If you went to Uni, chances are your student days involved plenty of cheap alcohol, pesto pasta and trying to accrue as many freebies as possible at the freshers' fair. It's unlikely you whiled away your days swigging champagne, buying designer outfits or having your life admin ticked off by a personal assistant.
Being a student in much of the UK in 2018 is financially challenging/crippling for most. With yearly university fees at £9,000 (and the interest rate on loans due to increase this year) and maintenance grants having been completely replaced with meagre loans (to the detriment of the poorest students), students can expect to rack up more than £50,000 worth of debt, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
According to the latest Student Money Survey, 84% of college goers worry about making ends meet, with the biggest chunk of their monthly spend (£394 on average) going towards rent (surprise, surprise), followed by food (£126) – in other words, bare necessities. Half of students have experienced mental health issues as a result of money problems, while a similar percentage say it affects their relationships (42%), diet (61%) and presumably their health as a result, and even their grades (34%), the very reason they're racking up astronomical levels of debt in the first place.
It's understandable, then, that many students need to scrimp and save and spend as little money on unnecessary extras as possible. Living a "luxury lifestyle" is the last thing on their minds.
That's why we were intrigued by a company called The Luxury Student, a concierge service and private members' club for students in London. Founded by 26-year-old Aileen Gilani, it aims to offer "a truly unique service for those who seek the finer things in life whilst studying in London", and to help them receive "a VIP experience everywhere they go".
More than 80% of its 500+ members are international students and bloggers, who, the company says, tend to be "more interested in luxury brands", while the gender split is more even than you might expect, at 60%-40% female to male. It offers three levels of membership, with the most comprehensive package costing £400 for six months and entitling students to the following perks:
• A Nespresso machine as a welcome gift.
• A "virtual personal assistant", which can help with everything from proof-reading assistance to managing deadlines and timetables.
• Invitations to private store events on Sloane Street.
• Exclusive offers from luxury brands, such as the members-only "lifestyle management and concierge club" Quintessentially Travel.
• Complimentary access to members-only apps, such as the invitation-only "VIP lifestyle app" Urbanologie and The Influence Room, "where brands and people of influence meet for mutually beneficial partnerships."
• Membership to Quaglino's restaurant in Mayfair.
• Access to Albert's Club, a private members' club in South Kensington.
• Launch products from luxury brands (such as drinks and travel brands), and more.
The company says one of the most common requests from members on the most expensive membership is to get them into "exclusive restaurants and bars" in London, along with private styling sessions with luxury brands like Jimmy Choo and Burberry on Sloane Street in Chelsea. All of which sounds a far cry from the SU bar and discounted ASOS orders of our student days.
Meera Mawkin, 20, a second-year neuroscience student at King's College London, joined the club in January during her second semester of university because she "wanted to experience something a little bit more glamorous and luxury than just the ordinary university lifestyle". So far, she has attended private viewings at Jimmy Choo, been invited to social drinks and has, of course, received her free coffee machine.
Meera admits to having a penchant for "the luxury lifestyle" but says she wouldn't describe herself as wealthy. "I've particularly enjoyed the social drinks event. I think it was the fact I could dress up in my sparkly jumpsuit and heels and take lots of lovely pictures. It was a great evening and a great bonus for my social media feeds."
She insists that "it's not just about the discounts, etc. It's more about the experiences, meeting new people and enjoying a night away from the hustle and bustle of university life." Meera has even enlisted the service to help her arrange her 21st birthday dinner in June.
When asked whether she thought paid-for services and private members' clubs perpetuated social-class divisions among students, she says The Luxury Student "isn't actually that expensive". "Bear in mind that a student might spend over £50 on average a month on alcohol, and £80 on gym memberships, so this price isn't elitist." She pays £50 a month on her standard membership.
"I actually think the membership joins together the people who can afford luxury and those who might not be able to afford luxury," she adds, although she admits that not many of her university friends are members.
When we start university, we automatically think it's all about going out and going for the 'cheaper alternative'.
On the issue of elitism, the company's founder, Aileen Gilani, reiterates that members aren't selected based on how much money they have. "We just want students to join who love the [luxury] industry," she tells Refinery29. "We do ask members to complete a profile which gives us an idea of where they go out, what they spend on the most and what sort of brands they like, but that's more for us to try and connect them to the brands."
Students are "the most powerful target market in the luxury industry," she believes. "When we start university, we automatically think it's all about going out and going for the 'cheaper alternative', but actually I wish someone could have guided me to spend my money on more quality experiences – even going to get your hair blowdried – instead of buying what you would usually buy on a night out."
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