The new V&A exhibition ‘What is Luxury’? intentionally asks as many questions as it answers. It’s a great show to visit if you want to open your mind, and reach your own definitions.
Two general themes came through for us. The first is that luxury is by definition about scarcity, be that gold, or in one piece from the exhibition that looks forward to 2052 plastic.
Scarcity is also about time – both the ‘time is money’ narrative of the ‘atelier backstory’ so many luxury brands use in their films showing their craftspeople toiling away stitching bags by hand etc. And also the scarcity of time in the lives of the luxury consumers. According to a 2014 Boston Consulting Group report, $460 billion was spent on unique travel adventures, compared to $170 billion spent on personal luxury goods. In other words the cliché that ‘experience is the new luxury ‘seems to be holding true in terms of actual spending patterns.
The other observation was drawn from the beautiful gold ‘skimming stone’ in the exhibition. You would be crazy to actually toss it across a lake. But the design carries an implicit sense of the pleasure throwing away something of value could bring. Because by its nature luxury is fleeting and ephemeral. If we had it all the time, on tap, it would cease to be special.