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Blogger: What Is Luxury?

What is Luxury? By Alexis Fasoli

Ever since I started working with my hands, focusing my ambitions on becoming a master craftsman, I have been fascinated by the idea of luxury and what it means. As a creator one dreams of forming part of en exclusive group of the most gifted, able to create objects that will provoke the attention of those who have the means to own them into competing to obtain your services and subsequently allowing you to increase the price you can command for your work.

However, luxury is not just about the expensive and the beautiful for the rich and powerful. It has always been so much more and has constantly been evolving, reinventing itself over time influenced by the way the world is seen through the eyes of different cultures and their customs.

Luxury has been on a roller coaster ride since the time of the Incas, Mayans and Aztecs. The Ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks. The Persians, the Chinese to the Japanese and the Europeans, in fact every single society on earth has a concept of the idea of Luxury that on the surface may well appear to be have significant differences, yet I believe that the underlying motives that drives luxury and its creation is in fact very similar around the world. All societies that have indulged in luxuries have seen them very much as a barometer of social status and often even virtue as the have nots aspire, NOT to overthrow the ostentatious elites who benefit from a luxurious lifestyle, but rather they aspire to join the elites one day and so benefit from a bit of luxury for themselves and their loved ones.

So, although the ostentatious flaunting of luxury may well have been the motive for a few revolutions over the times it would seem that most of the time the aspirational narcotic of luxury has inspired those who have little to try and climb the social ladder in order to consume the tantalising temptations that only luxury can provide.


Luxury has had many faces and is simply too important to human history to simply disappear. Yet, everyone has their own idea of what luxury is which makes it somewhat complicated to define. Some objects can immediately be recognisable as luxurious while other luxuries are far more subtle, a bit like beauty being in the eyes of the beholder or love being blind. Contemporary dictionaries tend to quote the most simplistic of interpretations, yet this is a good start in the quest to question its’ essence and place in human evolution. Here is a classic dictionary definition that I found in a book languishing in my library:

1. Sumptuous or extremely comfortable living or surroundings: lives in luxury.
2.a. Something that is not essential but provides pleasure and comfort: felt entitled to a few luxuries after so much hard work.
b. Something that is desirable but expensive or hard to obtain or do: did not have the luxury of working in an up-to-date laboratory. I couldn’t get tickets to the World Cup final.

From these definitions we can begin to construct an idea of what would be evoked by the word luxury to the average contemporary man or woman in the street. A sense of comfort that luxury can provide that can only be obtained by spending more money than most could afford and by default owning something that has been designed and whose purpose is to make your experience nothing short of exquisite. A private jet for example lets the owner travel in a way that would be more comfortable than the average traveller stuck in an overcrowded space with no leg room in business or economy class.

We can also determine from the dictionary definitions a sense of superfluousness. Luxury is therefore linked to something frivolous or unnecessary when seen through the eyes of the majority. Many would say that a private jet is unnecessary as commercial airliners carry passengers for a fraction of the cost almost anywhere in the world (A high powered hedge fund manager who travels the world might see it as a necessity).

Finally we can also glean from the definitions that the concept of luxury is fundamentally intertwined with desire, some might even argue lust or greed, to own or dispose of such luxury, whose availability is scarce. This scarcity, luxurious products being rare and unavailable, is also a corner stone to our modern day understanding of luxury in our society and the very fuel that drives the desire to own and or command luxurious objects and services, just as it has always been.

A brief History of Luxury

Luxuria, the latin term had meant excess and extravagance and was , after the middle ages, with the rise of christianity twisted and sculpted into meaning a sinful form of self indulgence. During the middle ages luxury would be more practical, a warriors sword for example, some would have blades folded over 150 times taking a team of ironsmiths 3 months to complete. These exquisite weapons would be displayed with pride and allow those in doubt to know who was who in the social ranking. Such objects would be highly cherished and passed on to the next generation and would be prized trophies if taken from the cold hands of a dead enemy. Horses, weapons, tournaments and castles for protection would be the luxuries of a violent and unstable time.

However, with the implantation of Christianity luxury would become a first class ticket to damnation in eternity. Therefore it would only be acceptable if it were put to the service of god and the church. Those rich enough to indulge in the excesses of a luxurious lifestyle would be accused of lasciviousness and lechery and would pay heavily at the end of their lives to the church in order to save their souls. Even so luxury remained too great a temptation for the nobles who would not escape its narcotic charms even if there was a risk of an unpleasant afterlife in fiery hell.

The european renaissance started in the Italian city states and pushed luxury to levels not seen since the fall of the Roman empire in Western Europe as the emergence of a more sophisticated financial services sector started by the Medici family allowed the europeans to finance the production of luxury products never before seen. This financial banking revolution would give Europe a significant advantage in world trade and allowed the continents nobles to import goods from around the world to satisfy their desires and show their wealth and culture in all things sophisticated.

