What is Luxury?
“There is no denying that these days luxury has its own special peculiarities and its business model, but in order to be able to deduce from them the paradigm of luxury with all its coherent internal rules, you first have to understand its inner dynamics, revealed by history” (Kapferer & Bastien, 2012)
by Myriam Jacqueline Von Knobelsdorff, Health and Well-being Editor QMIN Magazine
It can be seen that different people have different views, different definitions and interpretations as to what Luxury really is. Is there a final definition to one word with so many meanings? Even though we are all human beings, who live on the same planet at the same time, our individuality is what makes us so particular. Harper Lee (To Kill a Mocking Bird) said that “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it” (Chadha & Husband, 2006, p.1). Our perceptions are different, our feelings, experiences and our interpretations as well as what each of us thinks is beautiful and worthy. Some people view luxury as a necessity by confirming that luxury “may well be a basic human need- a way of winning something back against cruelty of life. The urge appears to have been there from the beginning” (Tungate, 2009, p.5). Mark Tungate, suggests that the first concern of man was not clothing or protection, such as according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but seduction (Tungate, 2009).
Is it not that luxury helps people to please and seduce each other? Doesn’t luxury make one obtain admiration and applause? Isn`t it closely linked to gaining power and attention instead of just “possession”? Doesn`t “luxury” and a particular lifestyle help us implementing certain dreams? Another question would be if luxury makes us visualize ourselves differently? Jean Castarède (1992) stated that another early urge of men was the fact to dream (Tungate, 2009). He admits that dreams and longings are somehow provoking a kind of self-expression through, for example, art by seducing others and being different with the help of “ornamentation”; “Voilà le luxe” (Tungate, 2009). Also, Mr. Castarède states that sensuality, odors, tastes and sensations always have been primitive impulses towards the desire for luxury (Tungate, 2009).
It is commonly said that luxury is particular to each one of us and even famous writers, philosophers, theorists and personalities in a whole have different views as to what luxury is. As for example, Immanuel Kant once described wealth as: “We are not rich by what we possess but by what we can do without”, then Coco Chanel commented on it as the following: “Some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It is not. It is the opposite of vulgarity.” According to Kant we are not rich by possession but by knowledge and knowhow and according to Coco Chanel from a couture and style point of view “luxurious” meaning having some style, attitude and taste.
Whereas the Jeffrey`s report on luxury commented the following with a completely different approach: “Health is turning into one of the biggest luxuries in our time when most food has converted into mass-produced semi-finished products” (Jefferey, 2007). “Just a couple of decades ago it was a luxury to eat food from the other side of our planet. In the future it will be a luxury to be able to eat locally grown healthy organic food from around the corner of your house” (Jefferey, 2007). According to this statement luxury here has become what it always used to be; meaning, natural products which were once given freely by nature and are now becoming more and more expensive and even a “luxury” for some westernized countries. Furthermore, human beings dared manipulating natural products, which lead us to a certain “regression” of quality. Luxury might once have been the exact contrary of something considered as “natural”, whereas now the definition is shifting with regards to the development of technology and society. As we can see, the meaning and content of the word luxury is transforming accordingly to the evolution of human society.
In a society, where wealth is not very well distributed and where a small group of the wealthiest people rule the world, others struggle to nourish themselves.
It can be seen that a few “selected” royals and celebrities have an enormous amount of wealth, which could be considered as “luxury” since there seems to be a general meaning connecting the ideas of wealth and an opulent and pleasure-filled life. The question would thus be, if this might truly is the case?
Another example would be Marie Antoinette from Austria, Queen of France in the 18th century, who let a life in, what would be described as, “absolute luxury”, considering her lifestyle, interests and material possessions (Nobility, 2011). The lifestyle of aristocrats was one that was bathing in gluttony; meaning excess in eating, drinking and many other pleasures (Nobility, 2011). These royals and nobles were not short in material possessions and attention from society but were they happy? No one can really answer that question except for themselves but this leads to another question: Can one admit that it would be possible to live a life in full luxury but still be most unhappy? Isn`t happiness and in the end love the greatest pursuit and even obsession of each and every one of us? Or is it the desire of power that pushes and drives us through life?
One can clearly observe that today`s royals,nobles and celebrities still have a lifestyle rich in material possessions and attention given to them. Many people do still admire them for their wealth, their power and their prestige.
Also, according to Paul Elmer More: “In the first place, the magnitude of the fortunes possessed by a few men is vastly greater than the world has seen in any previous age, with the possible exception of a short period in the history of Rome. The wealth of our richest men today is so enormous as to affect the imagination with a sort of hypnotic obsession; it dazzles and subdues our intelligence. And, secondly, this incalculable wealth is in the control of a new group of men, whether they be better or worse morally than the rich men of old” (More, 2012, para.3). These few exceptions of very rich people, such as the example of the royals could considered morally incorrect to be as wealthy.
Luxury felt differently
On the other hand, the author assumed that there are quite a lot of people who see luxury in a completely different way as previously described. While the author has asked the same question of what luxury is to her relatives and friends, whom she considers as rather more “intellectual” and culturally rich people, she has received very similar answers. These people see freedom, time and quietness, simplicity, purity, patience, love and happiness as the greatest luxury. The answers had nothing to do with direct material possessions but more with feelings. Not with the “outside world” but rather with the world within them/their internal world; meaning with the values and ideas within their hearts and souls. Although, in order to obtain those feelings one must also be able to live a life free of “worries” hence having enough “wealth”, in other words “money”, to cover for all necessities and responsibilities in order to be able to define luxury as an internal wealth.
Moreover, other people see luxury in having attained the spiritual optimum in their lives; a personal freedom; “Spirituality” in the sense of a life without stress, without fear, full of love and happiness, enjoying the present moment and embracing every further moment that is received and lived.
Don Miguel Ruiz, a Shaman originating from the Toltecs, defines Spirituality as learning to love unconditionally, to not take anything personally, to be impeccable with your words and to always do your best (Ruiz, 1997). According to Christopher Berry: “Definitions of a good life have changed…so has the categorical realm of the luxurious” (Berry, 1994, p.240).
As lifestyles are ever changing and different for each one of us, so is also our concept of luxury. For royals and nobles luxury might mean living in a Castle, having power over others, owning a private jet and being used to a lifestyle with no boundaries nor restrictions. For others however, luxury might mean nature, time, and quality food, and for others it might simply mean being happy, enjoying life to the fullest, traveling around and spending time with close ones.
It can be seen as a broad term containing a variety of very subjective meanings for each and every one of us depending on the conditions we live in and the experiences we have made. In a common sense, luxury used to be defined as «something desirable that is not a necessity ». However the author concludes that the sense of this word has broadened to the extent that it’s variety of definitions may even sound contradictory, since for many of us « luxury » has also become « something desirable that is a necessity ».
Questions of “need and necessity occur in all societies…what counts as a necessity in one place is also understood in that place in terms of what counts as a luxury. Luxury serves to specify necessity “(Berry, 1994, p.232). “ Luxury” will always differ from person to person, from situation to situation and from culture to culture.
As the author of this paper, I have myself asked this question and would say that the greatest luxury for me in life is “the luxury” to have time; in that sense meaning the time to enjoy life with my family and friends with the people I feel closest to. I would also add that health and living a stress-free life have become a great luxury that many people cannot afford.
Then, and most importantly our childhood; memories with our mother and father, our brothers and sisters, memories of happiness have become a great luxury which a lot of people were deprived of due to social and political problems. Finally I would add our up-coming motherhood, the experience of procreating, of giving birth to a human being, a wonder of life and being able to help this child grow into a wonderful person; that is for me the greatest luxury.