luxury |ˈlʌkʃ(ə)ri|noun (pl.luxuries) [ mass noun ]
a state of great comfort or elegance, especially when involving great expense: he lived a life of luxury. • [ count noun ] an inessential, desirable item which is expensive or difficult to obtain: luxuries like chocolate, scent, and fizzy wine.
In a world that is rapidly changing in culture and communication, the accessibility of traditional luxury brands is changing the meaning of the concept itself. With classic brands like Rolex, Chanel and Burberry no longer ‘difficult’ to obtain, but imitated and available on a global scale, the term “luxury” is now adapting with the changing modern world. In 2015, the value of an item is no longer determined by its price-tag.
On assignment at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, I visited an exhibition that is receiving global acclaim, observing the craftsmanship, critique and conception of modern ‘luxury’. The exhibition displayed a collection of objects chosen to represent meanings of the term in the modern era. The museum defined luxury by a wide collection of words: “precision, extraordinary, expertise, opulence, exclusivity, preciousness, innovation, investment, passion, pleasure, non-essential, skill, memory, authenticity, resources, legacy, journey, privacy, access.”
The first object that caught my eye was a chandelier of dandelions lit up by LED lights.
A simple, hand crafted suit sewn from a single piece of cloth – notable for its absence of lining, exposed stitching and glass beads sewn into the material – luxurious because of it’s creator’s unique devotion to the research and perfection of tailoring itself.
A wristwatch, made precious for the 17 years it took for the maker to become a master. A mix of old and new – a traditional military mess uniform, a plain white tea cup from 1600, a hand crafted Hermèś riding saddle and a collection of spoons from Simone ten Hompel. In an era of commercial convenience, the detail and craftsmanship behind each object was positively impractical. These pieces were chosen not only for the hours spent in their creation, but the years taken to acquire the skills of craftsmanship itself. “Contemporary designers engage with how the availability of time and space and quality of time spent, can be seen as luxurious in their own right.” Such as a devastatingly delicate 22-carat hat which took over 2,500 hours to weave, after ten years perfecting a method of turning gold leaf into thread.
One artist, Marcin Rusak, exhibited a collection of tools for experiencing life outside of its daily routines. A blanket to keep warm on a journey, a face-less watch made of metal that warms up with the sun, and a compass that leads to nowhere. “It is almost impossible to get truly lost these days. It would take a lot of effort to experience this luxury.” Dominic Wilcox collects perfect skipping stones, illuminating the precious quality of this simple, childish joy. He covers them in gold leaf and tailors a tiny, meticulously crafted leather carry bag complete with golden dome.
The exhibition concluded – “the question of luxury is ultimately a personal one”. Each person decides for themselves what their luxury may be, and “enjoying or affording luxury is not only a question of budget, but of individual circumstances and preferences.” Objects do not give us value, but it is we who give value to them.
In a busy and intrusive world, people increasingly value time and space for enjoying special moments and extraordinary experiences.
An empty day and an untouched space are now more precious than leather, gold, silver and diamonds. And, as New Zealanders in a largely unpopulated, beautiful land — we are rich if we choose it.
Images by Victoria and Albert Museum, London