Reclaiming the word luxury

I’m often asked to consult for luxury brands, to consider what is luxury now and in the future, and how to communicate this effectively editorially and otherwise. This came to mind whilst watching Boyhood the other night. Not being my first screening, I was able to reflect on it in peace. For anyone who hasn’t seen this film, Boyhood is a coming-of-age movie shot in real time – the director Richard Linklater gathered the same cast every year or so, over 12 years to shoot the story of Mason age six to 18.

Linklater and his dedicated cast committed themselves to this project fully. His idea (as he told the Telegraph in an interview) was ‘this big, long time-lapse canvas about a boy growing up. I couldn’t find that one moment in the process that would have summed it up – so I thought, what if we did it all…’

Needless to say, the complexity of making a film like this is enormous – it relies on a cast willing to cooperate for 12 years, and a studio willing to gamble on a film that won’t pay in over a decade of financing, and may never profit once complete.

Kinjo Ikkokusai's lacquered box made using ancient cho-shitsu technique commissioned by Mazda for Milan Design Week 2015

Lacquered box made using ancient cho-shitsu technique

Yet this delicate film captures the concept of modern luxury. Time, authenticity, skills, craft, originality, a sense of purpose, tapping into unknown territories, a sense of being part of something bigger, of impacting on life here, now and in the future … these are just some of the elements that define what luxury is in a world where ‘stuff’ is too readily available and so easily disposable.

I receive an obscene number of daily emails with ‘luxury’ in the subject area. Much like design and curate, luxury has become a throwaway word used far too casually and out of context. Additionally the word premium seems to be bullying luxury out of the way – making its presence less and less needed.

To reclaim this once beautiful, sacred, evocative word we need to evolve the concept, inject some relevance to it. Lakshmi is the Hindu goddess of wealth, fortune, and prosperity – yet the wealth she proposes isn’t necessarily material but spiritual, it promotes a human element, it is about happiness. Luxury too is associated with wealth, but if we view wealth not as material then we can redefine the word.

Yes luxury can be conceptual – it doesn’t necessarily need to be in the physical form. It can be the feeling we get from being in contact with something special, be it how the senses ignite snuggling in the soft old leather seat of a gorgeous rare vintage car, or the warm nourishing buzz we get from spending time in the company of old trusted friends sharing delicious food and wine.

Time spent with our loved ones, seeing a dedicated cause make a difference, discovering an incredible artist, finding a rare design gem in a car boot sale, diving into the clear blue sea, traveling to a unique destination, a hand-stand in the park and seeing a familiar world turn on its head, having a stranger smile at you, experiencing simple moments that make us insanely happy…

If the purpose of luxury is to promote happiness, and happiness is a collage of the above, then the concept cannot be reduced to just stuff. We get to reclaim the word, paint it sacred again, make it relevant to future generations.

Nargess Banks

The image here is of a lacquered box being created in Hiroshima, Japan by Kinjo Ikkokusai using the ancient cho-shitsu technique whereby many layers of lacquer are applied over a lengthy period of time and the designs are then engraved on them. It was commissioned by Mazda for the 2015 Milan Salone del Mobile.

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