassuming series of grocery stores, drug stores, movie theaters and a few commonplace department stores. The evolution of the location began in 1971 when the late, great B. Altman department store moved into the complex, igniting the transformation process of a nondescript, open-air mall into a high-end emporium for luxury goods.

It wasn’t until the heady 80s that Americana Manhasset really arrived in the firmament of luxury purveyors in the United States. During this period, owner Frank Castagna launched an ambitious plan to develop the space into boutiques that would rival those of major cosmopolitan areas in Europe and the United States. From that moment on, Americana Manhasset became Long Island’s go-to destination for luxury shopping, hosting fine brand names such as Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Prada and Dior, among others. Recently, Americana Manhasset has developed into a luxurious dining destination, too, with fine offerings like Toku Modern Asian and the Italian-themed Cipollini Trattoria & Bar.

Deirdre Costa-Major, President of Americana Manhasset, admits that despite the growth and consistent evolution, maintaining an edge in the world of luxury shopping, dining and lifestyles is a challenge. Costa-Major believes the venue maintains its edge because of a proactive and committed ownership, and by paying attention to the sense of focus and purpose to the mission established decades ago.
Americana Manhasset has also pioneered the notion of luxury as not just a product, but also an environment. The celebrated architect Peter Marino has worked with Americana Manhasset since the early 80s, helping forge its physical image with his elegant handiwork, featuring limestone facades as well as ornamental steel and glass. Most recently, Marino constructed some of the stainless-steel illuminated facades, which have helped maintain and perfect what Costa-Major refers to as a “semi-urban” experience.

When asked about recent developments in luxury, Costa-Major points out that men are a relatively new kind of consumer of luxury items. “I think with the explosion of information via the Internet and other media, there has been the evolution of a sense that men are more aware of style than in previous decades… For many years, we have focused on the women’s market, probably at least 60 percent. Now, however, we have stores that are totally dedicated to menswear that go from formalwear to high-end casualwear.” Costa-Major also notes that the influence of global fashion (particularly Asian) has slowly but surely made its way into the American marketplace.

This sense that luxury is available for both men and women, and that it can not only be a product, but also an environment, may indicate some of the ways it has evolved into something more democratic and mass market (and therefore harder to define) than 15 or 20 years ago. Now, if you want to see or experience luxury, it can be as easy as tuning into the Victoria’s Secret 2011 Fashion Show to see supermodel Miranda Kerr sport a 2.5-million-dollar “Fantasy Bra” (a London Jewelers’ creation) or visit Two By London, London Jewelers’ just-launched jewelry boutique, à la “concept store,” catering to couples shopping for engagement and wedding rings.

While it is probably fair to say that genuine luxury doesn’t truly change, it has without a doubt become more complicated and delicate to characterize. With careful consideration of history and image, luxury brands certainly can manage to maintain themselves with thoughtful evolution, whether that means publicizing a brand through new media (Twitter, Facebook, Internet advertising, etc.), through high-profile events (the Victoria’s Secret show) or through taking luxury into a new area (dining/engagement rings). In the end, many would argue that luxury comes down to the very basic human idea of expectation. “There are very high expectations when a consumer purchases from a luxury brand,” claims Candy Udell. “In turn, it is up to the brand to fulfill these expectations. This is what sets a luxury brand apart from their competitors.”