The New Luxury

In a world that is becoming increasingly intangible, the perception of luxury is changing. Could privacy and anonymity be perceived as a new form of luxury, rather than transparency? What is more important nowadays, unique experiences and individual expression, or expensive showpieces and limited edition gadgets? Or will handmade craftsmanship remain as a timeless value? These questions were raised during “live magazine” Design Matters, themed The New Luxury. Successful fashion and lifestyle brands are trying to build an emotional relationship with their fans; consumers looking for self-expression and unique products or experiences. By selling dreams, creating icons, generate myths and enticing people (not to be confused with deception).

Lennart Booij, the curator of Stedelijk Museum, did the introduction for the evening. He shared the fact that until the 20th century, luxury was mainly about spending attention and time on production, using rare materials, a limited capacity to produce, craftsmanship and uniqueness. To recreate the feeling of scarcity in times of mass production, luxury warehouses came up with all sorts of marketing tricks. Mainstream brands also launched limited edition collections, and design pieces that were not sold were destroyed.

Martijn van Strien, has founded his fashion label ‘The Post-Couture Collective’, based upon the vision that trust and ethical business is The New Luxury. The Post-Couture Collective offers downloadable and sustainable clothing. With his brand he wants to offer a transparent and sustainable alternative to the current fashion industry, which he feels got stuck and is overproducing, exploiting low-wage countries and implementing over the top marketing hypes.

Demand is created by scarcity, even when that scarcity is intangible. The documentary ‘Ants on a Shrimp’ shows a rush in table bookings, when the charismatic chef cook Rene Redzepi of Noma, one of the best restaurants in the world, relocated with his complete team from Copenhagen to Tokyo during five weeks for a unique culinary experiment. In PR, we also like to play with the magic of exclusivity and privacy. For example, the brand Noosa Amsterdam recently launched a new jewellery collection. We invited twenty influencers for a ‘secret yoga’ experience. In this case no information was given beforehand about the location nor the teacher. Organizer of this event, Angelique Heijligers of Stadswild, uses a special ‘pull-strategy’. It is not easy to promote an event surrounded by secrecy, but Angelique’s strategy entails making a visual record of every event, enticing people to reserve a spot for the next session by appealing to their FOMO (fear of missing out).

Is this a form of luxury in times where nothing seems a secret anymore?

The growing need for anonymity is also strengthened by the fact that we are looking to protect our privacy in a world where online cookies and big data are controlling the Internet. Tijmen Schep of medialab SetUp describes in his book ‘Design my Privacy’ how get to protect our online privacy. At the moment, people exchange their data in return for a free subscription. Would we prefer to pay if in return our data remains private? Or will this only happen once we all become aware of the value of our data?

In a time when people are willing to share their private life for free on the Internet, retracting from the enormous social pressure becomes a luxury. According to psychiatrist Dirk de Wachter and philosopher Alain de Botton, it is not even normal to feel that you always have to be happy. Depressions have always been around, and they should not be perceived as unacceptable. It is human to feel unhappy from time to time, and to accept that we are not perfect. Privacy is the right to not be perfect; we are allowed to show our vulnerability. From this point of view, the Belgium designer Nel Verbeke graduated from the Design Academy in 2015 with the project ‘Embrace Melancholy’.

And what would become of the world of fashion without the aesthetics of melancholy, or the rawness of imperfection? Handling against-the-grain and reflecting on the way of thinking in this day and age, motivates me to work in the world of fashion. I like the challenge to continuously innovate and to achieve inspired creative solutions.

Luxury should not be taken for granted.