splurges

The Worth-Its

The luxury items that justify the splurge, from an $800 cat tree to a $15,000 watch.

The vintage Porsche. Photo: Pawel Litwinski
The vintage Porsche. Photo: Pawel Litwinski

Expensive things are sometimes things we come to regret. Other times, though, years later, they are the things that one feels wisest about having sprung for. What is it that makes such pieces truly worth it? Perhaps it’s the pure, decadent indulgence of the items — only trotted out for the most special of occasions. Perhaps it’s the knowledge that even the most ephemeral of such pleasures will endure in one’s memory. Sometimes it’s more quantifiable: knowing that you have used/worn/wrapped yourself in/inhaled this pricey thing so many times, and will use it so many more, that it has paid for itself five, ten, 100 times over.

The $22 Loaf of Bread

By Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld

$22
$22
Photo: Hannah Whitaker

Yes, She Wolf Bakery’s miche can be purchased by the $5 quarter-loaf. But we say forget practicality and surrender to the aesthetic allure of the whole supercolossal four-pound wheel. It’s bread as symbol of abundance and generosity and a testament to the baker’s craft. And a bigger loaf means bigger flavor and a longer shelf life. We love the faint but persistent sourness of the moist crumb, contrasted with all those toasty, caramel-y, nutty, Maillard-reaction flavors of the crackly crust; the resounding crunch when you take a serrated blade to the 18-inch diameter; the edible link to an old-world tradition that extends back centuries. How can something made up of only flour, water, salt, and natural leaven cost that much? In fact, fewer ingredients (like freshly milled Farmer Ground flours) often lead to better bread. But mainly it’s technique and the luxury of time. The whole She Wolf dough-making, shaping, fermenting, and general babying process takes over two days; you don’t so much bake this miche as go into labor and give birth to it. So yeah, spring for the whole hubcap-size loaf. Put it out on the buffet like a work of art. Inhale its deep grainy fragrance. Revel in its complexity of flavor. Buy a hunk of French Comté, some good butter. Invite friends.

The 6.99-Carat–Diamond–and–Ceramic Taffin Ring

By Claudia Mata

Photo: Hannah Whitaker

I covered jewelry as an editor in New York for over 12 years, which means I’ve seen many, many beautiful things. But now that I’m removed from it all (I left for Northern California a couple of years ago), James de Givenchy’s pieces are the ones I go back to. He would save a stone for years — like, 20 years in the safe — until he felt it had the right life for itself. What I like about the ceramic element is that it adds a bit of whimsy to a piece of jewelry that would otherwise be so serious — you have a major stone paired with something that’s a notch or two down. But they still feel timeless to me: I’ve sent friends to get wedding rings from him. It’s hard for me to say that the value of something that is worn on a hand is worth the price of someone’s home. But looking at it for what it is — from my years of being in the industry, from knowing what it takes to create it, the rarity of the stone itself, the clarity, how it’s cut — well, you can see why it costs so much. Sometimes I wonder why it doesn’t cost more.

The $38 Krigler Soap

By Molly Young

$38
$38
Photo: Hannah Whitaker

Nobody needs fancy soap. Soap has one job, and most will do that job. Spending $38 on a small orb of soap is not, therefore, something I endorse — unless you repurpose it into something much more valuable. Let me explain.

A year ago, I bought a $38 soap from an old perfume company called Krigler. Krigler is known for heady, high-quality, smell-it-from-across-the-room scents. But instead of using my soap for its intended ephemeral purpose, I dropped it into my lingerie drawer to scent my delicates. Wrapped in its original plastic, the soap emitted a strikingly lovely smell that permeated my underthings. It was like an old-fashioned sachet on meth. I expanded the soap’s itinerary through all of my dresser drawers. In turn, my clothes no longer smell like detergent but instead bear notes of neroli and jasmine. A year’s worth of aromatic pants sounds like something an unreasonable billionaire might demand — yet Krigler soap can be ordered online on a mere thousandaire’s budget.

My scent of choice is English Promenade 19, which smells like a garden at dusk. You may prefer one with woodsy vetiver or a sultry black-tea profile. Be careful in your selection — the soap lasts forever. I’ve had mine for a year with no diminishment in scent properties. Amortized, this comes to around ten cents a day for ongoing blissful aromatics. What else can you buy for a dime these days?

The $70-Per-Half-Pound Wasabi

By Hugh Merwin 

$70
$70
Photo: Hannah Whitaker

Years ago, on thanksgiving, my father fell and broke his hip minutes before the meal was scheduled to start. Family members dispersed as soon as the EMTs drove away. I threw a midnight dinner party to deal with the mountains of food, and because I was a line cook, my replacement guests were all industry people. One had a knob of fresh wasabi — he’d spared it from his restaurant — and grated it over the dark meat.

Fresh wasabi rules. The rhizome (the plant’s root) exudes a groundswell of isothiocyanates, the compounds that storm nasal passages with wonderful, prickly heat. By comparison, standard-issue wasabi doled out in pasty blobs is really just powdered horseradish with a bad dye job.

