The Evolving Meaning of Luxury

Gucci, Armani, Louis Vuitton, Valentino. These are a few of the big brands making their mark in the world of luxury. There is a rise in demand for luxury goods, and new customer segments are emerging who indulge in luxury. But was luxury always so aspirational? Did it always have the same meaning?

Today, making a luxury purchase means many things to consumers. Upgrading one’s lifestyle, owning something superior to that owned by the majority, or simply gifting love to someone special. However, this positive notion of ‘luxury’ is a phenomenon of the 17th century. Before that, even the most populous kingdoms like Romans and Greeks frowned upon luxurious purchases. In the middle ages, as trade routes started getting established, the privileged got access to exotic foreign products. The most indulgent goods were – spices and wine. Clothing gained popularity since it got associated with the status quo. The word luxury originated from French ‘luxuries meaning ‘lust’ and ‘debauchery’.

With the industrial revolution of the 19th century, more exotic indulgences were easily shipped across continents. Thus, luxury goods percolated down, and the meaning of luxuriousness as we know it today emerged. Automobiles benefitted from technology advancement. They gained popularity and became part of the luxury lifestyle along with other exotic products.

The democratization of luxury is a phenomenon of the 20th century. Brands like Louis Vuitton started focusing their efforts on smaller items like bags, scarves, perfumes etc. They observed the ordinary consumers and tried to find ways to best suit their needs.

The term ‘luxury’ is continuously evolving. Today luxury has started holding a new meaning. ‘New Luxury’ is about emotional and sensational experiences. With time we notice that ‘sustainability and ethics’ are fueling the upcoming age of luxury industry.

By Shibika Mitra

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