The Evolution of Luxury
The word ‘luxury’ stems from the Latin concept of light and – since the very beginning – it also was strongly related to excess, abundance, exaggeration, opulence, eccentricity, squandering, absence of measure. It is something above and beyond the ordinary and clearly not for everyone.
With this in mind, it may be said that luxury, as a sociological phenomenon of consumption, probably originated in the Roman Empire, around the year 27 BC. There is documented evidence of the Emperors’ abnormal behaviours of ostentation and wastefulness.
Luxury is about exclusivity and that is probably due to the phenomenon of the Sumptuary Laws, between 200 B.C. and 475 A.D., and which were designed to protect the hierarchical interests of the upper classes and greatly restricted the consumption behaviours of the lower classes, to prevent them from imitating the consumption of the powerful people.
Later, the period of the Renaissance, between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries, strongly strengthened the luxury phenomenon, with the Italian Courts allowing and promoting ostentation.
In France, the reign of the Sun King Louis XIV and Colbert, his Minister of State is also an important landmark for luxury. In this period, luxury starts to emerge as we know it today.
France stands out as the Motherland of Luxury. The craftsmanship of extreme quality, the use of scarce and rare, imported raw materials, the manufacture of exclusive and high added value products. The production of tapestries, glassware, jewellery, fine leather goods, furniture, among others, flourish.
In the eighteenth century, the Century of Lights, luxury gradually shifted from the exclusivity of the Courts to the city. It evolves and embraces aristocratic influence with elements of art, elegance, taste and beauty. Such attributes are still considered the true essence of luxury.
Taste is the ability to appreciate beauty, and therefore it demands culture. It is highly elitist and was lived by the educated bourgeoisie.
From the nineteenth century onwards, luxury takes on greater simplicity and receives increasing influence from the arts. Authenticity and simplicity are elements of refinement, intangible attributes such as elegance, sophistication, stimulation of the senses, pleasure in the elements of art and culture, exclusivity, scarcity, seduction and charm are developed and cultivated.
This is the luxury that gets into the twentieth century. The elegant luxury of old money, that is not for everyone. Clearly embossed by manners and not just money.
By the end of the twentieth century, the world starts changing faster and faster, technologies quickly evolve and are the cause for stronger social changes. Europe, the Motherland of Luxury ‘par excellence’, weakens and other regions of the world win increasing relevance. Money begins to slowly change hands, processes are faster and faster and it all leads to the emergence of the ‘new money’ phenomenon, mainly represented by new and younger consumers, with high purchasing power, eventually lacking the educated taste and culture needed to enjoy luxury in full.
In the past, luxury was mainly consumed for personal pleasure and it now starts to be consumed a lot by social competition, as a status symbol.
Tangible attributes gain importance and intangible attributes – which are the essence of luxury – lose some relevance.
Luxury brands are slowly adapting to this new reality and simultaneously facing the emergence of a new profile of consumption, a change in mindset of the traditional consumer who is increasingly demanding as to values of authenticity, sustainability and social responsibility.
Luxury goes through a rapid process of democratization, becoming a bit more massified and with wider presence in more geographies, less scarce and less exclusive, more consumed to be shown and less to be understood and felt.
In my opinion, true luxury cannot and should not remain in that stage of massification. Luxury brands are at risk if they keep on that path of democratization.
I believe that the antidote to the democratization of luxury is called charm. And that brands should invest more in the seductive relationship with customers, in the development of intangible values and in adequately training their teams.
Luxury should invest in restoring the balance between perfect tangibility and seductive intangibility.
And this can be achieved with charm.
Marketing . Luxury . Innovation . Consultant and Speaker