How the Luxury concept developed

Super Luxury and sporty Bentley Coupe in Dublin @ The Four Seasons Hotel - Wonderful handmade car! Jan 2010

A recent article in the Indian Business magazine Businessworld, started me thinking on the concept of “Luxury” – the perception and reality of it.

“Luxury” as a concept has been prevailing in societies since the beginning of the civilization itself. Ancient societies including that of Mesopotamia, Egypt, China and India, had clear-cut definitions of social classes, which barred one class from accessing the privileges of the other class.

For example, for Egyptian pharaohs, the very concept of luxury meant high pomp and splendor while living and then carrying it over to afterlife. As a result highly sophisticated and costly techniques were developed to preserve their bodies, which perceptually “guaranteed” the survival of the soul. Mummification, Pyramids, Tombs etc. resulted. The tombs were designed to safeguard their royal status and their journeys in afterlife. Needless to add, none of their followers, including their close confidantes could even dream of such luxury.

When subsequent classical societies were founded upon the debris of conflicts and wars, the military might of the victorious groups fuelled a certain kind of sophistication and opulence that generated heated debates and ideological wars. These debates helped further define the “exclusivity” of “luxury” – by arguing on decisions regarding wealth distribution and on the notions of “practical utility” and “waste”. Imperial societies of Rome, French, Japan and England are best examples.

During the early 19th century the above concept of Luxury started getting liberalized – as in “Luxury as a means of economic growth” or “Luxury as a legitimate means of gaining living standards”. The 20th century saw the disappearance of “social stratification”, from which “Luxury” concept took its birth. Further, increasing spending power, industrialization and globalization, resulted in making Luxury a “choice”, for those who have can now “afford” it. One of the most important aspects of Luxury products – the “culture” built around its place of birth – hence, is slowly disappearing.

This last piece of development has actually diluted the concept of Luxury – equating it with an offer in which is available in any product or service category at a premium price. As a result of rising income and affordability levels in societies of BRIC countries and Africa, many of the brands and product categories which were previously perceived as “Luxury” have all of a sudden become available to a large mass of customers. The primary perceived value gained by these customers is “prestige”. Armani, BMW, Mont Blanc, Dior, Burberry labels, Hermes, Chanel, etc. perhaps are good examples of this. These brands are “premium, but attainable”, and have been described as “Luxury for the masses” or masstige, by Michael J. Silverstein

Therefore, even though Luxury has the general perception of Exclusivity, the current trend towards luxury goods and retailing in India could be primarily labeled at best as “Masstige Retailing”.

Further Reads:

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