For centuries luxury inferred ‘pomposity’ and extravagance to the extent that is was almost a dirty word. Today, luxury no longer carries negative connotations per se. While luxury is still generally seen as something that is not absolutely essential to life, or which most people can’t afford, the word "luxury" has nevertheless found its way into the language of our everyday lives. Nowadays, luxury is something we like involving ourselves with – and particularly with the question of how we can manage to integrate a little bit of it into our daily lives.
Juxtaposed: the Aldi effect and luxury shopping in everyday life
This is all the more amazing given the recent and ongoing discussion about price-slashing discount stores. So does this mean cheap deals for the ‘poor’ and luxury offerings for the rich? No, breaking it down in this way provides much too simple an explanation. Likewise, it is generally true that consumers are neither just plain stingy nor purely fixated with luxury. On the contrary, as people, the way we look at things – our mind state - changes depending on the offering. One minute we might be shelling out like there’s no tomorrow, whilst the very next we might be pulling tight our purse strings.
Luxury represents a psychological need
From a psychological point of view, luxury is an essential part of our psyche. Indeed, luxury comes down to much more than just material goods. Luxury is almost like a 'mental state' in itself - something we almost have to treat ourselves to. Indeed, we can hardly do otherwise. In fact, regardless of what we perceive to be luxurious, almost all of us strive for luxury of some kind - in this sense luxury actually represents a kind of addiction. However, this constitutes something other than just the desire to be rich, since even when only the simplest of means are available to us we all strive to create something special – something, a possession or act, with which we can distinguish ourselves. Or something that makes us stand out from the crowd. Thus, we are all pursuing a certain kind of exclusivity. And, obviously, luxury goods represent an effective way of achieving this. But in today's fast-paced world for many of us, ‘exclusive', is also a long, quiet walk in the woods, a pleasant evening for two or treating ourselves to a leisurely coffee break during a busy morning on the phone.
Nowadays, luxury is mainly ‘immaterial’
What we once perceive to be luxury invariably undergoes huge change. Numerous products, for instance, have metamorphosed from luxury into standard goods. Centuries ago spices - or for our grandparents, even coffee - were luxury goods, but these products are now something completely normal. Likewise, wrist watches and TV were once considered pure luxury items. Nowadays, the latter are unseizable - they have long since become mainstream consumer products. Meanwhile, the exclusivity enjoyed by products such as mobile phones has been short lived and, for most of us, understandably so.
Nowadays, it is striking that many people picture intangible things when thinking of luxury - particularly pleasant situations or relaxed states rather than expensive luxury goods. ‘Things' that in the past would not have entered our minds in this connection. Our concept of luxury has then altered in terms of what it conveys: Frequently it’s the simple ‘comforts' of life that we see to be luxurious. Hence, currently people often describe luxury, for example, as a treating themselves to a moment’s break, being able to enjoy some peace and quiet or just being ‘unavailable’ for a while.
Luxury striving for exclusivity
Luxurious things that we prize are therefore the things we can’t afford to have all the time - in both a material and an ideal sense. This form of exclusivity is an essential part of luxury. In fact, when what we perceive to be luxurious becomes ‘normal’, or when suddenly the whole world has got the once-exclusive i-phone, we embark on our quest for luxury all over again. At this point luxury can be differentiated from the simple ‘accumulation’ of wealth. In purely physical terms, even though luxury is perhaps ‘superfluous’, the pursuit of luxury represents an indispensable emotional need.
By fulfilling our emotional need to indulge ourselves in something superfluous, we do ourselves some good. We’re enjoying life as it is. I've even heard someone say: Luxury is simply the desire to be friends with ourselves.
Paper in feineWelt, 09/12/2008