The sort of Very Informed Person who extols deluxe A5 Wagyu may suggest that Shizuoka prefecture — wasabi’s Japanese birthplace — produces the freshest, but West Coast–grown varieties are the perfect foil for king crab or even mashed potatoes. A few ounces is enough for a 20-pound salmon, which might be an inconvenience to butcher, unless, of course, a bunch of sushi chefs show up unexpectedly on your doorstep.

The $1,000 North Face Himalayan Suit

By Jessica Silvester

$1,000
$1,000
Photo: Hannah Whitaker

Not long after the birth of my child, I learned that if I ever again hoped to have any time to myself, beyond the walls of the diaper-exploding apartment, it would have to be in the early morning. I began to take walks along the Hudson River greenway at 4 a.m. As the temperatures plummeted, so too did my hopes of maintaining this meditative ritual. That is, until I had the chance to interview a landscape painter named Ellen Altfest. She told me about her beloved Himalayan Suit, and how its 800-fill goose-down insulation served to make a February cold snap feel like an autumn afternoon. She also revealed that it costs nearly $1,000. I could not justify such an expense — my job did not require me to be in, say, a subzero forest painting lichen. My new job, though — keeping another human being alive — did demand that I keep a clear head.

On a hormone-induced whim, I bought the suit. And as I continued to get out the door every morning despite the ever-lower digits on my weather app — 23, 17, minus 4 — the purchase seemed less and less insane. Of course, I looked crazy. Even through my snorkel hood, I could see the weird stares. “She’s warm,” I could hear construction workers saying to one another near Chelsea Piers.

The $15,000 A. Lange & Söhne Saxonia Watch (With an Alligator Leather Band)

By Gary Shteyngart

$15,200
$15,200
Photo: Hannah Whitaker

I hate putting on tuxedos, they make me look like a penguin imploded inside a hairy crêpe. But this super-elegant German watch is a freaking horological masterpiece: no frills, not even a seconds hand, just the hour and minute hands surrounded by a neat white-gold case. It makes dressing up worth the hassle. Now, what did I do with that cummerbund?

The $695 Balenciaga Sneakers

By Damon Young

$695
$695
Photo: Hannah Whitaker

Last summer, I watched the NBA Awards dinner as Kemba Walker of the Charlotte Hornets won the NBA Sportsmanship Award, given to the player who best “exemplifies the ideals of sportsmanship on the court — ethical behavior, fair play, and integrity.”

Walker wore a fitted gray suit with light checkers bordered by a slight baby-blue stitch and a black polo shirt buttoned to the top. On his feet were a pair of low-top bone-white sneakers. I thought he looked fresh as fuck.

Walker’s freshness solved two intersecting dilemmas I had. Months earlier, I’d bought a Lazio gray herringbone suit from Suitsupply similar in cut and fit to Walker’s, and I’d been curious how it would look with sneakers. Also, I’d been looking for a pair of sneakers that I could wear with a style of dress — trendy and practical airport/on a college panel/at a happy hour after the panel — that I’ve deemed “nigga casual,” something I could slip off when passing through airport security.

The next weekend, I drove to Ross Park Mall, a few miles north of Pittsburgh (where I live), in search of the right shoe. I parked outside Nordstrom, intending to pass through it before stopping at Foot Locker, maybe Macy’s. And then, well, remember in The Godfather, when Michael first saw Apollonia and was so captivated by her that his bodyguards claimed he was hit by a thunderbolt? That’s what happened when I laid eyes on the Balenciaga Race Runner at Nordstrom. It looked like something from the future. But not a Mad Max future. More like a Minority Report future. A future where Tom Cruise is still running.

I inspected the shoes like a butcher vetting a porterhouse. I even sniffed them, as if that fucking mattered. After the shoes had met my arbitrary olfactory standards, I asked a salesman if he had my size (11). Once I put them on, I officially moved from merely “captivated” to “Holy fucking shit, where have you been my entire life, you devil sneaker with a name I can’t even pronounce?” I hadn’t looked at the price yet. I hadn’t even heard of Balenciaga until that day, but I knew that the Venn diagram of “brands I’ve never heard of” and “sold at Nordstrom” and “roughly the price of a kidney” is a perfect circle, and I just didn’t want to scare myself away. But I had to look. So I did: $695.

You know how, on some sitcoms — let’s just say Roc or The King of Queens — the penny-pinching dad/husband will hear the extravagant cost of a thing and then start naming all the things he can buy with that money? (“A $17 burger?! At Jonny’s on the Ave., I can get two burgers, a steak, some tater tots, and an oil change for $12.99!”) That was me seeing that price tag. But they just felt and looked so damn good. “And,” I attempted to sway myself, “these would be my fancy airport/panel nigga-casual sneakers. Not my Pittsburgh sneakers. It’s a mature and appropriate investment, Damon.”

