Students aren’t having the best time right now. Course costs are rising, 17,000 students in rent arrears, and an NUS commission will imminently release a report into student poverty. But in Mayfair and its surrounds, students are living out a very different story. They're in the lap of luxury, dining at places like Quaglino’s, Sexy Fish and Nobu and frequenting nightclubs like Albert’s and the Chess Club, while wearing the likes of Fendi, Ellie Saab and Burberry. And if they’re not in London’s more salubrious districts, they’re jetting off to places like Barbados, Dubai and the Alps.
These students aren’t your run of the mill students. They’re not even the contemporary stereotype of students as eat-the-rich protestors with facial piercings and plural gender identities. They’re paid-up members of The Luxury Student, a private members’ club specifically tailored around the needs and wants of the jet-setting monied students getting to know London – or at least a slice of London – for perhaps the first time.
The Student High Street caught up with Aileen Gilani, founder and CEO of The Luxury Student, to find out how the 1% lives.
So Aileen, how did you get the idea for The Luxury Student?
When I was at university a couple of years ago I was studying law, and started The Luxury Student as a blog. I wrote about my lifestyle, and the one I wanted – make-up; shoes; very clichéd luxury lifestyle content. I met an mentor/investor who said “Aileen, stop learning about law, focus on this”, and so we turned it into a bloggers’ platform. We had a community of 20-40 bloggers, from as far away as Australia and Kuwait, and the most exciting part was they were all actually students. You always get the impression students are on a budget, but this was the exact opposite.
And how did it turn from a bloggers’ platform into a private members’ club?
In 2017 I researched and developed the product and re-launched it in September as a concierge service company catered to the students, so they can access products, services and events.
It’s become taboo, but we shouldn’t be nervous about loving luxury. If students are saving up money to spend on a nice holiday or the most recent Gucci bag, let’s celebrate that and not be like “Oh my god, she’s so rich.”
In their application, students they tell us the brands they like, so we can find more partnerships with brands such as Nespresso and Quintessentially Travel. We’re now working with Sloane Street fashion brands, providing members with things like a Jimmy Choo event at the Bond Street store to celebrate the Off/white collaboration.
Is there any limit on who can apply to this exclusive club?
It’s never been my aim to only go for rich students, but because we provide this luxury membership lifestyle and our standard package is £50 a month, we naturally attract students who can already afford the lifestyle. They tend to come from Regent’s University, UCL, Richmond (an American international university), the Istituto Marangoni, Hult International Business School. It’s become taboo, but we shouldn’t be nervous about loving luxury. If students are saving up money to spend on a nice holiday or the most recent Gucci bag, let’s celebrate that and not be like “Oh my god, she’s so rich.” And the beauty of this membership is you don’t have to spend thousands; a Nespresso machine costs £150, but our new members get one immediately once they sign up.
So why would a student join your club but not, say, Soho House at £10 a month more?
I love all the private members’ clubs in London, but they don’t always have a youth market there. And 90% of our students are international, so rather than join specific clubs, they want to experience the whole of London. We give students a taste of what it’s like to be at different venues and I dine with each new member to talk about their lifestyle and learn what they want. One girl mentioned she loved Moroccan mint tea, so we’re sending her a box of it. A couple of students are more into art than fashion, so we got them complimentary entrance to the V&A’s exhibitions. It’s the little things like that which tailor this service, so we’re not forcing students to do things.
To me, the best part of uni is going to a different place, independently, and meeting all sorts of different people, from all sorts of backgrounds. Some might wonder whether a members’ club might get in the way of students having a fully rounded experience of the new city they’ve moved to...
It’s just a whole new way of living, and some of these students are very, very wealthy. They’re staying at specific, newly built accommodation. And one thing I’ve always wanted to push with this community is networking. Most of our students also want a career in luxury but they can be confused about how to go about that. There are internships out there, but it’s so competitive and I completely feel for them, so we connect students with luxury brands. We’re trying to cater for the students and the struggles they have.
Is there any behaviour that could lead to a member being kicked out?
There is no forgiveness if a brand, restaurant, bar or club says a member was disrespectful. No matter how much money you have, or how interested you are in luxury, you have to be civil. Some rude and nasty students have tried to join, but we have the choice to not let them in. We also don’t focus so much on drinking events, we’re not here to provide bottles of alcohol!
It seems as if, for this group of super-rich students, there isn't much prestige in getting drunk...
When I was at uni it was all about having a quick bowl of pasta then going to the club with the cheapest drinks, but these guys want the best bar with the best cocktails, the best venue and experience. The ones who go to nightclubs will tend to dine out beforehand.
Do your members ever make requests that are *too* luxury to fulfill?
At the beginning we had no idea how we’d partner with Fendi, but we’ve made that happen. One member wanted to have an Alec Monopoly bag-making workshop – designing, spraying and drawing on the bags, so it’s very sophisticated. But those things come at £40,000-60,000! Maybe we’ll work on that for this year...
Are any member requests not luxury enough?
We’ve had a lot of students come to us with “do you give discounts for high street brands?” but that’s not what we’re for.
And what about bricks and mortar? Are there plans to house The Luxury Student in a permanent location?
It's always at the back of my mind, but we haven’t focused on it right now because we want to give them a little bit of everything. And ironically, a luxury venue in London is going to be very hard to afford!
You can find out more about The Luxury Student here (it's ok, the website's free).
Photo by Jonathan Daniels via Unsplash.