(Think about the following questions and feel free to leave your responses in the comments field):

How do you define luxury?
Have you purchased something recently that you would consider a luxury item?–What was it?
Do you consider luxury items unnecessary, unattainable, or too expensive?
What is one luxury item you crave?

Everyone desires luxury, and today it seems, that everything claims to be a luxury good. Everything claims to be cut from the finest fabric sourced from the most exclusive locales. Consider the fact that cashmere has traditionally been considered a luxury but today mass marketers everywhere have $80-$90 sweaters made of 100% cashmere. Do you consider an $80 cashmere sweater from the Gap a luxury? If the answer is no, do you consider it a mid-luxury item? Now, I know a lot of cashmere snobs out there (my boyfriend being one of them) that would tell you that cashmere A) isn’t very soft B) will pill the second you put it on if it hasn’t already.  These same people would not consider anything from the Gap to be a luxury and that is because it is so accessible. The Gap is a place for everyday essentials, but I have to acknowledge that to some the Gap may be a luxury. Putting all of that aside for a moment, what if it was possible that one mill provided cashmere to two designers who in turn made two fine high quality cashmere sweaters and priced them differently. One at $80 and one at $900.  Both designers would claim that their sweater was a luxury product, but you & I would very likely assume that the $900 sweater was more luxurious and possibly of higher quality.  You may think this example is far fetched but it isn’t at all, and happens a ton with cashmere specifically.  High price tags get slapped on things of poor quality, and sometimes high quality items are under priced, and of course both of them will be marketed as nothing but the finest & luxurious item known to man.  Sometimes there is truth in advertising, sometimes there isn’t…it is a risk we as consumers have to take. 

So, how do we decipher what is and what isn’t a luxury? Truthfully, the term luxury is constantly being redefined. We all have our own perceptions of what luxury is, and of course designers, marketers, and the media does as well. It is as designer Zac Posen said it:

“The media is constantly redefining what luxury is.  Luxury can be a dirty sock if dressed up in the right way.” 

We are a culture obsessed with wealth, celebrity, and luxury. To most Americans “it is impossible to overdo luxury”  as the old french proverb goes.  The cars, gadgets, status bags, elaborate vacations, designer clothing & shoes, and showy jewelry is just the beginning. No wonder we now have categories of luxury.  I like to call it the ladder of luxury. Handbags and cars are always the best way to demonstrate levels of luxury. Since I don’t know much about cars, I’ll use handbags as an example to demonstrate what I mean.  If you’re buying a Fossil handbag you’re dreaming of Coach, if you’re buying Coach hand bags you’re dreaming of Kooba, and if you’re buying Kooba you’re dreaming of Chloe, and if you’re buying Chloe you’re putting your names on the wait list for the next IT bag.  It is a never ending cycle, no matter what our income, where we live, we are never going to be completely satisfied with what we have.  We are constantly trying to out do ourselves and each other.  Oh you have a Coach bag, everyone has a coach bag, well I don’t want just a Coach bag anymore, I want this bag that is $600 instead of $300. The growth of the retail sector, the increased media coverage of celebrity culture, and the introduction of the Internet has made luxury more accessible to us.  Net-A-Porter.com, eluxury.com, and even ShopBop.com with its new designer boutique makes goods normally only purchased out of designer showrooms and elite department stores accessible to the masses. Now, no matter where you live in the world, not only do you know what your favorite celebrity is wearing but you can purchase their Christian Louboutin pumps, Zac Posen dress, Erickson Beamon jewelry, or Fendi purse without leaving the comfort of your own home. 

Peter Som Marigay Dress $1,485 @ Shopbop;Fendi Caviar Patent B Bag $3,550 @ Net-A-Porter.com;

Everyone is trying to keep up with the Jones’, some are wallowing in debt while others who can’t spring for their favorite quilted Chanel bag will head to Chinatown or eBay to score themselves a replica. This obsessive consumerism has  not only created a booming market for counterfeit merchandise, it has created a high demand for designers to enter into license agreements and create capsule collections.  As consumers we are inundated with all of this.  You can’t walk down the street in NYC without being offered some crappy fake handbag, and you can’t go a month without hearing about some limited edition celebrity or designer fashion line. This month we had Roberto Cavalli at H&M, Erin Fetherston at Target, and Vera Wang at Kohls.  Designers of the past used to fear that their brand  & the exclusivity would be damaged by entering into such agreements but today without it the Forever 21s of the world will kill it for you.  Emerging & established designers alike view the capsule collections for mass retailers like target as a vehicle for expanding their brand audience, but I think it is also a way for them to directly combat the Forever 21s of the world from copying their designs and making a killing (Trovata, Gwen Stefani, & Anna Sui (among others) all have active suits against Forever 21 for copyright infringement).  

The truth of the matter is we are inundated with luxury and consume it fast and furiously.  There is no luxury that goes untouched in this country, but we aren’t the only ones. Other nations our hot on our heels.  Japan, China, India & Russia also have an appetite for luxury.

Goldman Sachs recently released projections and data indicating that China would surpass the United States and Japan in luxury goods consumption by the year 2015! Rolex, Cartier, BMW,& Bulgari are the most sought after brands in China. For me right now? It is just my 1000 thread count sheets calling me from my bed, but tomorrow? One could only guess.

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