LUXURY: is ethical luxury the new black?
If luxury in the post WWII part of the 20th century
was defined by the heavily-marketed label, rather than the object,
and if luxury prior to that was defined by
the scarcity of the material,
then, in these early decades of the 21st century,
with mass consumerism being increasingly perceived
as a crass thing,
where do we find ourselves when trying to define luxury?
It seems so ironical that the original meaning of luxury was "excess",
but then perhaps we have come full circle.
If the modern accepted meaning of LUXURY is about scarcity,
then by default the absolute plethora of both real and fake
"luxury labels" which are worn as a visible item in the developed & developing world
(Chanel bags, Hermès scarves, Prada shoes: those with obvious labels)
are not technically luxurious.
They are ubiquitous amongst the increasing numbers of wealthy consumers.
Dare we say they display excess?
Do we therefore need a new definition of luxury?
It's such an interesting question,
that the foremost design museum in the world,
the Victoria & Albert Museum in London,
in conjunction with the British Craft Council,
is about to launch an exhibition posing this very reflection.
What is Luxury
(April 25 - Sept 27)
will explore whether our concept of luxury has changed over time,
and whether it is now more about craftsmanship
and less about consumption.
The interesting thing about the rise of the craft movement
is that it places an emphasis on the hand-made, the artisan, the individual person,
and perhaps this is where we are going with our evolving sense of
what defines luxury.
As it becomes more & more expensive to make things by hand,
rather than mass production of "luxury goods",
it is perhaps this cost which makes the items perceived to be luxurious, or valuable.
But there is an even greater change in the air....
It seems to me that as people are reflecting more
about where we are going,
what we are about,
and what's important in life,
there's an increasing questioning of
the ethical cost of conventional luxury.
What is the ethical cost of conventional luxury?
The cost of underpaid workers in unsafe conditions,
the cost of animal cruelty in unregulated practices,
the resource cost of transporting materials & goods across the world
and back again,
the cost of environmental damage in order to obtain the "scarce" ingredients.
Do we want to continue to pay the high ethical price,
for the sake of luxury?
Or will we redefine the notion of luxury itself to demand
a lower ethical cost
(which generally equates to a higher actual cost)?
Perhaps this ethical luxury, is the new black.
There is absolutely no doubt that today's well educated,
well informed and well off consumers
are increasingly seeking out cafes, restaurants, and foods
with a provenance.
Local, organic, simple, free-range unprocessed foods are definitely the new black.
And increasingly, more and more brands of clothing, footwear,
jewellery and home wares are also embracing the trend.
Huge technological developments in fibre production
will eventually mean that synthetic materials are selected
over high-ethical-cost materials because they will actually be superior
driven by increasing consumer demand for a lower ethical cost.
Already, some of the most beautiful products in the world are
available with a low ethical cost:
products not tested on or made from animals,
and not manufactured without regard to waste of production.
Stella McCartney shoes, Matt & Nat handbags, Aesop skincare:
each are considered luxurious because they are quality products,
and their commercial success is a fine example
proving that consumers will clearly pay more in dollars so they can pay
a lower ethical cost.
And it seems that if the traditional luxury brands do not follow
in the same direction, they will eventually be perceived
as relics from another, excessive, past.
I think this will be the future of luxury -
that ethical luxury will indeed be the new black.
Do you agree?
This post is part of the BIO series of thoughtful topics which are discussed each month by a group of bloggers around the world who each bring a very different perspective to an agreed topic. To see the rest of the perspectives on "luxury" click here.