Scott McGlasson, who makes handmade furniture and interiors, operates his Woodsport business out of an old St. Paul warehouse, replete with sawdust and sweat.
"I never thought of myself as a 'luxury goods maker,'" said McGlasson, 43, a once burned-out teacher who learned woodworking as an adult at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. "I like things that last, that are stripped-down and basic, and my things are not terribly expensive. I think luxury is about utility, but also about good design."
Rebecca Miller, owner of a local consultancy called "Necessary Luxury," thinks the same way. She has been an opera singer in New York, a jeweler, president of Gabbert's and retail strategist.
Miller says luxury has gotten a bad rap because of its connotation of big money, conspicuous consumption, extravagance and excess. There's a difference between class and consumption.
Miller is the local driver behind the first-ever Minneapolis conference of the New York-based Luxury Marketing Council Monday night and Tuesday at the Museum of Russian Art. She will be joined on a 6 p.m. panel that will include CEO Greg Furman of the Luxury Marketing Council; Steven Noble, chairman of the Luxury Home Alliance; Warren Beck of Gabbert & Beck, and Mary Baumann of Hopkins/Baumann.
The Great Recession reduced or obliterated a lot of six-figure incomes, the key clientele for luxury-brand marketers and manufacturers. The conference will explore how luxury brands need to collaborate, market and invest smarter to win more share of the discerning customer's wallet.
Miller talks about her grandmother's restored old sofa that she inherited as a young woman, the luxurious feel of a cashmere throw or the "inlaid smooth finish" of a piece of McGlasson's heirloom-quality new furniture.
"Luxury for some can be time to read a beautiful book, gaze at a Picasso or Monet," she said. "It's absolutely luxurious to buy a custom-made credenza or restore a timeless piece of old furniture.
"It's also about being green. Don't buy stuff that's just going to fill the landfill in a short time. Less is more, particularly if it's good quality."
The forum's local sponsors include the Galleria, Graves 601 Hotel, Bentley, International Market Square, the Museum of Russian Art, J.B. Hudson Jewelers and Mpls.St.Paul magazine.
Furman founded the Luxury Marketing Council more than 15 years ago after a career in marketing and communications with institutions that ranged from the Ontario Ministry of Education to Sun Oil, J. Walter Thompson advertising and Bergdorf Goodman.
I'm no connoisseur of high-end stuff. I hope I know the difference between the mass-produced imports and the wares of McGlasson (www.woodsport.net) and Edina stone-carver Jean Pierre Jacquet (www.handcarved stone.com). Jacquet will restore or build your fireplace, church altar and a lot in between.
Luxury ranges from the appreciation of craftsmanship and even to the luxury of generosity: sharing the wealth and love of good things; the feeling a philanthropist gets when she quietly underwrites school-kids to appreciate science and art at the Science Museum or Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Or the scholarships that train the next generation of artisans, graphic artists and craftsmen.
After all, today's luxury item simply evolved from yesterday's need for a bar of soap, a table, a watch.
"My grandfather used to tell me, 'Luxury is what you can repair,'" said Pierre-Alexis Dumas, the sixth generation of his family to run Hermes, the premium retailer of leather, fashion, fragrance, footwear, jewelry and tableware.
Or, as Stanley Marcus, the founder of Neiman Marcus, once said of the importance of artisans and those who sell and repair their work: "The best the mind of man can imagine and the hand of man can create."
That gets us back to the rough-hewn hands of Scott McGlasson, maker of furniture, stools and serving trays, who is grossing more than $50,000 annually, about what he'd be making as a teacher, raising a family and riding his bike many days to a cold warehouse off University Avenue and Vandalia Street in St. Paul.
It's not exactly a luxurious job. But he loves his work. And he loves telling the story of customers such as John Oliva, the owner of Specs Optical, for whom he built some chairs.
"Why are you coming to me?" McGlasson asked Olivia, noting that his handmade chairs were much costlier than any sold by a mass merchant.
"I want something unique and that will last and that will support local craftspeople," Oliva said.
Said a grateful McGlasson, "I can't believe people pay me to do this."
The conference, starting tonight, costs $75 to attend, at the door. Call 612-799-2164 to reserve a spot.
Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144 • firstname.lastname@example.org