Spices, sugar, cloth, dyes, colours mostly from Asia were the luxuries of these times. As the vast fortunes from this increased trade were invested in Palaces which replaced castles and extravagant art collections as the wealthy fought over the artists of the times, who’s greatest commissioner was still the church paying large sums to hire Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Rafael and the subsequent all stars to paint impressive and luxurious frescos on the walls and ceilings of their temples.

Rich families, nobles or soon to become so, were ever stronger and able to compete with the church to hire the best craftsmen money could buy and a golden age in european luxury was born whose implications still last today as craftsman were employed to fulfil the fantasies of the this new more sophisticated time. Goldsmiths, jewellers, painters, stone masons …………… produced labour intensive works that still take people’s breath away even now centuries after their completion.

The rise of the Industrialists and the relative decline of the Aristocracy brought a new change in luxury. The industrialising countries created new wealth and with it a new middle class emerged who wanted a bit of the luxury action. Although they did not have the means to invest in real luxuries, Industrialists with their factories were on hand to make more affordable replicas that filled victorian homes.

The new super wealthy Industrialists, keen to get on the social ladder previously occupied in exclusivity by the, aristocrats started building vast country homes to rival those of the wealthiest of the landed gentry and amassing large art collections. Imitation had arrived to the marketplace as large scale manufacturing set out on a quest to imitate luxury on a grand scale for the masses. The wealthy would begin to worry about how to draw clear distinctions between them and the rest.

Luxury Today

As welfare and education began to be provided by the state and the subsequent decline in the influence of religions, luxuria as a status symbol, a thing to aspire to rather than to be afraid of, has made a significant come back as money has replaced religion and god as one of the most significant motivators in most human behaviour today.

Pride not shame, the idea of luxury as a sin became old fashioned and flaunting ones wealth has become more fashionable once again, ostentation has become a religion in itself. A means to an end to show who is successful as money is invested into luxury goods that demonstrate to all who is the real boss. This is very obvious if you live in a city like mine, Barcelona, where the port is filled with 60 plus metre yachts where the millionaires compete against each other to see who has the most extravagant floating palace, and here is nothing compared to Monaco.

Nothing much seems to change whether it be a sword to protect you from your enemies or a palace in which to protect yourself from the poor, luxury continues to be used as a means to distinguish one social class from another. Today, if you were to enter the word luxury in Google and ask it to convert your search into images (I invite you to do so) you would be bombarded with pictures of super yachts, exclusive cars, jewellery, huge houses and exotic exclusive resort hotels and their swimming pools. It is most interesting that all these items are barometers to social class and are what distinguish the have somethings from the super rich.

So according to Google Search, luxury is defined by objects that show the world that you are wealthy, things that identify you the millionaires exclusive club. According to the search engine luxury per se is the demonstration of wealth through the purchasing of luxury goods and services making you stand out from the crowd. I digress, however it is food for thought in a society where inequality is more and more marked as the concentration of wealth in the top 1% has hit historic proportions.

However, there is one luxury the wealthiest individuals on earth still cannot buy, at least for now. Time. Is time to become the ultimate luxury of our era. Soon, made to order body parts and organs will be manufactured to order to replace failing parts of the human body. These will only be available to the most wealthy individuals who will be able to prolong their lives by buying spare parts, extending their existence, cheating illnesses that will continue to kill the less well-off among us. Is the buying of experiences rather than objects the new luxury as the elite no longer find a thrill in buying objects that they could buy a thousand times over.

I certainly value time as the most valuable of my assets. I choose to work slightly less, giving me the mornings to dispose of how I see fit. This for me is a great luxury and I am willing to trade potential earnings that could be made during this time and swap them for my leisurely mornings where I invest in my well being.

This is the great thing about luxury, that it is relative and that can make it democratic, that is to say available to all on a scale of relativity. I am not a wealthy man, however I have my desires that I consider a luxury and as a result feel good about myself when I indulge them. To invite a friend to dinner in a medium priced restaurant, would by my standards be a luxury and so following the logic of relativity it would be probable that I could derive a similar, or even superior level, of pleasure doing that just as a millionaire who takes someone to dinner in the Celler de Can Roca (winner of the best restaurant in the world).

In fact, luxury might loose some of its narcotic charms to those who have the power to buy anything they so desire, converting the exiting in boring, just as a drug addict might need more and more of a drug to get the high that is increasing elusive to encounter. Whatever luxury is, we all have an idea what it means, we know it when we see it, but we can’t always agree to what it is. That is why luxury has always been controversial.

A king, Odysseus, in Homer’s The Odyssey, a man who had it all, lost it all and got it all back again stated that his luxury was good food with good friends and good wine. That is a luxury I think we could all agree on.
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In the heart of Barcelona I carefully craft hand made products for special people that want to stand out. Unique one offs made by myself. Only a handful of items produced every year for the fortunate few that get to own an 'af'.



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