Excavations from prehistorical graves dating back to 82 thousand years ago uncovered a variety of ornamented furs and rudimentary “jewels”. At a time where mankind had to prioritize immediate survival over producing and celebrating such products, criticism of the vacuity of luxury might have been even more warranted than today.
Dedication to such a peculiar activity comes from our deepest biological impulses. From peacocks sporting unnecessarily flashy tails to today’s Homo sapiens in his flashy new sports car, our environment provides us with countless examples of luxurious behaviors.
Taking a look at contemporary knowledge of human psychology we can immediately understand luxury habits as a form of showcasing social achievement and experiencing feelings of self-realization. To capitalizs on these processes is not selling immoral goods and experiences by abusing people that have lost life’s meaning, but is offering the best of humanity’s creation against a fair remuneration. Combining timeless craft with the artist’s unique vision of esthetics is what gives luxury such an important value to consumers.
Nevertheless, fixating our opinion on a cynical or poetically distorted view of luxury is of limited interest in the search of what is luxury’s true meaning, for it is a phenomenon that is as universal as it is deeply and fully personal. From my own point of view, luxury was first consciously appreciated as the consequence of history’s natural course. As historian Dominique Guillaume wrote in Power and Style, dresses came about as a way of informally setting societal hierarchies. From this perspective the exhibition of one’s wealth has been as important in shaping the world as have been the pen and the sword.
Luxury is often linked (especially from religious institutions) to the “sin” of laziness, which in fact does have a ring of truth to it. Only with rest from his animalistic preoccupations can man elaborate such “superfluous” goods. This is how luxury becomes such an essential part of the human experience. It is what differentiates us from other animals (or at least makes us believe so). The supremacy of the scientific disciplines are relativized when taking into account the body of knowledge extracted from the exercise of our “useless” creativity. I could summarize my thoughts with an elegant saying from Thomas Jefferson: “I must study politics and war, so that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, and naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”