What is luxury?

by Paurav Shukla

When joining the ‘luxury society’ group, one of the interesting questions they asked was to provide your own definition of luxury.

My response to that was “luxury is a state of mind. It is about how you carry yourself and fulfil yours as well as others desires”.

My idea focused on the issue of luxury from the perspective of self and others. One does not consumer luxury for just oneself but it is very much socially oriented consumption. For example, why do wear the best suit (dress) when going for an important meeting or interview? Why do we make sure that we do not use a cheap perfume when going on a date? The aspect of self-indulgence is intertwined with the socially directed motives when it comes to luxury.

However, the questions asked at luxury society really made me think about how we define luxury.

luxury

luxury as a mythical creature

The concept of luxury has been present in various forms since the beginning of civilization. Its role was just as important in ancient western and eastern empires as it is in modern societies. With the clear differences between social classes in earlier civilizations, the consumption of luxury was limited to the elite classes. It also meant the definition of luxury was fairly clear. Whatever the poor cannot have and the elite can was identified as luxury.

With increasing ‘democratization’, several new product categories were created within the luxury market which were aptly called – accessible luxury OR masstige luxury. This kind of luxury specifically targeted the middle class (or what is sometimes termed as aspiring class). As luxury penetrated into the masses, defining luxury has become ever so difficult.

In contemporary marketing usage, Prof. Bernard Dubois defines ‘luxury’ as a specific (i.e. higher-priced) tier of offer in almost any product or service category. However, despite the substantial body of knowledge accumulated during the past decades, researchers still haven’t arrived on a common definition of luxury.

While the word ‘luxury’ is used in daily lives to refer to certain lifestyle, the underlying construct’s definition is consumer and situation specific. If you earn less than $ a day, an ice-cream would be a really big luxury item for you. On the other hand, if you are going to a party with some big-wigs a $100,000 car may not be a luxury. The word luxury originates from the Latin term “luxus” signifying, “soft or extravagant living, indulgence, sumptuousness or opulence”. However, luxury is quite slippery term to define because of the strong involvement of human element and value recognition from others.

Many other attempts have been made to define luxury using the price-quality dimension stating higher priced products in any category is luxury. Similarly, researchers have used the uniqueness aspects of luxury too. However, with increasing quality orientation from lower end brands and massicification of luxury, it is hard to use either of the above dimensions to define luxury.

Prof. Jean-Noel Kapferer, takes an experiential approach and defines luxury as items which provide extra pleasure by flattering all sense at ones. Several other researchers, focus on exclusivity dimension and argue that luxury evokes a sense of belonging to a certain elite group. However, having an LVMH hang bag in central districts of any big city across the world, won’t make you feel that way. Rather in one of the earlier posts when I asked the question ‘if others can have it, is it luxury?’ consumers responded clearly saying that LVMH and Gucci are losing their lustre by the day in their minds.

The discussion above highlights the extremely subjective and multidimensional nature of the luxury construct. The attempts very much define a dimension of luxury such as high price, high quality, uniqueness, exclusivity etc.

However, it is still unclear ‘What is Luxury?’

So what do you think is luxury?Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Pavel April 23, 2010 at 9:43 am

Luxury is how you see things (for some) or how you want/don’t want them to be (for others).

Parag Shah April 23, 2010 at 9:53 pm

Luxury is Something that is an indulgence rather than a necessity. It could also be described as something very pleasant or as Tech people say Nice to have, but not really needed in life

Grant April 25, 2010 at 5:28 am

Luxury is not necessarily about price… it can be expensive or affordable. What defines luxury…. Heritage, Quality, Craftsmanshp & Expertise! Luxury is the continual reinvention of the exceptional!

Calista Hsu Chen May 5, 2010 at 1:13 am

Luxury to me is anything which is pricey, gives you more pleasure than anything else and makes u feel unique.

Dr. Paurav Shukla May 14, 2010 at 11:54 am

@Pavel: you are highlighting the personal and social dimensions of luxury.

@Parag: you are focusing on the hedonism and materialism dimensions.

@Grant: you are discussing the product traits of luxury.

@ Calista: you are alluding to the price – quality dimension of luxury.

In literature Wiedmann et al. (2009) have discussed these parameters identifying them as value perceptions associated with luxury. These value perceptions do help in building a value based definition of luxury however, does it encompass every aspect of luxury?

Luxury Bamby August 31, 2010 at 3:20 pm

When it comes to lovely high end cars, the Europeans retain the crown, due to such legendary brands as Ferrari, Range Rover, Koenigsegg, and Wiesmann. Experience luxury, benefit from life.

Stuti November 20, 2010 at 9:23 am

Luxury in my opionion is pure opulence ..anything and everything that makes a person feel grand is luxury.Thus in this sense it is a relative term.It maybe a handbag,a sports car or even a yatch..but the common feature of all these goods is that when a consumer finally makes such a purchase,it has sense of accomplishment and a ‘ feel good’ factor associated with it.

Dr. Paurav Shukla November 20, 2010 at 9:46 am

Interesting observation Stuti, What you seem to be exposing is another dimension of luxury. We seem to be adding more and more dimensions of luxury. Probably, one way some day we will be able to define luxury.

Paul Vieira July 13, 2011 at 2:07 pm

Luxury is a service or a product, beautifully designed and perfectly crafted/executed, that outclasses rational expectations!

I don’t think that price or exclusivity are the main attributes of luxury; taking the time enjoy a beautiful sunset is luxury although it is free and available for all humanity

Luxury is the salt of life, pick it up !

Bartholomew September 10, 2011 at 8:36 pm

Hello excellent article , Many thanks for sharing this info

Satish September 26, 2011 at 8:03 am

Luxury works in two direction, one outward showing others what you are, and one inward which makes u feel great.

Dr. Paurav Shukla September 26, 2011 at 4:17 pm

Agree with your viewpoint Satish and as you can see that has been my perspective too. However, luxury works on several facets of the self and similarly on several facets of how one wishes to be seen by others. It is extremely contextual in that regards.

dina barros October 6, 2011 at 5:13 pm

Having most of thime lived around luxury,luxury is about how you treat people. good manners is always your best passport to any place.

craig prasatek April 17, 2012 at 8:45 pm

Luxury is very much dependent on individual perspective. It is a fleeting euphoria based on materialistic ownership or experience. It requires a scarifice (monetary or emotional) to achieve. Opulant luxury can be as nebulous as a “thing” that bubbles up thru the through social startification of cultures until it collects enough sparkle to make one desire it, or as simple as eliminating the pain from one who is in pain. It is a distraction or stepping stone from the “norm”. That said, it seems like an endless staircase as the norm is constantly redefined with each step.

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