Luxury may mean different things to many of us but we can all agree that it is something that we like to treat ourselves and our loved ones with from time to time. In an interconnected world retailers can make us feel just a little less guilty when we splurges on luxury.
Webster's dictionary has a useful definition of luxury as something "adding a pleasure but is not absolutely necessary". However, every person understands luxury in his or her own way. For example, in Africa, millions of people would find prescription spectacles a form of luxury, while in the tax enclave of Monaco a bottle of champagne at a cost of 500 USD is a daily treat for some local inhabitants.
For many of us luxury is particularly deeply associated with a certain "Brands" and these often crave the status of being leaders in the world of exclusive products and services. Buyers of luxury products are often motivated by self reward and the desire to have the satisfaction of belonging to an exclusive and closed society of like-minded consumers. In our time, the word "luxury" runs the risk of becoming overused with a potential loss of the coveted cachet, because we can easily forget the value and the history that stands behind every item that we quick to label as luxury.
According to "Real Luxury" by Misha Pinkhasov and Rachna Joshi Nair (20144), luxury is the transition of a simple object to an art piece. It must always display the creativity of the designer or artist and show high levels of innovation in pursuing the highest quality standards.
Wall Street analysts were the ones who first began to popularise the term "luxury goods" when they needed a way to describe companies such as the high end conglomerates LVMH, Richemont and Gucci who had become publicly traded companies. Prior to this popularization of the term luxury goods, these companies were not really known as producing such items but instead were better recognised for their specific areas of expertise and the excellent global reputation they had garnered over many years.
If we compare luxury today with the 18th or 19th centuries, there is a stark difference. In the past, luxury was a term used for bespoke craftsmanship – made to order upon the client's requests. Today's luxury brands no longer only make bespoke products but also produce for a much broader market, which consumers can access at outlet stores for discounted prices. However, there are just a few brands still keeping the tradition of the exclusivity by issuing limited quantity items made with exceptional quality and care.
The nature and definition of luxury changes constantly and producers at this end of the market need to define new ways to attract clients. One of the most powerful attributes currently is to combine luxury with the aim of making the world a better place. Many prestigious brands are currently investing in or investigating this phenomenon by reviewing internal production processes and looking outwards to supporting non-profit organisations or setting up their own foundations to add their value into a more sustainable world.
For example, the Audemars Piguet Foundation works on many projects to raise awareness of environmental issues and to protect our planet. Rolex supports the arts as does Cartier, which established its own foundation in 1984, to act as a platform for contemporary art interaction between artists and the public. Prada Foundazionne curates contemporary art conferences, cinema exhibitions and research conferences and Foundazione Zegna by Ermengildo Zegna aims to conserve the environment and preserve the rich culture of Trivero, Italy, the community where the Zegna family grew up.
Many consumers of these exclusive products have become much more aware and responsible in their purchasing decisions. With enhanced buyer's knowledge they can choose to buy select luxury brands, which are known for their philanthropic activities. Doing so helps them to fulfil their inner need to give back to humanity and the environment. This helps the buyer feel a little less guilty about purchasing a lavish item they do not particularly need yet want and allows them to be more satisfied and content with their purchase.