Affordable Luxury


Ehlite, Winter 2009

1.  What is affordable luxury?



1.  What is affordable luxury?



A gratifying self-indulgence that you can pay for but is not necessary.  All you need to drink is water, but a glass or bottle of Champagne can be an affordable luxury.  Today, a lot of people enjoy regular manicures and pedicures.  I’ve often thought if you can afford a pair of upscale "sneakers" – and, of course, you can see them everywhere on people’s feet—you can afford a whole range of "luxuries."  Of course, if you have lots of money, the range of toys and amusements is larger, but all that means is the definition of affordable luxury takes on a more personalized, subjective meaning. It is a relative term.


2.  Can democratizing luxury kill luxury as we know it?  Why or why not?


Kill is too strong a word.  Luxury evolves with the times and is somewhat culturally specific, though in our global economy a class of universally accepted luxury brands is evolving as you can find the same two dozen brand boutiques in all the world’s capitals.  Having one’s own horse and carriage was one a great luxury and status symbol…that evolved into horseless carriages, of course, so it did not die but simply evolved.  Certainly clothes have evolved, in some ways rapidly (as in luxury sneakers, synthetic fabrics and designers) and in other ways very slowly, as in bespoke men’s woolen suits.


Champagne provides another apt point as it is the most democratic of wines.  It is the so-called "wine of kings and king of wines" and was drunk at the courts of France, Russia and beyond.  People wanted to drink what the king drank, and in the 1900s, it became an "affordable luxury" that people drank on special occasions.  It made them feel good.  "I may not be the king, but I can drink and celebrate like he does…."  Today, it remains a magic wine available to a lot of people – a good bottle can be had for $40 – and the magic of popping a cord still makes any occasion special.


3.  Is luxury only a question of brands?


Hardly. There are iconic luxury brands, of course, but luxury is more often associated with exclusiveness and to a degree premium quality and that doesn’t always equate to known brands or mass marketing.  There are resorts and designs and artifacts that shun having their initials on display or even their names on their doors.  I am reminded of what someone in the hospitality business told me a long time ago:  it is the clientele that makes a luxury hotel or even a restaurant.   Also in today’s 24/7/365 world, time for oneself might be the greatest luxury.  For some, sleeping late on Sunday is a luxury, so it isn’t a question of a brand but of a gratifying self-indulgence.  For many (count me in) time is one of the greatest luxuries.


4. Please comment:  emerging new types of consumers leads to mass luxury.


Certainly in our global economy, there are many more people spread throughout countries around the world who have recently acquired sufficient wealth to afford many of the products produced by the acknowledged luxury brands.  There has always been "new money" and associated acquisitions from clothes to transportation to vehicles to jewelry to homes (or palaces).  It is the stuff of literature and has been so for centuries.  Today there is simply more of it as there are so many more people in our world than in the past and more about "luxury" is communicated widely via our vast communication channels…the Web, print, television, movies.


There are new classes of mass luxury consumers.  One good thing about that is people are being exposed to and are appreciating quality.  Not that luxury goods always represent good value – a $500 scarf is not twenty-five times better than a $20 one – they both serve mostly the same purpose.  But you often get a level of finer manufacturing in luxury products that creates a heightened sensibility in consumers, and I think that is good.


Finally, there is an element of exclusiveness to luxury products.  So if you can buy something relatively easily as it is widely available, it belongs to the class of mass luxury, and does afford self-esteem and gratification to a mass of people. But as long as there are people who seek to posses what others cannot, there will be a new and higher class of luxury.  Ultimately, it is perhaps the kind of access t