THE BLOG

What Does Luxury Mean to You?

25/03/2013 23:42 GMT | Updated 18/06/2013 11:32 BST

The days of status shopping are 'so' over.

Once upon a time, shopping was as much about making a statement about your place in society as it was buying essential items. Even if only once a month, those ostentatious displays of wealth were an integral part of 'retail therapy' and the idea of a luxury purchase was all about pure, self-indulgence: "I luxury shop, therefore I am better".

The luxury end of the market has traditionally represented an aspiration for nearly all of us in some form or another. But, in today's age, where you can shop from just about anywhere with phone reception, how can that work when just about everything on the market is now 'luxury' in some form or another?

Whether it be a premium upgrade, a 'luxury edition', a 'sapphire' package, there's always that little bit extra on offer to make you feel a bit more refined (for a small fee of course). For example, if you search Waitrose for the term 'luxury', you'll get 267 product results. If you go on Tesco its 317! Now, not to comment on the quality of offering from the likes of Tesco or Waitrose (their wares I'm sure are delightful) but I imagine both brands' loosely applied definition of luxury differs greatly to that of, say, Louis Vuitton. Let's be honest here, is it reasonable to have luxury cat food? Have our standards slipped that much? Or are we just that easily swayed by the offer of inching up in society?

Historically, the term luxury has always been a standard of quality, a mark of authenticity and shielded by a veil of exclusivity. But now the term is increasingly being owned by high street brands looking to squeeze a few more pennies via some nice packaging, leading to this dearth of 'luxury' options.

However, we can't simply point the finger of blame at the feet of mid-market, high street brands wishing to create more aspirational, higher quality products. Supermarkets aren't the guardians of luxury status; merely one of hundreds of brands looking to imitate the extravagance, just at a lower price. The real question is: what does luxury mean in a world when almost every other person at the airport security check is toting a Louis Vuitton or Gucci bag? Isn't this the opposite of very nature of what luxury should stand for? How can it be exclusive if everyone (and their mother) owns one?

This new era of luxury, for me, is actually a welcome change from the days of exclusion and restriction. Once upon a time the thought of entering Harrods or venturing up the likes of Avenue Montaigne, Bond Street, Fifth Avenue or Via Montenapoleone were not just metaphorically inaccessible, but physically so too. The phrase 'by appointment only' meant a lot more than a busy diary, whilst limited edition actually did mean what it said on the tin.

But now, everything's changing, the times and expectations for luxury have moved--it's truly about service not servitude; elegance without arrogance. Gone are the days of shop intimidation and an arm's length attitude; and actually, luxury is moving toward a warm embrace and it's high time on the high street for this gesture.

Bond Street may still contain its string of super-brand names, but these same names can be found down the road at Shepherds Bush, not to mention Stratford, Knightsbridge, Sloane Square, Oxford Street and beyond too. Whilst once exclusive to the point of inaccessibility, these traditional luxury brands are slowly becoming as common place as upper-midmarket stores such as Zara, Mango and All Saints; the line blurred to the point of near indistinction.

Savile Row could well be the last bastion of postcode luxury as we know it, and even that sacred Mayfair Street is under threat from dreaded 'accessible' luxury brands moving in on their turf. Tailors banded together last year to ward off The Kooples and Abercrombie & Fitch, but surely it's only a matter of time before that is engulfed too.

'Accessible luxury' is the new buzzword, and it's an apt one. Luxury as we know it is becoming the possession of the middle classes. Whether it be some extra-ply loo roll, some red-soled stilettos or ostentatiously priced smart-phone, the exclusivity aspect is becoming redundant thanks to our own evolution as consumers. We're moving away from conspicuous consumption towards consumption with a consciousness; and as a result the balance of power is shifting away from the luxury houses who previously dictated to us what products defined extravagance year-by-year.

Essentially, true luxury is now in the eye of the beholder. It's no longer about selfish self-indulgence and making a statement, it's much more social and encompassing of others - rather than competing with them. Now those brands at the highest of the high end are under pressure to deliver more than the fancy tissue and shopping bag and enhance the social aspect of the shopper's world through definitively 'luxurious' experiences.