I bought the shoes and don’t have any regrets. They’ve been a welcome addition to my wardrobe, and I’ve lost count of how many people ask me about them when I’m wearing them. They look good with the gray suit, with jeans, with sweats, with the above-the-knee shorts I wear to cookouts and rib fests, with hoop shorts when I’m going to CVS and pretending to get captured by paparazzi. I even have a guy I go to who specializes in kidney-priced sneakers and cleans them. I’ve always wanted to have a “guy,” though I think I enjoy saying “I have a guy” more than actually having a guy.

Still, I’m urged sometimes — particularly when watching the Hornets — to invoice Kemba Walker. This is all his fault. And I’m sure he can afford it.

The $250 Bose Noise-Masking Sleepbuds

By Caitlin M. O’Shaughnessy

$232
$232
Illustration: Joe McKendry

These buds are particularly outstanding for travel — recently, while sharing an Airbnb loft with a friend who had a 2:30 a.m. conference call with her Hong Kong team, I marveled at my ability to block out any negotiations. But, as they say, that’s not all: Their rechargeable battery lasts up to 16 hours, and their case (with magnetic inserts) makes them easy to keep track of. The Bose Sleep app is a little clunky but does the trick; with a few taps, I can choose among ten noise tracks. And if you’re sharing the bed with an equally light sleeper, you can wake up guilt-free to an alarm that only you can hear. Once you’ve gotten over the sticker shock, you’ll throw out your foam earplugs and wonder how you ever slept without them.

The $800 Cat Tree

By Karen Adelson

$799
$799
Illustration: Joe McKendry

Like most cats, my two tabbies are relatively low-maintenance creatures — besides some irritating behaviors that remind me they aren’t too far removed on the evolutionary chain from their feline ancestors. These include their natural desire to perch at high elevation, such as on the edge of my shelf full of easily shattered wineglasses.

I’ve bought multilevel cat trees at big-box pet stores before, which the cats have used, but their ugly beige carpeting and cardboard, which ended up strewn across the floor, left much to be desired. I first discovered Pet Tree Houses in the pages of Cat Fancy — yes, I was a longtime subscriber of a feline-dedicated monthly — and learned that they’d won the magazine’s editors’ choice six times. Further research revealed that the trees are handcrafted by a woman named Shelley DelRocco and her husband, Joe, who closed his home-building business to devote his talents to cat habitats full time.

Upon the arrival of my six-foot-tall, four-story Sycamore model, I could see why the trees consistently got top honors. Made from materials (cedar, oak, and silk) that would be at home in a West Elm catalogue, it looked pleasingly in line with my other furniture.

The true test was whether the cats liked it. They did: They began scratching it immediately and continued contentedly for hours. It’s a statement piece, for sure — a friend asked where I got the “cat condominium” — but the joy it brings my tabbies and the order it has restored to my living room means everyone is happy.

The (Bought for $30,000, Now Worth $250,000) Vintage Porsche Roadster

By Adam Wright

Illustration: Joe McKendry

In the waning days of my publishing career, I started making money buying and selling Porsches. I found this one — a 1960 Porsche 356B Roadster — on Staten Island. I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the Roadster — it’s a cousin of the iconic Speedster, which people like James Dean drove. But better: The Speedster is cool but hard to tour in because of its low-cut windshield. The Roadster has a taller windshield and roll-up windows. I couldn’t afford it, so my friend, who also traded Porsches, came and bought it instead. A couple of months later, he called to complain that he couldn’t sell it. I made him a deal: a Miami Vice–ish Porsche ’73 911S I owned, plus an undriveable Roadster I’d recently found in a guy’s backyard in Boston, for the red Roadster I’d wanted all along. I took it to my Porsche club, which I was very active in at the time, to show it off. My friend ended up making a fortune off the two I traded for it, but I didn’t care: I just wanted that Roadster. I still have it. And I’d never sell it. Unless, you know, one of my kids needed a kidney.

The $700 D. Porthault Nightie

By Sadie Stein 

$475
$475
Illustration: Joe McKendry

As if it needs saying, it was a low moment. Money was tight. This birthday money had been given to me to spend on practical stuff: insurance or travel to see my ailing parents. But from the moment my aunt handed me the check, I knew what it would go toward. I had been stalking the nightgown, you see, for weeks.

It was the simplest nightgown you could imagine: just the thinnest cotton voile. The cut was bias; the bodice was made up of a series of gentle tucks. If you looked at your hand from under the hem, you could still make out its gauzy outlines and fluctuations of color.

It was heart-printed — a print so girlie I would have disdained it even as a little girl. Yet somehow now its utter frivolity spoke to me: I only knew I craved it painfully and unwholesomely. The day I had the money in my hand, I rode the 6 train to the store. The whole shop smelled like freesia and steam. The nightgowns — along with their matching peignoirs — were on a rack along the right wall. There was only one I craved — the rest were too dowdy, too Blanche Devereaux — but how I did long for that one! I bought it without trying it on, explaining that, yes, it was a birthday present to myself. The hearts looked silly, but then, I felt a little silly. I was, after all, wearing a $700 nightgown, and yet it seemed as durable a piece of chain mail as any.

Ed. note: The author’s original night gown is no longer available, but here’s a similar option.

The $2,000 Kente Cloth

By Andrew Solomon