Currently as I type these words, every world renowned atelier from Maison Valentino to Chanel is in creative overdrive: the petit mains adding final detailed embroidery to their delicate masterpieces, designers retouching original visions, fashion interns scuttling about Paris speedily carrying out tasks as if their lives depended on it. The cause for such creative chaos? Autumn Winter Haute couture week bien sûr taking place July 2 until July 6th – thd ultimate pinnacle of luxury.
The fact that Paris turns into the global runway displaying the most exceptional fashions in the middle of summer justifies why this is one of the most wonderful times of the year. Like I have written previously, we as humans need couture and moments filled with magic to inspire and to aspire. A pure celebration of human craft and capability needs to be recognised and nourished.
[Modern Melange will be covering highlighted shows shown below in the calendar! Stay tuned and make sure to sign up to the newsletter for collection reviews direct to your inbox!]
Upon my research preparing for next week’s shows, a pesky question kept popping into my mind… what does luxury mean today?
Luxury is derived from the Latin word luxus, meaning indulgence of the senses, and thus speaks more to feeling, emotion, and passion opposed to reason and logic. One of the leading authors on luxury Uché Okonkwo states that luxury is neither a product, an object, a service nor a concept or lifestyle.
Luxury is an identity, a philosophy and a culture.
The core of luxury has existed throughout history with its roots stemming from differentiating the social classes allowing monarchs and the aristocracy to distinguish themselves from the “less privileged” and maintain their own sacred identity.
While thank goodness we don’t have such a brutal class system anymore (or do we?) what has not changed is the fundamental need for man to show his own distinction to be appreciated and respected through positioning himself as unique. Luxury therefore remains in a superior realm as it acts as a tool for defining one’s social distinction. Consumers therefore look up to the luxury brand as it in a sense controls and defines their own identities.
An interesting study by Shavitt et al 1992 found that luxury brands are driven by two functions of consumer attitude: the value expressive function and the social function. The value expressive function is where we buy luxury products – say a Chanel 2.55 handbag- as a form of self expression to communicate our own central values or beliefs and show off our own unique identity. The social function however is where we buy the Chanel handbag to convey a particular social image and gain approval in social situations… so more linked to peer pressure, hopping on the bandwagon, and the argument you tell your parents you need that bag because “EVERYBODY has one”.
While these two motivations for purchasing luxury haven’t change, the context of luxury has. Scholars including Danzinger 2005, Isreal 2003, Gambler 1997 argue that we have seen a “Feminisation of Luxury”. In other words, in the past we experienced masculine luxury where we consumed and “caught” trophy items and boasted status symbols, competitively showing off who has they bigger gold plated watch. Those days are over and luxury consumers are more interested in experience and indulgence where luxury means improving their lives, which is why we see an increase in luxury travel, gourmet, and experiences money can’t buy. Why? Some argue because of women’s increased spending power in society and also the global financial crisis which led to consumers reexamining their attitudes and priorities towards luxury for example a focus mainly on buying less but of quality instead of abundance of quantity.
Today, everyone wants to be part of the dream luxury promises, but does such democratisation and elite mass consumption dilute the very nature of luxury?
One of my favourite fashion reads “Delux: How Luxury Lost its Lustre” by Dana Thomas explores the shift of this paradigm as well as the global consequences of mass- conspicuous consumption.
Although Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue, has stated that the democratisation of luxury means “more people are going to get better fashion” and “the more people who can have fashion, the better,” Thomas makes a more down beat conclusion:
“The luxury industry has changed the way people dress. It has realigned our economic class system. It has changed the way we interact with others. It has become part of our social fabric. To achieve this, it has sacrificed its integrity, undermined its products, tarnished its history and hoodwinked its consumers. In order to make luxury ‘accessible,’ tycoons have stripped away all that has made it special.”
Has luxury lost its lustre? Perhaps elements of it. However, as pointed out – Luxury is a philosophy and a culture. That cannot simply be erased and outsourced to generate higher markups. While the cynical will argue haute couture is only a marketing mechanism to boost perfume and accessory sales, couture is couture… merging dreams with reality.
Modern Melange couture reviews starting July 2nd.