How To Understand the Concept of Luxury: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Luxury sector is growing steadily today giving its customers their consumer confidence back and creating new strategies to keep the desire alive. It is a time of rejuvenation and renegotiation of the concept. However, there is a need to look at the essence of the concept of luxury in order to understand the on-going changes which frame the future of luxury.

The philosophy of luxury is built upon a theory that all human beings live in a world that is created by them and in which they find meaning in sumptuous enjoyment. However, what human beings are regarded as luxury varies through time and space, economic, social and cultural contexts. It is about constant renegotiation in accordance with a new context. As an example could be given the social habits of the eighteenth century’s nobility that were in the nineteenth century adopted by the prosperous middle class. Armitage and Roberts argue that by interpreting the codified knowledge, which is sold to us by media, the latter makes us believe that something is luxury. Luxury has existed since the Ancient times but the philosophical and economic debate started blossoming during the eighteenth century under the Enlightenment and was nourished by human sensations, utility and comfort.

Wants unlike needs are intentional and subjective, becoming contingent but refined and positively pleasing features of human life.

According to Werner Sombart luxury is any expenditure of the necessary, where a relative definition becomes comprehensible only when we know what constitutes “the necessary”. What is necessary might be defined by aesthetic values, or by an objective standard, based on cultural wants contrasted by physiological needs. Furthermore, cultural needs might give rise to two aspects of luxury: a quantitative one, associated with prodigality, and a qualitative one from which we derive the concept of “luxury goods”, which may be characterized as “refined goods”. A luxury product would by Sombart be considered as an object of materialistic or selfish luxury, predicated by an “awakened sensuousness” and a “mode of life” influenced by decisively eroticism. Christopher Berry interprets refinement as an element of basic transience to the status of luxury goods.

Berry sees luxury to be built on a paradox of retailers’ dilemma, according to which they want to sell as much goods of their products as possible but keep those exclusive, associated with expensiveness and rarity. Berry argues that neither expense nor rarity are sufficient conditions for a product to be considered “luxury”. The product as such must not only be desired but widely desired. The desire should be viewed in the context of necessity such as sustenance, shelter, clothing and leisure, as the relationship between needs and desires is fundamental for the definition of luxury. It is the extensiveness of those four categories that relate them to satisfaction, what makes this relationship crucial and differentiates need from “wanting”. Wants unlike needs are intentional and subjective, becoming contingent but refined and positively pleasing features of human life. Meanwhile, leisure has not always been a basic need but became the one as a result of renegotiation of social context. Life of leisure was created by a privilege of a well-mannered gentleman – nouveau riche – to conspicuously consume valuable goods, what also demonstrates financial strength and political power.

Thus, the time factor and effort seem to be crucial for the luxury to keep its status.

Kapferer and Bastien state that the luxury brand is something that has to be earned. The inaccessibility based on a built-in time factor, which a consumer spends searching for the product raises the desire. Luxury has to set up necessary obstacles, straining the desire and keep those in place. It is about distributing rarity as there is no real shortage. Thus, the time factor and effort seem to be crucial for the luxury to keep its status. Balenciaga sneakers of model Speed Trainers model F/W 2017 in black, what I consider luxury, were sold out within a week all over the globe. However, the announcement came out a couple of months prior to the release, what created a huge tension for “Instagram fashionistas”, who were posting photos and complaining about waiting but the desire was obvious. It illustrates how luxury works together with the time factor and effort and how the dilemma of selling profitably but keeping exclusivity in place might be solved by marketing strategies.

There is also intellectual luxury such as antique goods, where desire and literal rarity are accompanied by patina that adds subtract value to the object and emphasizes its provenance, what also raises the financial and cultural value.  Such objects visualise “the vogue for the past” and playfulness of time between present and past, making the old times alive again, what is a luxury per se, what Mc Nelil & Riello call “the dream of immorality”, or “the extension of one’s life beyond the confines of one’s time”. It makes the product appear authentic and arouse nostalgia, what also affect the feeling of desire and raise the power of individualistic desire for quality of life, and to a hypermodern culture of well-being inseparable from criteria that are more qualitative and sensorial, more aesthetic and cultural. Thus, the past seduces us, while the present and its changing norms govern us. However, to appreciate such objects requires a special sophisticated knowledge, what collectors as a rule possess. It has also given a rise to a new type of luxury, described for example by Ricca & Robins, so called meta-luxury – the culture of excellence, which is particularly based on the luxury of knowledge, where the latter is an absolute precondition for being able to enjoy the full potential of such luxury.

Thus, the luxury is about rarity and refinements, surrounded by a strong desire contrasted with the objective needs.

Some luxury researchers argue that today’s luxury debate focuses on fashion brands and miscellaneous products, while the enlightenment discourse circled around the human experience. However, I think that the situation is starting to slightly change today and many luxury brands search for new strategies, offering their customers more and more experience rather than concentrating on the products as such. Luxury brands are using omnichannel approach, attempting to mix online and in-store experience gaining the maximal effect for the effort. The new Prada-store recently opened in Miami is an example of Prada’s heritage meeting the brands inspiring concept of uncompromised quality, and constant innovation, what creates an enjoyable and authentic experience, straining the desire. It also can be viewed as a nostalgic luxury product to be consumed as an experience and as an object of fashion in sensorial, aesthetic and cultural perspectives. Thus, the luxury is about rarity and refinements, surrounded by a strong desire contrasted with the objective needs. The concept of luxury is constantly being renegotiating due to the changes in social, cultural, political and legal context. Hence, an individual’s feelings (desire) placed in the context of physical experience create the meaning that identifies the concept of luxury for one. And this is how the future of luxury will be.

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About TheStyleFibula

I believe when knowledge meets passion they can do a lot for a person, making the person pass it on to the people around one and this is how, I think, any changes in the world take place.