The Undeniable Allure of Luxury
Luxury goods and brands were not accessible to most consumers at that time. Our telephones hung on the wall, useless except for making and receiving phone calls. We weren’t waking up to the Twitter feeds and Instagram posts of celebrities showing off their latest high-end #OOTD (outfit of the day) or personal sponsorship designs.
The exclusivity of owning a luxury item still holds the same meaning, albeit for a much broader audience. Accessibility hasn’t ultimately changed the meaning of what it is to be luxurious, but the enigmatic mystery surrounding luxury brands has shifted.
The Psychology of Luxury
For most people, purchasing an item of clothing or other product with an authentic brand name label will always hold a deeper meaning than owning a knockoff. Regardless of socioeconomic standing, people feel connected to certain luxury brands. Brands are associated with status and elicit an emotional response directly tied to our sense of accomplishment and success.
Authenticity is critical. Psychologically, we tend to have an inability to derive the same emotional response to a similar product produced for fast fashion or created by a counterfeit of a familiar brand. Looking at a print of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, and seeing the original in person are two very different experiences. The psychology of authenticity is the same for that feeling you get when you know your earrings are real pearls.
As part of a recent study, school children were led to believe that a cloning machine could replicate their favorite things. The majority of the children in the study would not accept the cloned item as equal to the original. The feelings that come from purchasing or owning an authentic luxury item are deeply ingrained.
The thought that a more expensive item is innately better may seem irrational. But there is often some truth to that. Luxury brands are costly for a reason; they can offer finer materials and craftsmanship, and the ever-important satisfaction of name recognition. Can a $50 watch look nice and give you the correct time? Sure, but it probably won’t last as long. More importantly, it won’t give you the kind of boost that you’d get with a $500 or $5,000 watch.
Brand versus High-End and Bespoke Luxury
Traditionally, luxury brands were identified by a certain air of exclusivity. Part of what gave an item luxury status was limited production, selective access and availability only for a certain group of elite individuals. Today, by contrast, luxury items can be placed in the hands of a much broader market.
It may have been the advent of MTV in the ‘80s that first sparked wide-spread common consumer interest in previously inaccessible luxury. Nothing has influenced the trend, though, as much as the general public’s exploration into the internet and the explosive impact of social media.
What is Brand Luxury?
There are, and always will be, several dyed-in-the-wool luxury brands whose relevance is not likely to be challenged. Despite that, several of these brands have branched out into a lucrative mass market to harness sales of casual or easily accessible products. Indeed, a $200 T-shirt with a designer logo splashed across the front is not the same as a $10,000 dress with the same designer label. But designers and social media influencers know that the two items will have a similar emotional impact on the wearer.
In conventional circles, a $200 T-shirt is still a rarity and would be considered a big spend. Athletic shoes with a high-end designer’s name will be just as significant a purchase for the average person (if not more so) as a one-of-a-kind gown is for a celebrity heiress. Rationally, consumers know that their designer hoodie or baseball cap isn’t the peak of luxury. But emotionally, it can feel like a piece of the proverbial brass ring. Of course, the potential exists for buyers of a luxury brand T-shirt today to become a couture customer in the future.
The Allure of High-End and Bespoke Luxury
Despite today’s seemingly constant barrage of social media and society’s unquenchable thirst for the famous and their lifestyles, there is still a considerable gap between what ordinary people want and what they can afford. The casual luxury market exists wherein a working-class person who cannot reasonably afford a luxury watch will happily shell out $40 bucks for a ball cap embroidered with the company’s name and logo.
By the same token, there is a segment of the population that will always have the means to buy the watch or the car or the boat. What is the attraction to these products that crosses society’s economic barriers?
What we wear, the car we drive, the food we consume – everything that we purchase is an outward indicator to the rest of the world about who we are as a person. It would be fun to think that regardless of how much money is available, we would make rational, financially practical purchases. So why will we always choose the luxury when the opportunity exists?
High-end and bespoke luxury items of the highest quality and ownership let everyone know that you have arrived. In the movie Pretty Woman, Julia Roberts’ character asks the billionaire, played by Richard Gere, why he chooses the penthouse if he is afraid of heights. His response? “It’s the best.”
In the case of bespoke luxury items, the choice is clear. An item that’s unique, such as a beautiful piece of art, or an object that’s custom-made, like a one-of-a-kind yacht, enters an entirely different realm of luxury. Pieces like this are available only to the elite. Possessing that which no one else on earth is privy to can lead to the highest of emotional highs.
Luxury might mean different things to different people, depending on their past or current situation. But genuinely luxurious items are the crème de la crème, the finest quality, the most fascinating…and the most coveted.