By Regina Connell.
Luxury is one of those words that tweaks people, gets under their skins. A lot. Associations: decadent, superfluous, disposable, blingy, trashy, tacky, crass, materialistic, exploitative … the list goes on and on.
The irony is that so much luxury is based on the qualities we all hold so dear: quality, exquisite craftsmanship, integrity, careful choice of materials, those lauded ten thousand hours of practice, the absolute rarity of it, the absolute perfection. Those things cost. They should cost. There is effort there. And there is value there – deep value – whether that value comes from the long-lasting, high quality of the object or experience, or the knowledge that it is rare or will last, or the story behind the making.
There was a time that real luxury whispered. Imagine that.
Many of today’s luxury brands of course – Hermes, Gucci, Ferragamo, Burberry’s – have roots in exceptional making. So craft and luxury are related, inextricably so.
The problem is that branding and marketing and media and the business of luxury have corrupted the luxury story: luxury has become all about surface, not substance. Blame Sex and the City, the Housewives, private equity. Luxury has become about labels and not about quality.
And it went downmarket, too. Think labels (we won’t be mentioning which) that have mid-market, mass produced products that have upped their prices, absconded with luxury equity of a brand, and called themselves luxury. So now every teenage girl with daddy’s credit card has a carries a purse with a label. Luxury’s become consumerist and juvenile and facile. It’s called the massification of luxury and Dana Thomas wrote a great book on it, called Deluxe, How Luxury Lost its Luster.
Time for a schadenfreude moment: all this massification has actually done those big labels a fair amount of damage. Even in China, where labels used to be king, well-heeled consumers are steering clear of those big brands with those big labels, so much so that Louis Vuitton has taken to keeping logo’d items out of their store windows in Shanghai.
Still, some people would rather run away from the fact that luxury was once rooted in quality and craftsmanship, as others have run away from the word “craft”.
Because some craft is indeed a luxury product. It is expensive. It is exclusive. It is rare. Embrace the idea of it, but as it was, not as it has become.
Because there is a market for luxurious products. And that market is turning away from the crass end of luxury – the label conscious side of it – and returning to its roots.
This kind of customer is monied, sophisticated, and desirous of rareness that doesn’t come with a label. They’re what we call the indie luxury consumer.