BY MARK KEAST

Is luxury embarrassing? Should you feel self-conscious stepping out of a $150,000 Maserati SUV, wearing a $15,000 IWC watch and an expensive custom-fit suit? Debate that amongst yourselves.

Luxury can certainly be tacky, though, if it’s in the wrong hands.

Ever see the interview with Donald Trump in his New York penthouse apartment, before he was elected president? That was an hour-long display of naked opulence for the sake of brazen showmanship, shallow and soulless – solid gold gems, flashy trinkets, accents and gilded candlesticks, Louis XIV-inspired desks, Roman empire-like floor-to-ceiling marble columns, crystal chandeliers and detailed ceiling murals of Greek gods.

Trump and co. has helped manage to make being wealthy and the pursuit of wealth a tawdry and tacky thing. The economy in the U.S. might be humming along, the stock market is red hot, as Trump, Republicans and Fox News hosts like to trumpet, but so is class consciousness and a growing divide between those who have it and those who just have debt. People wrinkle their noses at conspicuous consumption like it’s a bad odour. The ethics surrounding luxury is another layer to all this – environmentalism and labour practises in certain countries are big discussion points and millionaires and people with wealth north of that are well aware of it. If you have got it, better not flaunt it. U.S. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and some of her supporters, discussing rich and poor classes, are even tossing around the word “fascism”. Or what about the secret life of luxury led by Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who is now in jail, detailed here.

A Journal of Consumer Research study published in September calls it the “imposter syndrome” when talking about luxury consumption. Basically, wearing something that’s expensive doesn’t make you feel more confident. It does the opposite. It makes you feel inauthentic. It’s privilege that is undeserved. Wear that watch or piece of jewellery but be subtle about it.

The extensive study was conducted in part by talking to people (annual incomes over $100,000) in places like Martha’s Vineyard, New York’s Upper East Side, the Metropolitan Opera, and a luxury shopping centre. Another conclusion from the study was that these feelings of inauthenticity were less common in consumers with, “high levels of chronic psychological entitlement.

We’ll go the other way and say the pursuit of wealth is a good thing. More and more people are operating on their own islands, in their own pods, which makes this generation’s competitive world a unique one. Perception is everything. Look successful and you will feel successful, and people will notice. Put yourself in an ideal space, around people and things you aspire to. And if you have the means, don’t pull down your mindset by wearing things that are less than what you have aspired to. Don’t be wary of it.

There is no better feeling of empowerment than getting out of a BMW or Maserati. As our friend, Toronto image consultant Hussein Dalla, says, “Wearing a suit gives you a presence and strength. It makes people do a double-take when you walk into a room.” Knar Jewellery co-owner Jeff Buzbuzian talks about the originality, innovation, enduring beauty, durability – true luxury in the jewellery he sells. Haigo Derian from L’Oro Jewellery talks to us about the relentless pursuit for mechanical perfection in IWC watches. Goodlife gym is perfectly fine but a membership at Equinox is a statement-maker and puts you in a more influential circle strategically.

Luxury isn’t trendy. Luxury is subjective. It can be anything you define it to be. My wife carries her Coach handbag on occasion not to make a statement but because it makes her feel good and she wants a luxury moment.

“It’s about a lifestyle, not price point,”  luxury lifestyle expert Tobi Tobin told us earlier this year, talking about her definition of luxury. “It’s about making choices that bring you happiness and joy. I can remember when I didn’t have any money, and I was struggling. I was getting the brand going, but every week, I would go to the grocery store and buy white roses, no matter what. I would spend that $10 because they brought me so much joy. They were by my bed. It made me feel so luxurious. It made me feel rich. It’s about doing the small things – being in the moment, being conscious, of luxury. Luxury to me is walking on the beach with my dog, sleeping in the best sheets, a great cup of coffee.”

Those who embrace luxury do it because of the way it makes them feel. There is no shame in admitting that.