Elegance can save the world….and your business too.
This might not be the easiest challenge I’ve ever undertaken, but it’s definitely a rhetoric argument I am committed to :
Elegance is important in business; it can help leaders lead, businesses succeed, creative people create, careers grow, people collaborate, salespeople sell, marketers better market their products and so on…
A few readers might object that, since I come from the luxury industry, I overestimate the importance of elegance whereas today some of the most capitalized and disruptive businesses in the world, those likely to shape society in the future, are led by people in t-shirt, jeans & trainers.
To answer this objection, and pursue my contention that elegance is relevant and important in business today, I decided to dig into the worlds of literature, philosophy, science and business, and with the help of minds greater than my own, present a few definitions of elegance that would help the reader and yours truly understand each other a little bit better, and hopefully find an agreement.
Novelist Paulo Cohelo once said: “Elegance is usually confused with superficiality, fashion, lack of depth. This is a serious mistake: human beings need to have elegance in their actions and in their posture because this word is synonymous with good taste, amiability, equilibrium harmony”
As you can see, Cohelo has cleared the doubt that, when talking about elegance, we are somehow referring to fashion.
French philosopher and writer, and one of Europe’s most influential thought leaders of the past century, the Existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre, defined elegance as follows: “Elegance is that behavioral quality that transforms a person’s highest essence into appearance”
I assume that, at this point, we can agree that elegance, rather than a superficial personality trait, is a reflection of something deeper, more intimate and, dare I say, somehow noble.
I say noble because we can’t address the realm of human essence without touching the very idea of morality, and its practical application, integrity.
Marcel Proust, author of the masterpiece “La Recherche” said: “If only for the sake of elegance, I try to remain morally pure.”
Although this can be perceived as a hyperbole, in it is not.
When elegance becomes an ideal, the individual is motivated to change his behavior to pursue it, because that’s what people do for their ideals.
People have fought for justice, and justice is an ideal, and countless people have died for another ideal, freedom.
And so, elegance becomes a word of the highest importance that raises, as defined by its etymology (from latin eligere = to choose), from a very precise action: choosing, or even better, electing.
Without the word elegance, it would be hard to define all the shades of an aesthetic that reflects a high moral standing.
When we refer to someone as an “elegant person”, we do not refer solely to their wardrobe, but rather to something deeper that lies within the soul.
Elegance becomes a clay that permeates our behavior, that enables us to deal with everybody (even those who are not elegant), that makes us appreciate the world and look at it with a sincere, and never hypocritical, eye.
Being elegant means developing a personal style, having the ability to find simple solutions to (even) complex problems, being adaptable to the various scenarios of life, and finding harmony within ourselves, and in our relationships.
Elegance applies to all the areas of our life, private and public.
Elegance, perhaps unexpectedly, finds its place in science too.
Ian Glynn, Author, Professor Emeritus of Physiology, University of Cambridge explains: “Thinking of elegance as graceful, tasteful, of refined luxury, is useless here. So what does elegance mean in the context of science? is a considerable part of it, creativity too. An elegant mathematical proof, an elegant theory, or an elegant experiment is one that is economical and imaginative, and sometimes breathtakingly simple once explained”
In an article for the Huffington Post, dated 2017 Ian Glynn writes “In my book – Elegance in science, the beauty of simplicity – I attempt to introduce the reader to a variety of examples, from the delightful simplicity of the laws discovered by Kepler and Newton in their studies of the motions of planets, and by Galileo in his studies of the rolling of wooden balls down inclined planes; from the remarkable work of Count Rumford on heat, of Thomas Young on light, and of Michael Faraday on electricity;……”
Lastly, we cannot end a conversation about elegance without linking it to good manners, or to say it in the most elegant of languages, French, etiquette.
Frustratingly enough, good manners that seem to be so out of fashion today, in a culture dominated by hip-hop, fast food, and business gurus who can’t explain a concept without filling every sentence with the word f***, were very popular, at least in the Old Continent, until not many years ago.
European literature shows very clearly how good manners were a standard code of behavior for the rich and the poor, for men and women, and for adults and children.
Think of Goethe’s “The sorrows of young Werther” in which the main character, the young artist Werther, falls in love with Charlotte despite knowing beforehand that she is engaged to a man named Albert.
Not only every interaction between them is characterized by the highest level of good manners, but Werther’s moral stature becomes visible when he hinted at the idea that one member of the love triangle – Charlotte, Albert or Werther himself – had to die to resolve the situation. Unable to hurt anyone else or seriously consider murder, Werther sees no other choice but to take his own life.
Isn’t it quite different from today’s common narrative in which winners take it all, wear bling-bling jewels, and drive a gold-plated Rolls-Royce?
Or think of the lovely and charming vagabond Knulp, narrated by the pen of Herman Hesse in 1915, who’s liked by everyone he meets for his impeccable manners, and who finds hospitality, a hot meal, and, sometimes, even someone’s wife’s attention, wherever he goes.
Good manners are out of fashion, but I bet they’ll be back soon because they are sustainable; they amplify likeability, and they enhance human interactions.
Elegance – the most beautiful actress of all time, Audrey Hepburn, once said – is the only beauty that never fades.
In my attempt to convince the reader that elegance is important in business, I’ve realized how much more important it is in life, and so writing this article has given me the opportunity to reflect upon my own life, and pursue new and higher moral objectives.
To close on a light note, taken from the industry (luxury) I belong to, I conclude my argument with some words of wisdom from three iconic figures:
“Elegance is not being noticed, it’s about being remembered.” Giorgio Armani
“Never use the word “cheap”. Today everybody can look chic in inexpensive clothes (the rich buy them too). There is good clothing design on every level today. You can be the chicest thing in the world in a T-shirt and jeans — it’s up to you.” ― Karl Lagerfeld
“Elegance comes from being as beautiful inside as outside.” ― Coco Chanel