What is luxury?

There was a discussion recently in a Facebook group about what makes a bag ‘luxury’. Some people said price, others said materials, yet others said workmanship or brand heritage. Names mentioned were Gucci, Hermés, Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga.

Personally I think it is all of these plus other things. However, when writing this article I got myself in knots because it is not as simple as it may seem.

I have a bag that I designed myself and had made from the finest full-quill ostrich skin and lined in lambskin. All the leather was ethically sourced. Every seam was double stitched at my request and all the hardware is both top quality and heavy duty. This bag has been intensively used for eight years and looks brand new.  For other people this does not count as luxury though, because the artisan (a friend) and the designer (myself) were not well known or trained in the top ateliers and the brand is not well known. The leather is luxurious but from a wholesaler in South Africa who farms ostriches for famous brands. Because I got it at source it would not be considered luxury. In fact there is no brand, just that one handbag. It is luxury to me but not to others. Though I am always getting complimented on the bag and it does look very luxe.

On the other hand, the designer and brand do not necessarily always mean anything either, as many times after a brand hits the big time the bags are mass produced and the quality drops. The designer stops designing each product and hands over the reins to a team of designers. Many designers – Marc Jacobs and Alexander Wang for example – have their own design houses as well as working as chief designers for other brands. Each of these brands usually has a more expensive main line as well as a cheaper diffusion line. They cannot possibly do everything themselves.

Gucci and Pierre Cardin overfranchised themselves in the 1970s and 1980s. Their name was slapped on everything from cheap scarves and sunglasses to horrible perfume. Cardin has never recovered and Gucci only came back into the fold after Tom Ford took over and made it trendy again.

Prada is a company that does not dress stars for free – not even for the Oscars. If a star is wearing Prada, you know they have paid for it. Prada and their diffusion line, Miu Miu, have stubbornly refused all offers of high street collaborations with companies like H and M.

Price is no indicator of luxury status either. If you are extremely wealthy even Hermés would be budget to you so you look for something more. And if you were on a tight budget, Zara would be considered luxury. Some handbags from budget chains are actually extremely well made – one example is the Jimmy Choo collaboration with H and M. Despite the relatively low price (though high for H and M) the leather on those bags was magnificent, the bags were extremely well made and also limited edition. I think they are luxury but then again, many people wouldn’t.

Mulberry and Louis Vuitton have tried to outwit the fakers and the plebs by making their bags more and more expensive, hoping to appeal to a select few rather than the mass market, which they felt was diluting their luxury brands and making them mainstream. It had the opposite effect however, leading to profit warnings for Mulberry and even more counterfeiting. For some people their pain threshold regarding pricing just moves upwards, for others it means they become disillusioned with the brand offering the same bags at skyrocketing prices.

One thing that many people do not consider factors regarding luxury is the shopping experience, but I think good customer service (both in store and online), a well functioning website and generous guarantee and after sales service is extremely important. There is no point in buying eyewateringly expensive and beautiful leather products if the company acts like they operate out of the back of someone’s truck. And ignores any issues you may have after you have paid for your item.  Not sure if anyone remembers the shop Voyage in London, where they made their name out of being rude to people and refusing to open the door to let you in the shop. They felt it made them luxury, I definitely didn’t.

And pedigree is also important – a heritage brand with a long history is more likely to be considered luxury than a new upstart, though that may be a little shortsighted. Louis Vuitton, despite its impressive pedigree, has battled to hold its own after being faked so much. The brand value was diluted because so many copies (both good and bad) flooded the market. The same went for Burberry. And even Abercrombie and Fitch had to pay Jersey Shore ‘celebrities’ NOT to wear their clothes because the brand value was dropping by being associated with the reality show.

Being locally produced is also very rare now, with most companies producing in cheaper countries than that where they are based. As long as the finishing touches are made in a country, it can be stated that it was made there. So many items which say Made in Italy for example, just have the labels, the laces or the buttons put on there. The rest of the item was probably made in China and India. Modalu, for example, pays it’s workers 17p an hour to produce handbags which cost well over £200, and then they market them as luxury on their website.

Being discreet is also important to me anyway – no garish logos, no celebrity endorsement, something that is like a social passport for those in the know while others remain unaware, without bashing people over the head with giant labels which scream ‘look how much money I cost!’. This is why I like Balenciaga.

Labels I like – Lambertson Truex, Tanner Krolle, Reed Krackoff, Beatice Amblard, Launer, Bottega Veneta.

Beatrice Amblard is an example of a brand that ticks all the boxes – she is one of the best leather artisans that Hermés ever had. She used to make the Kelly bag and was an Hermés brand ambassador. She now has her own brand and her own store. Not many people know who she is or what her bags look like but when you see one you know that it is luxurious. You are not sure why but you know that it is.

When it comes to other things, there are questions I would like to ask my readers

– would you think a beautiful flawless diamond with top scores in the 4 Cs is luxury if it did not come from a famous jeweller?
– would you think a hugely expensive black diamond in a black gold setting which was made by a master goldsmith is luxury, even if it looked like it came from a gumball machine and no one else had any idea of its value?
– do you think Gillio organisers are luxury because of the price and the leather, despite ring problems, customer service problems and not the best website?
– do you think Van Der Spek organisers are luxury because of the customisation options and customer service?



So, dear readers, what do you think is luxury?


Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

13 thoughts

  1. In terms of planners, Van der Spek is luxury to me, top class workmanship, individually made to your requirements.

  2. Good workmanship, quality materials and attention to detail. Before designer bags shot up in price about 7 yrs ago I got a half price jummy choo bag. I spent over an hour in harvey nichols choosing it. It’s pistacio leather with a suede lining and the internal pockets are edged in lilac. It’s practical enough for work and gets lots of compliments.
    Luxury can also be a handmade item from the designer’s market stall.

  3. For me it is the experience. For example a very expensive order with Gillio and bad customer service impacts how I view what I bought and it no longer feels luxurious to the point I actually no longer want the products. While I made a modest purchase with VDS but the customer service made me feel special and valued as a customer and that feeling stays with the product when I look and use it if that makes sense!

  4. I look for workmanship, materials and style.mi like something a little different, but discrete.mi think your one off bag is the ultimate in luxury, handmade and designed by yourself, what’s not to like! I think you both did a great job on it.

  5. My Mulberrys 🙂 and a little unknown handbag/clutch in antilope My father gave my mother in 1965. Sorry for my english 🙂 This is my Luxus and you have youre Luxus. Right:))

  6. I have been a handbag / purse hound since I was a small child. I used to be of the belief that Luxury was the ones that I couldn’t afford. Then after having a couple of LV’s I honestly wasn’t as impressed, I lost my love for them. I now prefer to buy luxurious leathers bags that have a divine smell of leather from designers, that are well made and not as well known and hope that one day come to find out they made it big. Also, I prefer something different, something that not everyone else is carrying.

  7. I think most people’s first thought is that the name dictates whether it’s a luxury item. I know it did for me. I bought two LV wallets last year and finally plucked up the courage to use them daily, but very carefully! I’m still not entirely sure they are made of luxury materials or that they are robust. Only time will tell. That said I still reckon people go for the name.

  8. Luxury to me means good quality, luxury materials, eyes to details, great designs that foreseeing the trends of fashion and to be the lead of that, lasts for long, tons of marketing budgets to continuously deliver their names and images to the target audience, attract the famous and powerful people to use their products so they affects each other (which is very important) etc etc. To buy a luxury product, you are not only buying the product but the whole package.

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