Published in Lifestyle, The Collective by Lewis Silkin newsletter in October 2020.
Together with The Collective by Lewis Silkin we present the new The Future of Luxury in Times of a Global Pandemic monthly series.
I hope you’ll enjoy them!
The new meaning of luxury. How is COVID-19 redefining what luxury means today?
There is a lot of discussion about how the world is changing in the light of COVID-19 and how it’s affecting brands and businesses. An interesting outlier in this conversation is luxury, as the luxury sector was already changing greatly before COVID-19, but the global pandemic has further exacerbated those trends and made them front and centre in 2020.
Last year in The Luxury Report, I wrote about Redefining The Future Meaning Of Luxury — how the five global cultural shifts were eroding the traditional meaning of luxury and how brands could counteract these shifts by coming back to their essence and creating new meaning and relevance.
The COVID perspective
Fast-forward one year and these ideas have now become our new reality. The global health pandemic serves as a catalyst, speeding up the transition of the luxury sector toward the new luxury paradigm — a direction in which luxury was already headed, but much faster than it probably would under normal circumstances.
The new luxury opens up a new space for brands to come back to our essential needs that we’ve neglected in the overly materialistic consumer culture. It asks us to shift our focus to wellness, well-being, healing, come back to our roots, soul and spirit and human essence, develop a discerning taste, longevity, long-term mindset, and understand what truly matters in life.
With COVID, we now also see a rise in demand for experiences with seclusion and privacy to safely distance, allowing us to disconnect from the world, connect back to ourselves, nature and the natural rhythm of life. Meaningful, authentic, culturally immersive, transformative and soon also transcendental experiences will become the things to focus on in the future.
This is a unique point in time that serves as a wake-up call, giving us an opportunity to refocus on ourselves and reorganize our priorities in life.
The missing context in luxury, and in consumption of goods and services in general, is coming to the front and centre of discussions on how to shape and reshape the future of brands, products and services towards a more meaningful form of consumption that adds value to our own lives.
Changing tides in luxury
As a result of these large-scale changes in society, luxury is becoming much more diversified as it means different things to different people. The meaning of luxury has become relative and heavily contextual as it’s centred on the idea of what is scarce today.
If we look back into the past, rarity, opulence and flashy status symbols were often seen as extraordinary because the majority of people had very little means to afford a comfortable lifestyle. Luxury was therefore tied to aspiration, class and status acquisition as a vehicle of social mobility.
Today, we have a very different situation on our hands. We have an overabundance of material goods, services and information which cloud our ability to focus and discern what is truly meaningful to us. The more we can buy the less it means to us.
What is scarce to us today are largely things that were abundant in the past — such as time, clean air, space, inner peace, mindfulness, human touch, meaningful connections or quality time shared with others.
In the opposite context, luxury inevitably means different things than it did in the past. We have everything we need materially, what we lack is spiritual sustenance and symbolic meaning. We feel empty and unfulfilled.
Power of intangibles
This is why the new luxury will be increasingly about the intangibles (experiences, memories, feelings, sensations, human touch, time, space, clean air) over the tangibles (material objects to worship).
We are already seeing consumer behaviour, needs and preferences shift in this direction in a very powerful way, and COVID will only add to this ongoing change. It urges us to shift our perspective to what is truly important — our inner capacity to experience life at its fullest.
The turn from tangibles to the intangibles is the most important shift in consumer behaviour of the 21st century. This shift in perception opens up a whole pool of new opportunities for the luxury brands to tap into that which wasn’t available to them in the past because it wasn’t seen as luxury — yet.
People value meaning — the symbolic aura of a brand based on values, feelings, beliefs and desires they can identify with on a personal level. It’s this invisible net of signification, culture and meaning that decides if brands and products will be successful or not.
Coming back to core value
And this is where luxury has always been at its strongest as the leader in creating a superior value that lasts throughout time and is being passed down to future generations.
To come back to this transcendental value of luxury, luxury brands need to refocus on their inner essence and understand how it locks into the human essence in the fast-changing cultural climate today.
COVID offers a great opportunity to the luxury brands and the business world, in general, to pause, reflect and do the alignment work in order to create more meaningful and essential value in people’s lives.
The need to come back to ourselves and our human essence has become an urgent priority this year. If brands can do the same in terms of their essence, recalibrate their thinking, realign their strategy and come back to what is truly meaningful, they will be one step closer to riding the wave of change, rather than falling a victim to it.
More on the rise of luxury essentialism and how brands can embrace their inner essence to be meaningful to people in the next monthly newsletter.
Where to next?
For more information on What does a ‘life of luxury’ really mean? today, head to BBC Culture to read the latest piece featuring Dr Martina Olbertova’s thoughts on the subject.
About the author
Dr. Martina Olbertova is a social scientist, strategist, brand advisor and the world’s leading expert on creating meaning and cultural relevance in business.
She is the Founder and CEO of Meaning.Global, a strategy & cultural intelligence consultancy helping companies adapt to the quickly changing symbolic codes of the 21st century to create meaningful brands, meaningful business and meaningful luxury.