This book offers a unique analysis of how our definitions of luxury have changed over the ages, and with that the role and actions of both suppliers and buyers of luxury products. It traces the way luxury was seen as avarice and emblematic of morally corrosive behavior in past societies, to being viewed in more virtuous terms as the inevitable outcome of structural changes that legitimize the acquisition and display of wealth. It examines the origins of the shift from criticism to acceptance, and traces these changes to fundamentally different notions of what constitutes the basis for social order.
Whereas pre-industrial hierarchies cloaked inequality in various secular and sacred guises to mitigate its presence, capitalism justified and reified inequality as a measure of individual success and initiative through interdependent market behavior. The result of this transformation is that status markers have become aspirational tools as hierarchies became porous and self-identity less ascriptive.
Correspondingly, as demand for luxury became legitimized, the supply side underwent dramatic changes. Such changes are explored fully in the sectors of fashion, art and wine. As demand for high priced and scarce goods in each of these sectors has increased, in each case key actors have manipulated markets to purposefully either consolidate their pre-eminence or manufacture the requisite scarcity that affords them canonical status.
The demand for and supply of luxury goods is now global; consumers seeking validation and affirmation of their status whilst producers engineer scarcity. Luxury is seen not only as good; it is virtuous, its demand possibly insatiable and extremely profitable.
List of Tables
Market for art
Individuals, organizations and globalization
2. Luxury in historical context
Luxury as vice
Christianity and luxury
Money, markets and morality
The advent of capitalism
3. Industrialism, materialism and the birth of a consumer society
Culture of consumption
Home as domestic refuge and emblem of success
The dawn of mass consumption
Conclusion: Reconciling old and new
4. Mass production, mass consumption and new consumers of luxury
Mass production and mass consumption come of age
More money for workers to buy things
Selling the acquisitive lifestyle
Inequality and materialism
What are people buying?
5. At Home in the Fields of Luxury: From artisan production to global brands
Luxury goods firms
The business of fashion
Consolidation and growth
6. Art: From aesthetics to investment grade collateral
Art’s changing role
Market intermediaries: Auction houses and dealers
Modern art and the new marketplace
Revitalized auction houses and dealers become galleries
Is art a good investment?
7. Fine wine: Creating luxury in a bottle
Wine’s early history
California’s early wine history
Cult Napa: luxury wines from the new world
8. Conclusion: Pilgrims on the luxury road