The Financial Times kicked off its "How To Spend It" section in 1967 as a single page in the Saturday issue (then called "A guide to good living"); the section grew to its own glossy magazine over the years, weathering lean years and good ones, and has found its niche half a century later, in an era of mass inequality as a weekly catalog of things that the super rich should buy to demonstrate their dominance over everyone else.
The Guardian's Andy Beckett has published an extremely detailed history of the How To Spend It magazine, tracing its twists and turns through the hears. Beckett implies that the magazine might be the secret cash cow of the FT, a font of advertising dollars from luxury brands chasing one percenters.
Even more interesting is the way the goods in the magazine are pitched: "bluntly" for "bankers, or businessmen from China and India – quite blunt people," whose approach is "Just tell me what I need." The idea, in other words, is to just tell the looter class exactly what to buy to demonstrate their status in "Plutonomies – economies powered by the wealthy."
Yet while it reinforces the rich's sense of entitlement – their sense that the world is their playground – How to Spend It also serves to remind them that they frequently lack taste. With striking bluntness, the magazine's name says as much. "Compared with the truly fashionable, who are often less well-off, and have acquired their edge by having to choose between products," says a prominent British writer on class and style, "seriously rich people are often ever so slightly behind the beat."
In an age of mass luxury – of mobbed designer concessions in department stores, of designer shops proliferating in seemingly every major city – how can the rich stand out? How to Spend It often advises its readers to buy limited-edition or hand-made goods. But sometimes the discernment required seems never-ending. In an issue in May, the British designer of upper-class menswear Jeremy Hackett recommended a London shoemaker, George Cleverley, whose bespoke products cost "from £3,600". "My current order," said Hackett, "is for some tan and white Oxfords … made from a batch of reindeer leather salvaged from the Metta Catharina – a 53-ton brigantine that sank off the southern coast of England during a voyage from St Petersburg to Genoa in 1786. The leather was tanned in St Petersburg by artisans whose techniques were secret for centuries … " Hackett might have been joking – except that How to Spend It doesn't do jokes.
How to Spend It: the shopping list for the 1% [Andy Beckett/The Guardian]