Part 1: What is Luxury?

Defining luxury from the consumer & industry perspectives.

After years of the mass-market posing as luxury and luxury dressing down as mass market, it is likely that the term "luxury" no longer holds the same meaning that it once did. However, I came across some notes I took last year, based on a lecture from the French Fashion Institute, and I think I'll add them to the discussion going on out there about the present and future of "luxury." Since there is a lot to get into, I decided the best way to go is to break this apart into a series.

The Luxury Product vs. The Luxury Brand

The diamond is a luxury product, and DeBeers wants to become a luxury brand specializing in diamonds.

YSL is a well-known "luxury" brand, yet a large chunk of their revenues are earned by sales of masstige products (ie, lipsticks, nail polish, etc).

Truffles are luxury products, but if they were branded you probably wouldn't want them anymore. Don't worry; you wouldn't be alone in that. The same thing happened to smoked salmon about 30 years ago when it became branded. Market perception changed, and it is no longer considered a luxury product.

So, how do we define a luxury product?

The Luxury Product

There are many factors that go into the production and marketing of luxury goods and services. However, in order to be successful in this industry, both the customer and other industry players must be able to identify some key characteristics inherent in "luxury."

Considerations of Luxury from the Customer Perspective:

  • exclusivity
  • superfluous
  • symbolic associations
  • subjective
  • scarce/rare
  • high-priced
  • quality/craftsmanship

There are a huge number of terms that come to mind when the consumer thinks about luxury. In fact, according to my thesis research, the most commonly associated terms are now negative ones related to waste and extravagance.

However, according to the FFI, there are three criteria to consider in the definition of a luxury product.

Considerations of Luxury from the Industry Perspective:

  • Material Value: price, quality
  • Immaterial Value: symbolic, superfluous
  • Distance: rarity, scarcity

Next up in this series: What is Luxury? Defining Quality