What is Luxury?

The exhibition by such name at V&A explores the meaning of luxury. While in the past luxury was the privilege of a few from among royalty and nobles, in recent years the increase in prominence and growth of luxury brands has made it accessible for more people, while still keeping sharp contrast against the backdrop of social inequity. Here it has been attempted to find out what the term of luxury means to people today, as consumers and as individuals. It is not always just material objects and experiences that symbolise luxury, but it reaches further than that into imperceptible dimensions. Exceptional examples of contemporary design and craftsmanship are presented in the first room, while second room concentrates on conceptual projects which interrogate fundamental ideas of luxury, its production and future.
Luxury production represents an investment in time. This applies not only to the time spent making the object but also to the process perfecting the skills. Making luxury is not concerned with practical solutions but with the extraordinary, non-essential and exclusive.
There are over 100 objects on display. Some of my favorite ones:
“Fragile Future Concrete Chandelier” by Studio Drift – real dandelion seed heads were harvested before opening into “clocks” and individually applied to LED lights to make this chandelier.

Fragile Future Concrete Chandelier by Studio Drift, courtesy of Carpenters Workshop Gallery
Fragile Future Concrete Chandelier by Studio Drift, courtesy of Carpenters Workshop Gallery

“Space Travellers´ Watch” by renowned British watchmaker George Daniels – an entirely handcrafted mechanical timepiece.

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Laser-cut haute couture dress by fashion designer Iris van Herpen.

Voltage Haute Couture Dress by Iris van Herpen
Voltage Haute Couture Dress by Iris van Herpen

“Bubble Bath” necklace by Nora Fok, made from more than 1000 hand-knitted nylon bubbles.

Bubble Bath Necklace by Nora Fok, Photo by Heini Schneebeli, Courtesy of the Crafts Council
Bubble Bath Necklace by Nora Fok, Photo by Heini Schneebeli, Courtesy of the Crafts Council

Luxury gold plated skimming stone with belt pouch by Dominic Wilcox – skimming stone is something you use just once as you throw it “away” skimming along water. Now if it´s made of gold, would you use it if you can only use it once? The designer explores the ideas of value and luxury associated with a humble pleasure. A found stone becomes exclusive, unique and precious but its ultimate purpose is to be thrown away in a special moment.

Luxury skimming stone with belt pouch by Dominic Wilcox, 2009
Luxury skimming stone with belt pouch by Dominic Wilcox, 2009

My good friends from Studio Ruuger are also represented at the exhibition with their hand crafted leather suitcase. The intricate pattern depicts “A Funeral of a Swallow”, consisting of over 1000 laser cut details, assembled on the 3D-printed case frame by hand over 300 working hours. This combines  traditional leather craft skills with modern technology.

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Luxury is a mixture of quality, comfort, exclusivity,  high skilled craftsmanship in terms of an object, precision and long making hours. In times of rush and constant distraction, like the days we are living in(especially if you live in a big city), luxury can be something very simple – time. Funnily enough people who have it, don´t seem to appreciate it to full extent and it only becomes a luxury when you don´t have it. But isn´t it the same with most things. So perhaps the meaning of luxury is exclusivity and availability to the few.

Second part of the exhibition explored the future of luxury and what could be valued “tomorrow”, as perceptions of value are socially established and vary with time.

“Time for Yourself” by Marcin Rusak is a playful toolkit for misdirection, which features a watch with no dial and a compass that spins random coordinates, enabling to “get lost” and “take your time”.

Time for Yourself by Marcin Rusak in collaboration with Iona Inglesby
Time for Yourself by Marcin Rusak in collaboration with Iona Inglesby

“Hair Highway” by Studio Swine – while such rare materials as tortoiseshell, horn and exotic wood become more and more extinct with the growth of the population, there is one material which actually increases in these circumstances – it is human hair. Studio Swine use a combination of hair and bio-resin to create highly decorative medium for furniture and accessories.

Hair Highway Combs by Studio Swine
Hair Highway Combs by Studio Swine

What is Luxury? provokes thinking and debate through fictional scenarios that consider issues like privacy, resources and access that could determine future ideas of luxury. American artist Gabriel Barcia-Colombo’s DNA Vending Machine contains pre-packaged DNA samples and invites visitors to consider our increasing access to biotechnology and how privacy and ownership of one’s own DNA may become a luxury in the future.

DNA Vending Machine by Gabriel Barcia-Colombo
DNA Vending Machine by Gabriel Barcia-Colombo

What the exhibition did not cover though is the luxury of human conditions, such as youthfulness and health. While youth has been utterly commercialised in our society by cosmetics and plastic surgery industries, health is nothing we normally view as a luxury as long as we have it, but can be a severely desired extravagance for those who suffer from illnesses. Going further, even salutary food has turned into a luxury of some sort, with just processed “plastic” meals available cheaply for poorer segment of the population and organic food higher priced. Philosophically speaking, good life as such is a luxury, but then again not all people with good life conditions can appreciate it appropriately. Hence, happiness is the luxury, that if acquired can keep you above all materialistic and even some physical needs. But as for happiness, i believe, it is everyone´s personal choice to be or not to be. And by this luxury is accessible to everyone if they want it.

At the end of the exhibition there is the board with a question: What is your luxury? And this is the question I leave you with today. Please comment if you like!

The exhibition is open till 27th September 2015

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