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Luxury Brand Management: A World of Privilege, 2nd Edition by Gerald Mazzalovo, Michel Chevalier

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CHAPTER 1

The Concept of Luxury

A Problematic Definition

What is luxury? The answer might seem simple but, upon further consideration, and as the multiplicity of definitions attests, it is clear that the luxury of one is not necessarily that of another.

The concept incorporates an aesthetic dimension that refers to a major theme of Western philosophy: How to characterize the notion of beauty? In the twentieth century, the philosopher Theodor W. Adorno expressed the problem in these terms: “We cannot define the concept of beautiful nor give up its concept.”

We believe that it is the same for luxury—without wanting to confuse it with the beautiful (it has its own issues), it turns out, upon examination, no less elusive and, perhaps, not less indispensable.

Therefore, it is probably unrealistic to seek a universal definition of luxury. However, this reflection draws our attention to an initial important point—the definition of luxury has varied over time.

What we commonly call luxury no longer has much to do with what was meant only a century ago, or, a little further from us, in the years before the Industrial Revolution.

We are not talking about objects of luxury. Needless to say, for example, a product like soap, a real luxury in the Middle Ages, has become commonplace since then, and has therefore ceased to be a luxury in our eyes. We talk about the meaning of the word luxury. Today, we use it in a very different fashion from the way in which it was used in the seventeenth century. ...

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