How is the culture of luxury changing?


Luxury is “the opposite of vulgarity” said Coco Chanel. It is also in many ways the opposite of poverty. As people in developed countries – and increasing number in developing countries – grow more affluent, luxury defines what their wealth can be spent on once theirbasic needs are assuaged.

In a positive sense, this is about sensory refinement and human taste at its most discerning. Sensory Indulgence is in fact one of my chosen themes of the Zeitgeist 2011. However it can sometimes be a simple expression of an excess of money.

Tim Stock of scenarioDNA has created an excellent presentation on the Culture of Luxury, shown here. It is a beautiful deck with many provocative ideas – well worth seeing.

The slides bring out the theme of Rank, since luxury is so often simply an expression of wealth rather than taste.

How we perceive luxury depends on whether we come to it from a perspective of what it is (tasteful, refined, expressive of the best of human culture and creativity) or its accompanying financial and status attributes (expensive, denoting wealth, and a desire to be seen as tasteful).

Coming out of a major financial crisis and possibly into another one, these attributes change. Ethics, restraint, sustainability, and personal expression become aspects that must be part of luxury.

Yet one thing that does not change, and may be even accentuated, is the quest for perfection. The concept and reality of the ideal is alive. As we are more able to do so, we strive for the products that make up our environment to be perfect. Design is the process of creating what could be, might be perfect. Luxury need not be expensive. It can be functional.

Our quest for luxury in its manifold forms is, paradoxically, intrinsic to how our culture will be shaped through the financial and social challenges ahead. Let us continue to explore luxury for what it can teach us about ourselves and where our society is going.