The long way home: Luxury and its discontents

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation-


During the past decade the luxury concept has undergone certain changes. Traditionally, luxury – whether in fashion, timepieces or travel – denoted a rarefied, somewhat aloof terrain only a select few had access to. Products in that category were, and in some parts still are, inscribed with characteristics like craftsmanship, scarcity (Phau and Prendergast, 2001), timeless aesthetics (Husic and Cicic, 2009), and product integrity (Fionda and Moore, 2009). During the past few years, however, these more established perspectives have been challenged, specifically in a fashion context, by newly emerging “intermediate” categories like new luxury (Truong, McColl and Kitchen, 2009), accessible luxury (Chevalier and Mazzalovo, 2008), masstige (Truong, McColl and Kitchen, 2009), trading up (Fiske, 2005), or emotional luxury and semi-luxury (Lipovetsky, 2007). To varying degrees, all of them seem to suggest a middle ground, or compromise even, between product positioning just above average price level and high-end brand appeal.
The meteoric rise of brands like Tory Burch or Michael Kors is testament to the fact that the market is growing fast, and presumably in response to an exponential rise in demand. Most new luxury brands strategically use the luxury banner to increase market share and global and geographical spread – a somewhat ironic development if we consider that, once these brands have grown beyond a certain size and market saturation, they are mainstream in virtually all departments bar price. It is here that we encounter an ontological problem: if luxury has indeed become an accessible and widespread affair, then what is luxury, after all?
Fastening on the proposed sub-theme of the conference, this paper sets out to explore luxury in a conceptual space. Have the relative ideas surrounding luxury (e.g. tradition, heritage, artisanry, rarity) become absolute, thereby cancelling out newly emerging incarnations? Or has the transient event – luxury as (an appropriation of) sentiment – become an emotional memory? This paper seeks to explore these different notions from a philosophical point of view by zooming in on the concept’s inner workings. In an effort to understand the different relays governing the contemporary luxury market the research focuses on a number of epistemological and ontological positions about what luxury (probably) is, could (possibly) be, and might (actually) be not. While luxury has come to inherit many different – and sometimes conflicting – meanings, this analysis opens up discussions about the pluriform nature of the term to develop an idea of its conceptual boundaries within and across different market regimes.
Period18 Jun 2015
Held at Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Italy
Degree of RecognitionInternational