Another oldie but goodie. I’d forgotten this one, but it is four years old.
In the late 1950s and early 60s, de luxe was a term, derived from Old French swanky, much beloved of advertisers. It has fallen into disuse pretty much, unless you watch QVC, and I for one mourn its passing.
Nowadays the much more pedestrian luxury is common. Bath products, pet food, carpets, even toilet paper, are frequently described as luxury. Luxury toilet paper. I ask you.
The word lacks the mystique, the cachet, of de luxe. Additionally, de luxe was often used as a descriptor for inappropriate products, notably household appliances and cars. So a de luxe kitchen mixer had three speeds, one of which allowed you to pebbledash the inside of your kitchen, and came with a free dough hook. A de luxe refrigerator had an egg rack in the door, and a cunning concealed compartment to store lettuce till you were reminded of its slimy black presence by a slightly fusty smell when you opened the fridge. A de luxe ride-on lawnmower would have a padded seat instead of the more proletarian pressed steel. With the skinny proportions of my arse, I’d have gone for de luxe every time.
The word reached its zenith in the motor industry. Every car you could buy had a cooking version for the peasants, and a Deluxe version for the cognoscenti. Buy a non-Deluxe and you could be drummed out of the bridge circle. These things counted back then.
I remember back in about 1962 my father bought a Vauxhall Victor estate car, or station wagon if you live in America. It had a front end that looked a bit like a Dodge Dart, and bodywork that looked as if it had been designed in a group exercise in a kindergarten, using wax crayons. The outside was pretty classy, butterscotch yellow (a colour later copied to great effect by Datsun, who sold every butterscotch coloured Datsun Sunny to minicab fleets in the UK,) with lots of flimsy chrome tracing on the flanks that tended to get torn off in automatic carwashes. This monstrosity was spawned in the early 60s, and had an ignition key with a head of a size that suggested it might have a secondary use as a corkscrew.
My father’s moral failings were legion, and parsimoniousness was a marked tendency. He paid a terrible price for this when he refused to fork out for the Deluxe version of the Victor Estate
The car also had a fabulous chrome dashboard like a downmarket Cadillac, or one of the more extravagant entries in the Wurlitzer Jukebox catalogue, or perhaps a pinball machine. Right in the middle of the dash was an enormous boss, emblazoned with a bright yellow, unpealable sticker. The sticker was printed in big red letters, ‘Reserved for cigar lighter.’ Nice touch, that. Cigar lighter, not cigarette lighter. With a very severe subliminal message.
‘Listen up pal, you get one of our motors, you’d better be rich enough to deserve it, or we’ll humiliate you to your passengers. Buy a Deluxe next time and avoid all the pain.’
Now we have to put up with the rather humdrum word luxury. The world is a poorer place.