Luxury – The 2013 Evolution

June 18, 2013

I read a few articles about luxury in the Voyeur magazine last month that I thought were interesting and had a bit of a different take on luxury and where it is heading.

Different eras have led to different manifestations of luxury living. These days are no different. And while some things stay the same, some definitely change. The opulence of the 80’s, for example, hasn’t totally disappeared. Take Crown Casino, where the world’s most expensive cocktail retails at $12,500, as an example. Some of us non high rollers ask – How? Why?

Well, it can almost be rationalised. One ingredient is the 1858 Cuveé Léonie Cognac, sold at auction for $149,000. And it takes a ‘mere’ 16 hours to craft. So there is a lot that goes into it!

While there are remnants of the older manifestations of luxury, the dimensions of luxury are once again changing. As the world increasingly commoditises, as objects can easily be reproduced in the factories of Asia and as accessibility increases to most things, we are seeing luxury shifting more overtly into experience as opposed to acquisition.

Voyeur raised some of the familiar suspects of luxury, like personalization, and getting off the beaten track to unfamiliar locations. But unknowingly, we think it revealed 4 new dimensions. We titled them; 


Not only is it enough these days to holiday in the home of aristocracy, but in a tour of Ireland outlined you not only meet the family who owns a 4 hectare slice of the Emerald Isle with a great big whopping castle, you have lunch with the Countess. Not to mention a trip behind the scenes with the Earl of Erne and Earl of Rosse to understand what it is like to live in the castle and endure their life of plenty.

Meanwhile in Montana (USA) lies a similar idea, but a very different aesthetic. You can go behind the scenes to live the cowboy lifestyle. Help with a cattle drive or penning in a herd of horses. Perhaps even head out on a hard trail ride across chilly streams with the locals, just to get a sense of what it is like out there. 


It’s strange that something ‘serendipitous’ can be a part of luxury, but it is a marker of the world we live in today that people feel this carries some rarity.

One tour operator has enabled consumers to ‘choose their own adventure’. At the end of each day with True North, people are able to discuss the day’s comings and goings, and then decide that evening what they would like to do the following day based on what they have heard and already done. 

It enables people to live to their whim, to feel anticipation about something that excites them, rather than sticking to a schedule or breaking a day into 30-minute increments. Interestingly, it does so in an organised way, as part of a tour or trip, spontaneity for those not tempted to go ‘completely wild’ and do it all themselves. It's Organised/Planned Spontaneity if you will, a combination of our push for control, and desire to escape in one neat little package.


More so than luxuriousness or objects, the idea of place that is perpetual has become more important to luxury. Nowhere is this more exemplified than in The Kimberley. The region offers the mind blowing idea of walking somewhere that no other human has set foot before. Rock faces that predate the age of the dinosaur.

In a world that is becoming more ‘throw away and commoditised’, the idea of ‘Enduringness’ helps to place people. It makes them feel connected to nature and grounded. This is no doubt hard to achieve these days for many; thus, places, brands or products that imbue this sense enter the luxury sphere.


In fashion circles, technology is fuelling ‘easy’ buying, and a returns policy for the masses. Lower levels of service and a one size fits all becomes the norm. Alternatively in the luxury space, David Smiedt reports that the opposite appears to be the case, we’re reverting to the idea of ‘couture’ luxury once again: 

“Experience will dominate and a throw back to the past will become the prevailing approach. Private catwalk shows for a rare few. Salespeople will know you every time you walk in. Your size, tastes, body hang ups and family names.”

Similarly, Tim Longhurst explores the idea of hotels analysing your social media profile to create a more individual experience for a customer, one that is based on his or her personal information.


These 4 emerging traits of luxury are direct ‘kick back’ responses to the overall driving forces behind the broader cultural shifts at play in Australia. 

Our cultural mapping has shown us how increasing commoditisation, technological driven change by stealth of how we work, live and play, the increasing intensity of every minute of the day, the vulnerability of our environment and the lack of ‘traditional’ boundaries in life are all contributing to the changing notion of luxury. Only the erosion of egalitarianism, we hypothesize, is not.


These examples show that brands in luxury categories need to think long and hard about how they tackle their marketing over the next year or two. Not only are they batting against a barrage of unfriendly economic discourse, but for many product based brands, they will have to explore adding new dimensions to their businesses.

Wine brands have already added cellar doors, but how can they take the idea of inside access to another level? Premium news organisations can fuel spontaneity or inside knowledge by opening up as the Guardian did. In an anecdotal way, AFL clubs have been on this idea for a long time; raffling a day in the coaches box or helping people get onto the ground.

The notion of Enduringness is a difficult one. Patek Phillipe talks to this space with their generations campaign. In our opinion Australian brands can also look to use their provenance more as a grounding for differentiation and specialization, to highlight their enduring nature and how they have stood the test of time. The British automobile manufacturer Morgan still build by hand, with no body being exactly the same, it is in these traditional skills that ‘enduring’ love for a luxury brand comes to life. 

Intimacy can be harnessed in numerous ways depending on the brand. Are there stories of people behind your brand? We have seen Chanel build the story of Coco Chanel over time to build cache with a new generation of women. Can you demonstrate an understanding of your customer base with the information you have about them? We think this is a truly powerful trait that if used well, can really help to generate good will & talk.

And finally, perhaps the most surprising of the traits we identified - Spontaneity. This isn’t particularly easy for brands to deliver. We anticipate it requires a great deal of planning and structures to be able to execute it. 

In the Auto category for example, there is no reason why a repeat customer couldn’t just be offered (no obligation) a new model for the weekend. A pre-emptive hit of sorts! We think this may be where it best serves brands, as a means of reward and keeping a consistent customer on his or her toes. 

Having said that, in a world where so much of our lives are laid out for us hour by hour, the idea of not knowing where things are going to end up as part of an experience could be a powerful driver.