In the 17th century, ‘luxury’ meant ‘a habit of indulgence in what is choice or costly’. Luxury was a pejorative, used to describe flagrant displays of wealth and lavishness.
Time progressed, and with it, so did our understanding of luxury. Luxury remained the preserve of the wealthy, but it began to shake its connotations of mindless and opulent self-indulgence. Luxury no longer meant flashy symbols of wealth – it meant quality, craftsmanship and elegance. (Three things we like at Ivar.)
We now sit firmly in the 21st century, and it appears that the semantic debate about luxury is being revived.
The Survey of Affluence and Wealth surveys America’s richest consumers. Its 2014 report revealed that 78% of those interviewed do not feel compelled to buy many luxury goods, with 71% agreeing that most new luxury products are not what they consider to be ‘luxury’. And it’s not just about the price – the most commonly cited reason for the upper echelons’ disillusionment with the luxury market is a perceived lack of quality.
Put simply, when it comes to luxury, people want quality – not just brand names.
Without the data, it’s impossible to come to any scientific conclusion about the comparative quality of luxury goods over the past decade. However, it is possible to offer an explanation for its supposed decline.
In the wake of the financial crisis the sales of low and mid-range brands dropped, but luxury brands actually enjoyed a spike in profits. The majority of people cut back, leaving luxury consumers with all of the spending power.
More and more brands have begun to target this smaller, wealthier segment of society, launching new expensive, ‘luxury’ items and collections. Existing luxury brands have increased the price of their products too – for example, Chanel has increased the price of their quilted handbag by 70% over the past five years.
Combine the slowing growth of the luxury market with the findings of the Survey of Affluence and Wealth, and you begin to tap into what people really want when they spend on luxury items. Far from the simple desire for a label, people want something that stands the test of time, something that is unique and exceptional, and – most of all – something that is of the highest possible quality.
A little like our collections, then.