The Art of ‘Iki’

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The Japanese brand, Uniqlo provides stylish clothing for affordable prices. On its website today it’s promoting linen shirts for men in appealing colors for $29.90 and cotton T-shirts for $9.90. Uniqlo displays its goods so they’re covetable. You want their black leggings because they look so cool and sleek on their website, even though you already have five pairs at home.

Ruthanne Terrero, CTC Vice President—Content/Editorial Director
Ruthanne Terrero, VP content / editorial director

Uniqlo has now launched Uniqlo U. The items sell for slightly more, but the selection is smaller and the lots are limited. As I was writing this column I tried to purchase a navy blue frock for $49.90, only to be told I’d get an e-mail when it’s back in stock. That scarcity appeals to me and I hope I get the e-mail. Soon.

In a recent issue of Elle magazine, Christophe Lemaire, Uniqlo U’s artistic director, described his design aesthetic using the Japanese word, “iki,” which, according to Wikipedia, is “an expression of simplicity, sophistication, spontaneity and originality.”

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“Iki” drives Lemaire to work under the philosophy of “slow fashion,” as opposed to “fast fashion,” which is all of the trendy apparel you see being pushed at you every season. Lemaire says he is all about producing the perfect pair of slacks and the ideal white shirt that you don’t have to replace every six months.

“Iki” defines luxury for me and I think it’s also a great strategy to apply if you’re selling ultra-high-end travel. Think of its components: Simplicity. Sophistication. Spontaneity. Originality.

Simplicity is best when it comes to luxury vacations. Isn’t it better to spend three glorious days at a five-star hotel than taking a tour bus around three countries with 45 other people? Sophistication is an obvious necessity for most affluent travelers. If they’ve been around the world and lead rich cultural lives at home, their itineraries can’t include basic tourist offerings that might offend their sensibilities. If a travel advisor doesn’t comprehend their client’s level of sophistication, they won’t have that client for long.

Spontaneity is vital for a luxury vacation. If every single day is filled with activities that don’t give a traveler the chance to breathe or get lost in a fun way, it’s likely they’ll describe their overall experience as “OK,” because they didn’t have opportunities for surprise. Even bespoke experiences can get boring if there’s no chance for the customer to engage with their surroundings in a personal way. That means free time should be written into schedules, as well as tips on where to wander for some potential unique encounters or dining options.

Originality is an interesting attribute for a vacation designer. We all know there are some who provide “predesigned” custom itineraries for clients. These are usually FITs that have worked well for past clients and so they become tried-and-true (and often tired) offerings for new clients. I think it’s vital that every luxury travel advisor provide some original content for each vacation, based on the client’s unique interests. Luxury off the shelf isn’t luxury. Interview your client to find out what they’re all about and consult with your suppliers on how you can introduce fresh experiences to them. This will keep the practice of crafting an itinerary fresh and fun for you as well, so it’s a win-win.

Back to my experience with that dress on the Uniqlo U website, don’t forget that scarcity has its appeal as well. Everything you are offering to your clients is scarce because it’s going to expire. Top cruise ship suites get booked up by those who plan ahead, as do hotel rooms and airline seats. Don’t hesitate to explain that to your customers who are slow to make a decision. Practice the art of “iki,” but do create a sense of urgency if the opportunity for a unique travel experience is going to evaporate or if your client is slow to commit.

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