Everytime I have a conversation with someone about the Boutique Era, I run into the issue of finding an industry that hasn't been touched by 'craft'. Everywhere I could think of where commodity reigned previously (commoditization being the mad dash for cutting prices and increasing efficiency to beat the competition), some sort of product that "delivers an experience" has stepped in.
Even toothpaste, my formerly favourite example, has baffled me with the gorgeous Sephora product, "GoSMILE", a smile beauty company...with it's 'wake up' and 'go to sleep' as well as 'Zen' versions of toothpaste that whiten and protect...I mean, jezus, there is even a story, soul and science behind this fun product (which is, consequently, not much more expensive than the drugstore brand whiteners).
Then, of course, there is Moleskine. You've heard of the notebook that was used by geniuses of days gone by such as Van Gogh, Hemmingway and Matisse, right? The story is just so romantic, I want to believe it true. But, truth be told, it's a bloomin' pad of paper. It doesn't have any special pockets. It doesn't make you more creative. It certainly won't get you laid...strike that last one. It may. But seriously. We go out of our way to buy Moleskine Notebooks. Why? There is no rational reason. Sure, they are a perfect size, good quality and all of that, but it really is the essence (mojo) that we buy them for.
I've already mentioned the cheese, but what about the chocolate? Holy Toledo, the chocolate! Now, Suw Charman, the chocolat aficionado herself could probably add so much more to this conversation,
but I was recently pointed to Noka Chocolate, who has a Grand Cru collection. [thanks Frank & Prophetess for pointing out that Noka is a luxury brand - expensive, but questionnable in quality - not a boutique brand.] when in New York over the holidays, we happened upon Vosges Haute Chocolate, where we drooled over chocolates tinged with paprika, wasabi and dulce de leche, settling on two truffles that cost us more than a latte each. !! Were they worth it? Well, it's hard to say. Cadbury sure doesn't make them like that.
Coffee is definitely one of those things that has, long ago, been turned into a craft. The 'craft' has also been commoditized, but each time, a new level of craft emerges. We really really heart Blue Bottle Coffee (many others here do, too). They make coffee like they mean it. They aren't about speed or formula. In fact, the coffee tastes different each time. But it's awesome. "Like crack," is something I've heard repeated (by people who have never done crack, I suspect). Their little Linden Street location doesn't really even have a place to sit. But there is almost always a line. And it's a culture. Lots of people in Zipcars pull up there, too, consequently...hmmmmm. It's an experience.
I certainly don't want to create the air that the Boutique Era is about spending more, either. That's not what it's about. Sometimes you do and sometimes you don't. Of course, higher quality materials and more personalized service will almost always come with a higher price.
Nor is it about creating something 'snobbish' and exclusive. But once the products meet the mass consumption level, they will probably be aped and the price war and mass competition will begin, thus, leading to commodification.
I've only mentioned three brief examples here, but I'd love to hear more observations from you. What are the threads that you think may tie these together?
I'm putting together a commodity vs. craft list that I'll be publishing in the next few days, too...