“What is the meaning of luxury now, and where do we go from here?” This was the thread woven throughout the Luxury Briefing Conference held in London in January 2011, which was attended by Cape Grace’s Head of Sales & Marketing, Carol Stent.
Trend forecasters Martin Raymond and Chris Sanderson of The Future Laboratory have coined the term ‘Turbulent Teens’ for this post-recession decade and define typical teenage behaviour as unpredictable, with extreme mood swings and loud rude challenges to traditions and norms. They foresee a series of global shocks throughout the world during this decade. And how strangely prophetic their words were, uttered just weeks before uprisings began in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Bahrain. But they also emphasised the optimism, liveliness, awakening and quickened pace associated with this. And they linked the networking and interactive creativity endemic in these times to the ‘feminine way’ – they note that the evolving climate is far more allied to women’s ways than to the more process and linear way of ‘the masculine’. It’s a women’s century!
Nick Jones, founder of Soho House UK Ltd (membership club-like hotels in UK, Europe and USA with long waiting lists) was asked the question so often posed at this conference; What is luxury? “Luxury doesn’t mean expensive, it means comfort,” said Jones, “the marketplace has become much more sophisticated and people are very informed through websites and blogs.” He added that bad hotels and restaurants won’t survive because customers’ opinions are too informed and educated now to accept the mundane or the mediocre.
Raymond and Sanderson said one cannot engage with the public now without charm, enchantment and imagination. “Luxury should astonish people and delight them.” Dana Thomas – cultural and fashion writer for Newsweek in Paris – discussed her book, Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Lustre. Her focus was on how business and the meaning of luxury is changing. For example, approximately 40% of all Japanese own a Louis Vuitton product, once considered an item for the wealthy elite. The rising middle classes became the targets for luxury vendors’ growth and Thomas says that in order to make luxury accessible – by using cheaper materials and assembly line production – they are stripping away all that previously defined and ensured the limited and unique nature of ‘luxury’.
So, has luxury become an oxymoron where it can no longer be understood as meaning rare, special or unique? Dictionary definitions are perhaps the most telling way of summarising what luxury has meant over time; mid-14c; lasciviousness, sinful self-indulgence, fr Old French; excess, extravagance, 17c; indulgence in what is choice or costly, 18c; something enjoyable or comfortable beyond life’s necessities.
There has however, been a backlash against greed and pretention since the recession and the most bankable assets are now un-ostentatious timelessness and things that are beautifully made (the little black dress) and doing less but doing it better and with integrity.