Thursday, January 20, 2011


What is luxury? There are countless media representations of luxury. Luxe TV from Luxembourg offers regular documentary shorts on luxury products and services. The books featured below offer some of the current perspectives on the changing nature of luxury.

The websites below offer various portals into the luxury world. Net-a-Porter emphasizes luxury fashion, Luxury Society emphasizes luxury business while A Small World networks all types of luxury fans and consumers.

Luxury is often treated as a financial investment and business category. The chart below shows the way in which luxury is normally treated in industry sectors.

Luxury brands are typically treated as having significant brand history and equity.

We can also describe luxury conceptually in terms of the 5 senses and development of taste. The ability to discern quality and luxury is a skill informed by experience and supported by critical studies and research.

As a basic example, it can be difficult to discern water quality and the value of bottled by taste alone.

Below Voss, luxury "Artesian Water" uses a chic bottle design and strategic phrasing to distinguish itself. Voss sells for 4 times the price of conventional bottled water and was recently investigated for just being Icelandic tap water.

Below Perrier ad from 1980 associates bottled water with a historic setting of luxury.

What is authenticity? Authenticity is understood in philosophy and psychology as the true self and its honest expression. In terms of objects it is something that is both a genuine design object and something verified by social agreement such as an appraisal authority, sealed and labeled packaging or a certificate of authenticity.

While most items do not come with certificates of authenticity, product labels and advertising are used to create luxury identities and myths.

Two sides of authenticity. Above pure beauty, luxury advertising emphasizes a natural and genuine aesthetic that gives a sense of authenticity. Below luxury advertising emphasizes history as Brooks Brothers claims: "We invented the true gentleman and the true lady."

Above: The Louis Vuitton ad from 2010 showed their product made by a model and was criticized as mis-representation of authenticity.

Our Course Plan

We will begin with the concept, history and debate of luxury in society.

Above Holy Roman Emperor's crown 13th century and Queen's bedroom, Versailles, 18th century

Above: Countess Jacqueline de Ribes, Countess von Furstenberg with Guiness heir Daphne Guiness and Athina Onassis Roussel. Professor Mark Tungate describes luxury as “an elite brand doing its utmost to provide a personalized good or service to a high spending client. For most, living as a real princess is far from reality but every year luxury brands spend millions to convince us otherwise.”

We will explore the ways in which luxury brands appeal to the desire for status and bling.

Above: Cavalli and Steven Meisel for Vogue Italia, 2005. Below the exhibition Embarrassment of Riches, Picturing Global Wealth, 2000-2010.

Alec Soth, Fondation Pierre Berge and Yves Saint Laurent, Moujik IV, Paris, 2007 and Martin Parr, Cartier International Polo Challenge, Dubai, 2008

Above: Cultural attitudes about bling vary. Sarkozy was criticized for flaunting his Rolex while the Kardashians are celebrated for countless endorsements and adronments.

We will investigate luxury and authenticity. What makes the product "real" is a complex set of factors many economists seek to understand. Most luxury goods have a high mystical value based mainly on the product history and integrity but also on how the continue their myth through advertising. While this means that luxury brands must oppose counterfeits, studies have also shown that buying counterfeits and imitation copies simply make consumers want to purchase the real thing later on.

Luxury is also being transformed in terms of authenticity by both digital technology and collaborations. These shifts are making original luxury more accessible to the masses.

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