Social Commentary

The Changing Face of Luxury

Luxury

A state of great comfort or elegance, especially when involving great expense.

An indulgence in something that provides pleasure, satisfaction, or ease.

What is considered by one to be a luxury, is considered by another a meniality.

Luxury is relative.

Subjective.

The concept of luxury is commonly referred to, yet it is not often that individuals articulate what they perceive luxury to be and mean. Consequently, individuals assume that what they perceive to be a grandeur experience or object would be valued equally by others, offering little credence to the parable that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Thus, what an investment banker, single-parent, student or pensioner would consider a luxury, would be invariably different. Equally, the concept of a luxury will differ between generations. Luxury to a property investor baby-boomer will be dissimilar to the perception of luxury to a millennial struggling to put a foot through the door of their first home.

In recognition of the varying understandings of luxury, the middle-market has transformed to acclimatise and cater to different market segments’ perception of what is a luxury.

The luxury market has undeniably changed.

Traditionally, luxury was once synonymous with elite and unattainable designers and Houses of Fashion, exclusive european sports cars, mediterranean getaways and waterfront mansions. No longer is the concept of luxury exclusive, no longer is luxury synonymous with quality craftsmanship, German engineering or prime real estate. No longer must one save to have a premium experience – no longer is luxury uncustomary.

The concept of luxury is now used as a marketing tool to differentiate low-cost low-involvement products from one another. The rise of the accessible super premium has seen products being placed at the high-end of their category price-point, high enough to evoke a sense of luxury, yet reasonable enough for the middle-market to access. The superpremium market is so sought after that near every market and product category offers a superpremium alternative.

Whether it be a premium upgrade, a ‘luxury edition’, a ‘sapphire’ package, there’s always that little bit extra on offer to make you feel a bit more refined (for a small fee of course). For example, if you search Waitrose for the term ‘luxury’, you’ll get 267 product results. If you go on Tesco its 317! Now, not to comment on the quality of offering from the likes of Tesco or Waitrose (their wares I’m sure are delightful) but I imagine both brands’ loosely applied definition of luxury differs greatly to that of, say, Louis Vuitton. Let’s be honest here, is it reasonable to have luxury cat food? Have our standards slipped that much? Or are we just that easily swayed by the offer of inching up in society?

Historically, the term luxury has always been a standard of quality, a mark of authenticity and shielded by a veil of exclusivity. But now the term is increasingly being owned by high street brands looking to squeeze a few more pennies via some nice packaging, leading to this dearth of ‘luxury’ options.

What Does Luxury Mean to You?

The face of luxury is invariably changing. Luxury is now reclining seats at a cinema, a can of dog food that isn’t home brand, a mass-produced polyester shirt with romantic european words plastered upon it, luxury is eucalyptus scented double ply tissues and moisturising soap bars consisting primarily of goats milk. No longer is luxury an indulgence. No longer is a luxury a scarcity. A treat. Something to look forward to. The super premium middle market has transformed luxury into the norm.Unexceptional.

Whilst arguably the rise of the accessible super premium market has empowered consumers to make decisions about product – there is an apparent catch 22. Whilst no consumer wants to be limited to a bland monopolised market, one must question whether by becoming accustomed to accessible super premium alternatives, are we in fact desensitising ourselves to the anticipation, excitement and enjoyment luxury experiences formerly provided?

The question is hypothetical.

No right, no wrong.

Relative.

Subjective.

Merely food for thought.

“Luxury, like a minimum wage, is a relationship; it changes as we change” – Vida Dutton Scudder

Intrigued by how contentious and fragmented the perception of luxury can be – I delved into what luxury means intergenerationally between Millennial, Generation X and Baby Boomer representatives.

Millennial

Respondent One:

‘Luxury comes in scales.

There are luxury investments and daily luxuries.

Luxury is something I can’t typically afford and is a specialty when I decide to purchase.

To me luxury is buying expensive makeup and skin care, staying in bougie city hotels, often holidaying and owning fancy cars. Luxury is an option. Yeah, so houses are ridiculously expensive but I don’t perceive a house as a luxury – it’s a necessity. I don’t view it as an option perhaps naively. When I buy a house I won’t have expensive skincare and makeup, that’s the trade off.’

Respondent Two:

‘I’m not into traditional luxury or contemporary luxury.

I appreciate a good basic home-brand product.

I’ll opt in for $1 musk sticks instead of the $4 alternative. To be fair, I’ll go home-brand for any smaller purchase apart from Kettle chips – I won’t compromise on the quality of my chips. Now that, that is a luxury.

To me eating at a restaurant, buying fancy clothes, shoes and bags are a luxury, choosing to drive a car that costs over the median quarterly income is a luxury. A lot of things other people my age do and expect everyday is in fact a luxury.’

Respondent Three:

‘I live out of home and fully support myself. My perception of luxury would differ from other people my age.

Luxury is warm water when I shower.

Luxury is a fully stocked fridge, full of healthy, edible and nutritious food.

Luxury is being able to have a day off and not worry about coming up short with bills and other financial responsibilities.’

Generation X 

Respondent One:

‘Luxury is interesting – there are lifestyle luxuries and experiences and material luxury.

The material luxuries that I enjoy include designer bags, unique leather shoes, European cars, diamond rings, Swiss watches, the newest sunglasses. The thing every woman desires. As someone who has invested heavily into these material luxuries, I would be the first person to report that material luxuries don’t always bring your happiness. To the contrary, sometimes buying luxuries can be a mask or distraction from how you’re really feeling or what’s actually happening in your life.

Lifestyle luxuries are experiences that enrich your life and being. Taking holidays, having a whole day off with family, enjoying a bottle of wine with girlfriends even going on a walk with friends – that’s luxury. Having the time to share with people you care about is a luxury commonly overlooked.’

Respondent Two:

‘Luxury to me is turning on the lights and knowing I can pay the bill. A full tank of fuel.

To me, stable income is a luxury.’

Respondent Three:

‘My perception of luxury has changed over the years.

When I had my first job, I bought a cup of coffee and considered it to be a luxury. Now, I consider it a daily occurrence.

As I advance into different stages of my life, my perception of luxury changes. I am sure what I today consider to be a luxury, will be less extraordinary in the future. At least that’s what I hope.’

Baby Boomer

Respondent One:

‘Luxury is being able to buy whatever I want. Not having to look at price tags. Not having to bargain.’

Respondent Two:

‘Luxury to me is being able to live in an updated environment and enjoying the comforts in life. Luxury is being able to live out your dreams and not being concerned about material limitations.’

Respondent Three:

‘It is without question that an individual’s perception of luxury is based on context, experience and lifestyle. There is no standardised and agreed upon definition of the term ‘luxury’. Whether there is a generational difference between the general understanding of a luxury depends of how you interpret the qualitative data presented. Interestingly, the sentiment famously shared by Alain de Botton rings true, that “the materialistic view of happiness of our age starkly revealed in our understanding of the word “luxury.” It should be noted that there is little reference made to human relationships and experiences when posed with the question “what does luxury mean to you?”.

Irrespective of whether or not the super-premium market has impacted our perception of luxury positively or negatively, it is important to recognise the significance of the idiom, ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’.

 

Evidently how individuals personally perceive and respond to the question ‘what does luxury mean to you?’ differs vastly. Whether it be material, experiential or other, luxury is subjective and highly representative of what we do or don’t have in our lives.

 

 

 

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