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The Importance of Luxury

Updated: Jan 15, 2019

By Julia Davies

What is a luxury? The definition of the word pertains to the acquisition of comfort or luxury obtained at great expense, and a luxury good is seen as something for which demand increases disproportionately to income. Tax laws in the UK define luxury as that which is inessential, engendering the opprobrium of women’s rights campaigners for their having classified essential feminine items under this category.

What ‘luxury’ actually means to people is very different to the definition of the word. For many, having choice is a luxury, or time spent with family and friends, or a good book. For others, it’s something that is needed anyway, but a slightly nicer version of it- such as a higher quality basic t-shirt, or flying business rather than economy. In the words of Chanel, ‘Some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It is not. It is the opposite of vulgarity’.

So perhaps the definition of luxury is tied in to the question of what it is we value. Is it beauty, is it utility, is it convenience? Some people value social capital, and tote luxury goods with obvious branding on them, while for others the idea of refinement and discretion is what is tasteful to them.

There can be nothing luxurious that is utterly redundant. What is the luxury of owning a car you can’t drive, or wine that you will never drink? If something is useless it is defective, therefore it could never be seen as luxurious. Yet if a blind person owned the Mona Lisa, say, would this therefore remove the tag of ‘luxury’ from the painting’s status? Conversely, is it accurate to say that any ornate church is a luxury, when arguably a sufficiently sized room would serve just as well for a place of worship?

Perhaps there is a fundamental, intrinsic quality of ‘luxury’ that just pertains to some things, irrespective of what people think of them. This is borne out by the vastly differing attitudes to luxury people hold; whether it’s the life of opulence, splendour and plenty, or if it is the appeal of high-quality, long-lasting goods. Nevertheless, there does seem to be a consensus among most that certain things, no matter how practical (a word which, in the realms of luxury goods, can often bear highly distasteful connotations) certain things are, they will always be a luxury. A Chanel handbag, or an Aubusson rug will always be luxuries, no matter how necessary a handbag or floor covering may be in any given circumstance. And a church, no matter how resplendent and ornate it is, will always be difficult to categorise as a luxury, given the mainly functional aspect of it. Therefore there is a difficulty in trying to delineate sharply between luxury and functionality, they have a greater degree of interaction than we can quantify. And, fundamentally, there is such function to luxury: it beautifies, it elevates, it inspires.

What, then, is the ultimate luxury? Is the fact that one could have a less luxurious item something to be proud of, or sheepish about? Arguably, this could be what renders something truly valued, and therefore more luxurious: to appreciate its function, and its beauty, and to know that there is something inherently, and unassailably, luxurious about it.

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