Rethinking Luxury

How is its Definition Changing?

What people perceive as luxury depends on your stage in life, where you live, your income and your direct environment. It is based on context, time and place, and what is scarce. Luxury will mean something different in Russia compared to England. We can be critical of opulent wealth and see it as shallow and garish but it al depends on what is scarce and your relationship with money. In Russia people see money as dust, you never know what it will be worth. You better spend it, invest it in durables. 

Luxury used to mean craftsmanship, beautiful precious materials, real materials that you can feel. Made with love, skill and knowledge. Now luxury is becoming more invisible, what is not there. Floating and weightless. Our phones are screens, the edge where the surface ends is shifting, disappearing. Space is expensive, our most precious commodity. Designers make everything go away, design our spaces to be more empty.

The luxuries of life are education, time, knowledge and insight. Yet we should also feel free to o enjoy our luxuries and not feel the guilt of the cows that died for the leather, the craftsman that were underpaid, the pollution was caused. Luxury should be fair and honest. To enjoy it without guild is our biggest indulgence.

 Tincture luxurious and ethical cleaning products by perfumer Anastasia Brozler & Angelika Davenport

Tincture luxurious and ethical cleaning products by perfumer Anastasia Brozler & Angelika Davenport

Luxury as a state of mind

Luxury is to live a happy life. We can feel extra luxuries are to much, not necessary, and feel we should be happy and content with what we have. But we see a shift in this attitude, we see that after years of austerity, luxury is a human need. The new definition of luxury centers on the more easily attainable aspects of luxury. The things we lost in our modern way of living, we are returning to them; time and attention.

The basic things we need in life can also be beautiful and well designed. Functionality can be luxurious and beautiful. Technology can be attractive. Sustainability does not have to be dull or ugly. It is the role of designers to work together with technicians and scientists to create beauty, to inspire the industry and add emotion. Perhaps mass manufactured products need to raise the bar and return to a state of higher quality instead of the disposable nature they poses in order to restore consumer confidence.

The value of gold

 The golden joinery project by Saskia van Drimmelen

The golden joinery project by Saskia van Drimmelen

Luxury can mean not throwing something away that is broken but repairing it with time and attention.  The golden joinery project by Saskia van Drimmelen is a workshop where people bring their torn or aged garments and repair them with golden threads like Kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold. 

Time is a scarcity, how do you invest your time? Take care of yourself and invest time in you. To learn something, to read, to walk, to talk to somebody. Our phones switched of with our full attention. Investment in education, healthcare and retirement has a big impact on consumers’ quality of life. 

It is important to understand history, the cultural heritage of people or a location. Cultural heritage is in the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the religions we follow, and the skills we learn. Sometimes we can touch and see what makes up a culture; other times it is intangible. We see the news from around the world but without knowledge about other cultures, cities, countries or religions it is hard to understand and be empathetic of others. We can learn from the wealth of information, knowledge and traditions of other cultures.

For luxury brands it is an interesting time where they should explore their own identities and be in tune with the new ideas about luxury and translating that into products and services for their global customers. 

key findings

Luxury is time 

Investing in time capital, trade money for time. The abstract value of investing in free time. Giving ourselves a bit more time could make us a whole lot happier.

Luxury is experience

Learn a new skill, keep developing yourself, stay curious. Experiences that help us develop new skills or apply our talents in novel ways and make us feel more confident.

Luxury is Simple 

The everyday luxury of perfect funtion. The simple things that make life beautiful.

Luxury is culture

The intrinsic value of arts and culture to society can enrich our emotional world.


Top image, The golden joinery project by Saskia van Drimmelen