Adrenaline is the new luxury

While luxury is by now synonymous with exclusive experiences, it is also true that these experiences increasingly have elements associated with extreme sports and risk. Why invest time and money in such dangerous activities? We caught up with Luca Alessi - fourth-generation heir to Italian design house Alessi - to tell us about it.
For some time now, the word luxury no longer means only the possession of exclusive goods, but more and more often it reflects the value of sharing experiences that are equally as exclusive.

The status symbol has never been limited only to something one owns, but more and more frequently it is now associated with something one can say one has done.

Surely, there has never been a lack of state-of-the-art facilities and resorts in terms of wellness and relaxation, but there seems to have been an increasing tendency to seek out extreme and adrenaline fuelled experiences. Especially among the new generations, there is a growing tendency to invest time and money into activities that involve a certain risk factor (although these are minimised) and a great deal of physical effort and highly specialised equipment: paragliding, hydrospeed, kitesurfing, freeskiing, diving in apnea, there are many disciplines in which you can try to find the thrill.
But where does this search for risk come from? And above all, how have such activities become the equivalent of a status symbol?

Luca Alessi, 35 years old, the nephew of Carlo Alessi and Germana Bialetti currently works in the commercial branch of the famous company founded by his great grandfather. He feels a strong pull to put himself to the test in sports such as mountaineering or freediving - activities that he prefers not to define as extreme.

Do you agree that luxury now increasingly involves exclusive experiences rather than solely exclusive material goods?

We must first understand what is meant by luxury. I see it as a set of activities and types of material goods that are not strictly necessary for our everyday life, with a connotation that also goes beyond functionality and therefore has to do with excess. In this way, it gives a form of distinction from the rest of the people.

So it is essentially something that has to do with the rarity...

Yes, with the rarity, because the product that is limited edition, made to measure or is personalised gives you the idea of owning something that others cannot have.
I can see two essential reasons why people want goods, or experiences that are luxury: the first is of a public nature, directed outwardly, for the pleasure of showing their own distinction to others, the second is of a private nature, aimed precisely at themselves and at the personal pleasure of possessing something that one loves very much, which gives an emotion, of an extraordinary and exceptional nature.

This eventually applies both to material goods and to the experiences that you can feel. But it is also true, however, that a luxury product which turns out to have commercial success becomes less attractive and loses the public purpose of distinction, and so only the private aspect of owning something one loves remains.

I am neither a psychologist nor a sociologist, but on this point I believe that the exclusive experiences differ from the material goods that are just as exclusive due to the simplicity of sharing today: much more weight is given to the public component of luxury, also simply thanks to the constant and personal sharing through social media.

On which side do you think you are leaning towards the most? Do you enjoy the public or private appearance of luxury more?

Well, I think I have a fair balance between the two sides. I feel that I am fairly balanced, even though I give more weight to private luxury, which allows me to feel satisfied with me, happy. This is followed by the ambition of many Italian design factories, including ours, to give a little happiness through their goods. It is a job where one finds oneself turning more to the private component, to the personal enjoyment of one's own objects, than to the need to flaunt externally.

Is it also important for you to share experiences or do you prefer to enjoy them alone?

I'm convinced that sharing is very important, and I mean sharing the moment itself, the experience itself, rather than in the end, that is to say the one for which you can say, "wow, what a beautiful thing, I did it" and I'm not just referring to social media. I lived five years in America, six years in Asia, as Trade Marketing Manager for the DeLonghi group first and then as sales manager for the family business, and for 95% of the time I only traveled throughout Asia, North and South America, South Africa.

This gave me the chance to have unique experiences. For example, I organised a week of work in Central America and in the weekend I was going, I went to do mountaineering on Mount Fuji. I had a lot of fun but I was always alone. Sharing a strong experience changes everything, sharing unique moments that will stay within you forever with people you love ties you differently to those people and consequently changes the value of that experience for you.

Still on the topic of rarity as a luxury category, it has always been considered a little bit of luxury par excellence to have the time to devote oneself to the activities that you love most. Do you think you had enough?

No, absolutely not. I consider time to be the most important resource we have today, perhaps even more so than in other historical periods. If you think about it, until a few years ago it was much more difficult to travel or practice extreme sports. Now what makes the difference seems to be the time available. And no, I don't think I have enough, but not because I do things that I don't like and therefore feel the need to direct my time towards other activities. It’s because today I can say that I am very much in love with my work and in general I like my life, it's something that concerns my nature: I need to continue learning new things.

When I feel that I have learned something well, I immediately have to change, to go and do something else, to take on a new challenge. Unfortunately, time is a much more defined resource than human intelligence. I've returned to Italy for a few months after 11 years abroad and I can tell you that here you feel really well. I’m working between Verbania and Milan, in winter I'm two hours from the most beautiful ski slopes in the world, in summer two hours from the sea, I can't complain, I can enjoy my passions.

Tell us about them.

I have to say that it depends so much on the season. Now that the ski season has arrived, I could stay in the mountains all the time. I like skiing but above all ski-alpine skiing, where I can venture away from the conventional slopes... I also like mountaineering very much. With the only goal of reaching the summit of a mountain you can enjoy hours, days of real suffering, amazing views and all for the priceless satisfaction of having really arrived there.

Have you ever wondered what gave rise to this constant search for extreme sensations, the need to overcome, the need to transcend limits?Is there also, as they say, the need to have control over events and reality through increasingly difficult challenges, do you see or feel moved by different reasons?

It's a beautiful question. To be honest, I have never asked myself. I do what I feel like. But if I had to look for reasons, I think I would go back to the theme of time, to this problem of having limited time. Yes, I simply try to live to the maximum, to go to bed and feel satisfied. And when do you go to bed satisfied? When you have done something nice, something different, when you learned something new. I try to live it in this way. There is something true in the idea that adrenalin activities, the feeling of risk, makes you feel alive. Although these activities are carried out in absolute safety, they really make you feel alive.

How is it that you only feel alive when you risk your life?

I don't know how I do that, but I don't think it works in this way for everyone.

Is there something you wouldn't do again, has there been a moment when you really feared it would end up badly?

A few years ago I started to do freediving and underwater fishing, they are crazy and totally mental sports, which can also lead you to such total relaxation that you really feel in another world when you're underwater. A couple of years ago I was in Micronesia fishing underwater with a friend from Hong Kong and a shark came much too close to me, had his designs on me if you like, and it seems that when they caught me in the boat I was white like a sheet and trembling. From that moment, every time I did apnea in those areas, which are always full of little sharks and usually very quiet, I suffered from tachycardia and I could not control it.

I also risked my life during a rally last year. I had a very bad accident, the guard rail cut the roll bar, and what terrified me most was the idea of being able to hurt someone, I wouldn't have endured it. So for the moment I’ve put rallying to one side.

Swimming with sharks, piloting planes, climbing mountain and driving fast cars, did you take this reckless vein from someone?

Definitely not my father, who plays golf at best! I inherited it from my mother's family. As a young woman, my mother also was into car rallying and her father was the European motorboat champion. It's the beauty that always complains, my mother! When I set off for a rally she always told me "go slowly!"... but it's normal, she worries. Well, my father is perhaps less worried because he has less clarity about the risks than she does.

Is there still something you would like to do and haven't done?

I am in love with the sea and I would like to make a crossing in the open sea which I’ve not done so far and right now I am not capable of it. I have a boat license but not a sailing license, and this is something I hope to be able to do in the future. Not on my own though.

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