Luxury might be driven by personal background - for two ladies in Harlem, luxury meant not having to share a bed with two sisters anymore while growing up. And when you’re very rich, luxury can mean simplicity – as in the case of the gentleman in a three-piece suit on Park Avenue who had his iPhone on a watch chain.
Defining Luxury: Traditional Vs. Modern
Few people would argue that the idea of luxury has NOT changed over time, so the question becomes HOW has it changed?
A traditional idea of luxury might be something like this – extreme comfort, expensive clothes, diamonds and watches, top restaurants, fast cars, exotic holidays, even a private plane.
Sure, these are still popular today – but clichéd, unoriginal, even a sign of a lack of taste.
A more modern take on luxury might be one based on personal experience. People who talk of “having time” for themselves, for their families, to indulge in their favorite pursuits. Less about the things you have, more about time and what you do with it.
Real people don’t always fall neatly into categories however, as we have seen.
How New Young Billionaires Redefine ‘Status’
The nature of luxury is shifting, as well as how people establish their status.
But this isn’t a change that happens overnight. People are too varied and numerous in their tastes and opinions for social change to be so neatly understood. We are defined by our personalities, our lifestyles, our backgrounds and life situations.
People for the most part don’t wake up one morning en masse, dispose of their material goods and concentrate exclusively on novel experiences. The global jet set are not all jettisoning their Gulfstreams and setting off on adventures to the heart of the rain forest.
But some are – look at the propensity of today’s Silicon Valley start-up entrepreneurs. Blessed with more money and opportunity than almost anyone, these vastly rich individuals can do or purchase almost anything you can imagine. And many of them love to go to Burning Man, the annual festival of creativity that takes place for a week, deep in the Nevada desert.
It’s a sharing economy, where money is useless. You have to barter for everything, from food and water to entertainment, offering only what you can carry in or what you can make, or what entertainment or services you can offer.
How Social Media Has Made Experiences a Luxury
The wealthy used to express status through material goods, not experiences. Social media has turned all that on its head. On Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, now followers know exactly where you have been.
The more important a role social media takes in our lives as self-publishers, the more valuable those experiences become.
Experiences are the one thing that cannot ever be replicated – you either were there or you weren’t. And those who weren’t are reduced to the status of onlookers.
“Luxury is Born of Love”
I recently collaborated with Guo Pei on a collection. She is a Chinese couture designer. Her dresses are unbelievably exquisite and meticulously crafted, with many of her creations numbering in the tens of thousands of man-hours, such as the golden gown dress, which was famously worn by Rihanna at the recent Met Gala here in New York.
When she was asked about how she thought about luxury, she said: “I don’t like the concept of luxury. In China, luxuries are seen as things you don’t really need and it conveys a negative feeling. In my opinion, luxury is products that are beautiful, elegant and represent the culture. It’s born of love. Luxurious products should have an ability to grasp people’s hearts, and it is love that makes those products survive. I hope people are buying my dresses because they love them and not because they want to show off.”
And she was spot-on in her thinking. The lever, the emotional pull of our heartstrings is where the key to re-defining and un-locking luxury exists.
Simply put, spending money on experience instead of stuff makes you happier.
What Will Be the New Luxury?
Much like the role of social networks, think of how the role of the iPhone has impacted our perception of luxury. One device, in your pocket – or now on your wrist – can make it possible to get anything done. Right now.
The ability to multi-task. The ability to always be “on.”
Never mind a watch with no dial – could the ability to procrastinate and not know the answer (or feel compelled to Google) be considered luxury next?
What Luxury Means at MAC Cosmetics
At MAC, we believe that living, breathing luxury brands will have a longer shelf life than those that sit pretty on the shelf. We aren’t just about the pigment, the formula, and the product. We’re about the artistry. The open palette - the freedom to create You.
We create experiences for people, whether through the makeup lines that are launched as a result of our collaborations, or at our retail events - a physical embodiment in stores of our commitment to entertainment. We engage our customers directly and with a sense of fun.
We enable individuals to express themselves and be who they are, or who they want to be. This is the art of storytelling – creating narratives and fantasies that enable people to create and live their own lives.
At MAC, that is our notion of luxury.
Ultimately, luxury is about us, not goods or possessions. It’s about how we see ourselves, and how we want others to see us – it’s about who we are and what we can do with our time, and that means different things to each of us.
So, before we ask, “What is luxury?” it is useful to step back and ask, “What does luxury mean to me?”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
James Gager is sr. vice president and group creative director at MAC Cosmetics and Jo Malone Worldwide. He presented the above at Marc Rosen’s conference, “Uber Masstige - The Elevation of Aspirational Branding” at Luxe Pack New York 2015.
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