Luxury is not a static concept, but it shapes and changes with society
Luxury is a concept and a lifestyle that has very distant roots. It comes from the Latin Luxus, which means excess and superabundance. Thinking of luxury, one image that came to our mind is the reign of Queen Marie Antoinette in France. Or that of Croesus, the King of Libya, who defined luxury as a social force with a particular purpose: to flaunt wealth and power. Nevertheless, luxury is not only a lifestyle, not even superficiality, ignorance, or materiality. It is also research, experience, and deep knowledge of beauty. The words of the Italian designer Stefano Gabbana are valuable to understanding what luxury means and how it is changing nowadays:
Luxury is not a static concept, but it shapes and changes with society.
Once upon a time, luxury was intended for a small circle of people - primarily wealthy and cultured people - who understood its actual value. But today, it is within everyone's reach thanks to the "democratisation of luxury" that is the opening of the sector to a more significant number of consumers. Do you buy an object for its intrinsic value? Or do you purchase it because it is trendy? Can democratisation of luxury benefit the market?
While the democratisation of luxury can contribute to the global economy, on the other hand, it risks having a negative effect. The demand increases and, consequently, the production, thus generating a standardization of the products. The serial production of an object could reduce the quality and miss the main feature of the concept of luxury: uniqueness.
Old generations bought items not only because of their trendiness but because those objects were nowhere to be found. Things were often made by hand, by artisans who used ancient techniques, and limited quantities or unique pieces were produced. Today, however, we all have the opportunity to have luxury design pieces, gorgeous cars, and precious jewels, but your neighbor will have it too if you look closely. And this is no longer luxury.
I came across several definitions of luxury during my research, but one in particular, by the German economist and sociologist Werner Sombart, caught my attention:
Luxury is relative
Sombart explains that the meaning of luxury varies according to social position. Being defined through its link with necessity, it does not have a specific purpose. It is a relational concept whose contents become understandable when one comprehends what necessity is. But what do we need? A trendy bag, an expensive shoe, or something else? Maybe yes, maybe no. But a further question is: why?
One of the answers can be found in what I consider a plague of our times: the media bombardment. We are constantly surrounded by images of dream houses, glittering objects in any direction we turn our gaze. One example is the television series, like Gossip Girl and The O.C. and others.
Set in luxurious homes - with protagonists showing off the clothes and jewels of the big luxury brands - the shows entice us to imitate them by desiring what we see on the screens. And at this juncture, CRAVE is triggered, that of wanting that particular accessory because our heroine wore it. So, luxury becomes a need to look like others. Often, we do not want that specific object for its beauty but because it is fashionable. And here, a new factor is revealed: consumer change.
Some studies state that luxury products also affect the consumer's psyche, altering his perception of himself, feeling more exciting and admired. In line with the growing importance of appearance in today's society, this theory indirectly generates consumer change. Most consumers nowadays buy without caring about the criteria that shape objects or the reasons for selecting a specific material rather than another. They buy only to show off their purchase, sometimes ignoring that there is a story, path, experience, and research behind every object.
History, path, experience, and research are the foundations of every successful brand, regardless of whether luxury or not. I find the fidelity of values - and the respect for the family tradition that some have preserved - particularly fascinating. Without bowing to the new rules of the "world of luxury", they remain consistent with their identity, resulting in somewhat repetitive and not avant-garde. Nonetheless, they incarnate the real taste of luxury.
Another exciting element is the research. Research and innovation are two driving elements of fashion, capable of bringing a completely new product experience to life. Whether in materials - innovative, sustainable, recycled - or arts or technology, they make a product more intriguing and exclusive.
The luxury market constantly influences our lives, even if we are unaware of it or think we are immune to it. Every accessory, item of clothing has been created by the "big names" of fashion and design. What we buy in stores is simply a by-product. It is a rather tricky concept to explain in words, so I recommend a clip from the film "The Devil Wears Prada," which will help understand it better.
We often think that luxury means purely owning an object. But what if I tell you that maybe we're wrong?
Luxury can be as simple as a particular moment of our day spent with loved ones, a holiday in a lovely place, or simply a pizza and a chat with friends.
What does luxury mean for you?