The art of gift giving

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

of attention.

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.

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