I have an old LP at home, I can’t play it, because I don’t have a
record player. But it’s sitting there all the same, a 12-inch plastic
pill which never fails to make me happy when I’m feeling blue. It’s
a recording of Shostakovich’s 10th symphony, the final movement of
which is one of the most uplifting pieces of music ever written.
The funny thing is, you can’t short-cut it. If you try to just play
the final movement, it doesn’t have anywhere near the same effect.
It’s like going to see a Lars
von Trier film: the ending is only devastating because you’ve
been through the beginning with him.
It’s the same with presents, at least a certain type of present,
given to a certain type of person in New York or London. I’m thinking
of glamorous twentysomethings here, the sort of people who are often
seen sporting a Gucci lariat chain or a Tiffany dog-tag bracelet.
Wearing the jewelry, or the Prada sunglasses, or the Burberry bikini,
is just the final movement in the symphony. Beforehand must come the
giving itself, which has to be imbued with the perfect combination
of occasion and diffidence. The giver has to make the givee feel important
and special, but also has to be careful not to build the whole thing
up so much that the gift itself becomes anticlimactic.
Then there’s the really crucial part, the presentation of the gift.
There are more glamorous places to find jewelry than Tiffany, there
are higher-quality sunglasses than those found at Prada. But nowhere
else has the branding that these places do.
The branding is a multi-layered thing, which includes everything
from name-dropping in Brett Easton Ellis novels to glossy advertisements
in Vanity Fair. But a crucial part of it is the gift-wrapping, the
perfect presentation of every present in beautiful branded boxes.
There’s something very un-English about all this, it must be said.
I grew up feeling that even if a gift was simply bought at a shop,
there was always a personal touch in the wrapping. Getting the store
to wrap your present for you would be like typing a birthday card.
I suppose it’s the genius of Tiffany and Gucci that they have managed
to transcend the bathos of in-store wrapping and turn it into what
is probably the most important part of the gift. The eggshell-blue
box, the silver embossed logo, the layers of tissue paper: all these
serve to bring the recipient into a state of perfect heightened sensitivity
to whatever lies inside. Done properly (and it’s always done
properly), this kind of presentational foreplay to a large degree
makes the actual present inside irrelevant. Whatever it is, it will
be the climax to the act of unwrapping, emotionally spotlit, the center
We’re all familiar with the idea that it’s the thought that counts.
As consumerists, however, we also understand that actually, the gift
itself is pretty important too.
But the true genius of the way in which certain luxury brands refract
our postmodern society is only fully revealed when we finally realise
that it’s not the thought, and it’s not the gift: it’s the wrapping
that really matters.