What Is Luxury? | A Snapshot

Photo © Marianna Michael

Photo © Marianna Michael

“What is Luxury? will interrogate ideas of luxury today. It will address how luxury is made and understood in a physical, conceptual and cultural capacity.” – V&A

Until 27 September 2015, the V&A has acquired a space dedicated to the idea of luxury. Going beyond the idea of monetary values and shiny materials, the free exhibition explores the craft behind luxury, the legacy it leaves behind and its values within society and to the future of society. 

Luxury is an exclusivity, of course it is subjective to the possessor or viewer, however it is more generally described as being something of quality and craft. Something beyond necessity, beyond that basic need. It is often something precious, sometimes experimental and in some form, it is an indulgence. 

This exhibition presents the past and future of luxury, and to some degree aims to explore, justify and analyse the way luxury products are of value to society. It opens the eyes of many bypasses, to ideas and concepts, which otherwise, without great innovators, would not be around and thus, we look at how these ideas and concepts may and should be of value to us. 

Jellyfish Installation Steffen Dam 2010 Glass, silver foil, carbon layers Photo: Marianna Michael
Jellyfish Installation
Steffen Dam
Glass, silver foil, carbon layers
Photo: Marianna Michael

“What is Luxury? interrogates how luxury is made and understood. Luxury has a long history of controversy. More recently, the increase in prominence and growth of luxury brands against the backdrop of social inequality has raised new questions about what the term means to people today. Changes in culture and communication have also stimulated interest in less tangible forms of luxury, such as the desire for space and time.” – V&A

The cabinets are full of wondrous things. They look intriguing, and on closer inspection, they become far more valuable. The ‘Future Chandelier’ from a distance looked nothing more than a fancy handmade light fixture. On closer inspection, I saw electrical dandelions. These dainty bodies of fauna which fill my garden and our local parks, that children blow in their friends faces and walk through and walk past with no regard. Instead, designers Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta (studio Drift), collected and sorted these weeds and over a matter of time, throughout working on technical sketches and models, created a series of metal and dandelion lightings. 

Fragile Future Concrete Chandelier by Studio Drift Photo: Marianna Michael
Fragile Future Concrete Chandelier by Studio Drift
Photo: Marianna Michael

“Studio Drift explores the relationship between nature, technology and mankind. Their working process involves continuing collaborations with scientists, university departments, research facilities, programmers and engineers; the results are truly innovative and ground-breaking projects – a testament to the cross-pollination between the technically advanced, the aesthetically beautiful and awareness of future potentials. Their oeuvre includes dazzling site-specific installations that react directly to human behaviour, questioning it at the same time. While the visual language of Studio Drift is characterized by dreamy and poetic aesthetics, the concept behind their works is often based on an unexpectedly critical engagement.”

Bubble Bath, Nora Fok, 2001. Photo: Marianna Michael

This exhibition provides a beautiful example of the variety of products which come under the luxury category. Head to the V&A website (The Definery) and you can being to delve into your own collection of products and define what is luxury. Would you replace or reuse it? Did you inherit it? Would you consider it more decorative or practical? These are the sorts of questions which define luxury that the game asks of. My watch was deemed Vulgar, whilst my notebook was deemed luxury. 

“[Luxury] It explores how attitudes to luxury are shaped by cultural concerns and personal dreams. It challenges preconceived notions of value and provides an opportunity for thinking about the future of luxury in the 21st century… Luxury production represents an investment in time. This applies not only to the time spent making an object but also to the process of perfecting skills.” – V&A

By far the most entertaining piece of luxury technology at the exhibition was the FOMO by Space Caviar printer. As I stood in front of this giant printer covered with bars and shelves, I didn’t quite know what to expect. On reading the instructions, I did as instructed. I waited for the 100% bar mark to fill, which took rather a long time, tweeted RANDOM to the handle provided (you could alternatively type in a postcode), and by waiting, I received, there are then, or within two minutes I should say,  an artists book which was produced in-front of me. It engaged not only me, but two guys who had joined in my excitement.

My on demand book courtesy of FOMO. Photo: Marianna Michael
The back page of my on demand book courtesy of FOMO.
Photo: Marianna Michael

This idea of hyper personalisation is an idea about our technologically advancing future. As much as it were clever, it was also fun and brought together two groups of strangers who were intrigued by this on demand book service. 

“The FOMObile (Fear Of Missing Out) is a real-time publishing platform commenting on the ever accelerating automation of many professions, including journalism. It tests the conceptual boundaries of publishing technology, questioning what the systemic and aesthetic consequences of a future of an automated everything will be. FOMO software powers the FOMObile, a mobile publishing unit operating autonomously.

Initiated in Spring 2014, FOMO is an on-going investigation using events and exhibitions as a laboratory rather than as settings to present finished work. As such, the FOMO software and physical FOMObile configuration adapt and change for each appearance. Developing a version of an editorial typology for each one, FOMO investigates the near-future of hybrid human & machine publishing.”

A more 'typical' idea of luxury and craftsmanship. Photo: Marianna Michael
A more ‘typical’ idea of luxury and craftsmanship.
Photo: Marianna Michael


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