Throughout decades, ideas about luxury, what it is and how it can be defined, have been almost set in stone.
However, in the past few years, and for many diverse reasons, the meaning of luxury is evolving.
Changes like this often bring about paradigm shifts, seismic changes in consumer ways of thinking and doing. The causes often occur due to the emergence of new populations with new ideas, behaviors, and spending patterns. In this shift, Millennial and now GenZ attitudes have been infused in the luxury bandwidth, whose choices express the need for less luxury commodity and more experiential connectivity. Luxury, to this group, has become more than static acquisition, it is also seen more in terms of expanded social identity.
An A&K river cruise down the Amazon to see pink Dolphins, or up the coast of Norway on the historic Norwegian Hurtigruten steamship to Kirkenes, to stay in a Snow Hotel, and go snowmobiling under the Northern Lights; walking the Valley Of The Moon, in southern Jordan; going to Camus, France and learn to make Cognac. Going Truffle hunting in Perigord. These are the fluid, memorable experiences that engage and also magnify the meaning of luxury, in addition to the (often) passion luxury investments of classic cars, expensive jewelry, handbags, and high fashion.
Luxury Is Now Driven By Immersive Experiences
Now, more than ever, the young HNW/UHNW individuals are driven not ONLY by acquisition of luxury assets, but by immersive experiences that define a new cultural engagement and enrichment. “These experiences tell others who I am, not what I have,” said one HNW Millennial.
Luxury is defined now, not by just how much is spent, but rather how well it is spent, and how much pleasure is derived from the acquisition, whether static or experiential.
Yet no matter what is bought and experienced, we live in a culture of growing impermanence and changeability, due to the ubiquity of internet connectedness. But even with constancy of change, there are still baseline values that define a consistency the evolving luxury paradigm in the 21st century.
A Desire for Travel and Authenticity
The Knight-Frank Report shows an increased focus on a Millennial desire for newness, and a growing interest in the entry-level product, as they move away from the well-known one. Millennials (ages 17-34) are what the Knight-Frank Report calls the “mercurial consumers, accepting constant change… a generation accustomed to uncertainty.” And yet, with this group, there is a consistency of a desire for travel, and a desire for authenticity from what they buy.”
That is a beginning, as authenticity is one of the experiential benchmarks that define both the immediacy and ephemerality of the luxury product and experience. When the CEO of Hermes was asked, in an interview, why it takes so long for an Hermès bag to be created, then sold, he said, “It takes a long time to find the perfect skin.” That comment defined what luxury has come to mean to so many – in terms of authenticity, scarcity, and craftsmanship.
Scarcity and Craftsmanship Still Supreme
There are two more luxury benchmarks that combine authenticity, scarcity and craftsmanship. One is the personal pleasure accrued from the purchase of a luxury asset or experience. And the final, most nuanced, poetic nuanced benchmark of new, contemporary luxury is worth. It is, arguably, of all these new benchmarks, the one with true emerging dominance.
Worth is defined as the quality that renders something desirable or valuable or useful. We all know that. But a renowned affluence researcher, Dr. Jim Taylor, took this idea further. He said,” The worth dominant consumers are in pursuit of products, services and experiences that separate the sublime from the merely excellent.”
This is a prescient statement, as is relates to how the new luxury is being seen and felt on two levels: for greater social prestige, but also, and as important, for a greater sense of personal sublimity, that feeling beyond well-being. It is the pursuit of worth in both the social and the individual realm.
The Quest for the Sublime
The quest for the sublime relates to the last idea about luxury, and it relates to self-confirmation and how luxury items serves as a mnemonic, or memory hook, allowing the owner to be reminded of what matters, what is valued in his or her individual Zeitgeist. To that point, it is understood that the new luxury does not always mean exhibiting to and for the public. it is sometimes a self-display, a reward for hard work, a reward also that aligns with what is important in terms of personal worth in all these areas: lifestyle, behavior, and self-affirmation.
Although we have defined many of the benchmarks of what luxury looks and feels like to the individual and the group, the mutability of culture can redefine and regulate it further. Virtual Reality is becoming an adjunct in the selection of luxury goods; private tasting rooms, private cruises on yachts, private dining facilities created by companies that cater only to the UHNW, are also becoming more commonplace. These underscore the idea that the social and personal dimensions of luxury may become more blurred in the future, as the search for experiences that separate the sublime from the merely excellent, moves forward.