From Indulgent to Ultimate: Luxury Beyond Our Wildest Dreams


Sophie Maxwell | February 29, 2012

Sophie Maxwell, Insight Director at Pearlfisher, sees luxury pushing the boundaries of imagination, possibilities and affordability to new extremes

The History Supreme, the £3 billion gold-plated yacht designed by the Liverpool jeweller, Stuart Hughes

The idea of luxury is evolving. Going beyond a thing as straightforward as a latest model car, designer handbag, a Michelin star dinner for two, or the bliss of a luxury destination. Luxury today challenges the traditional concepts of craftsmanship, exclusivity and provenance and is altogether more ostentatious, extreme and extravagant.

Flying in the face of the new, underplayed, no-logo luxury movement, it is fuelled by the desire to push the luxury experience to its limit – money no object. It exemplifies status. Quintessentially founder, Ben Elliot agrees.

“We have […] noticed a massive increase globally in requests from members interested in mind-blowing, money-can’t-buy experiences. Now it seems you have to really get creative to do something your neighbour hasn’t,’ he said in a recent interview with the social website, Guest of a Guest.

“ Carefully constructed experiences do offer the crux of luxury’s appeal – total differentiation ”

“As the service founded with the specific purpose of sourcing the rare, this move toward fulfilling is subscribers wildest dreams is particularly interesting, especially on the back of the financial downturn. Requests have included closing Sydney Harbour Bridge for a marriage proposal at the top of it, dinner on an iceberg or a trek across Tibet followed by dinner with the Dalai Lama.”

“These requests signify a continued move beyond the traditional focus on possessions and towards memorable experiences. This is what is now strengthening the global luxury market in all its guises. And while all but few luxury items offer absolute exclusivity for their owners, these carefully constructed experiences do offer the crux of luxury’s appeal – total differentiation.”

Luxury is now such a visibly global commodity and is being interpreted by different cultures in their own ways. Extreme overt glamour and decadence might jar with a certain part of the European or North American audience today, but to another (Middle Eastern, Far Eastern, Russian, whomever), this new impressive luxury just might fit like (highly embellished) kid glove.

A Mercedes Benz 1937 540 K Spezial Roadster, auctioned in 2011 for a record breaking $9,680,000

And Luxury is being interpreted by different cultures in extremely different ways. Take the $5 million New Year’s Eve party held by Abramovich at his Caribbean estate. The guest list swelled with a luxurious elite, from Harvey Weinstein to Martha Stewart, George Lucas to Marc Jacobs; the Red Hot Chilli Peppers performed. $5 million for a New Year’s Eve bash? It was the finale to a luxury-laden year, which included the delivery of Eclipse, a 533-foot yacht. It was reported to have cost £750 million.

Consider also The History Supreme, the gold-plated yacht, designed by the Liverpool jeweller, Stuart Hughes with the price tag of a reported £3 billion. It sleeping quarters are lined in platinum and there is a statue made from the bone of a Tyrannosaurus Rex on board.

Highly sought after vintage pieces are nothing new – this year has seen the sale of a 1963 Ferrari for EUR24.3m while last year set the record for the sale of a Mercedes Benz, a beautiful 1937 540 K Special Roadster.

But Ferrari’s introduction of its new ‘Tailor made service’ shows the shift toward exclusivity that will create the unique vehicles of the future. Divided into three collections, ‘Scuderia’, which draws on brands pedigree, ‘Classica’ and ‘Inedita’. It introduces new luxury fabrics like cashmere, titanium and carbon fibre. As with all true prize luxury its price is on application.

“ Premium has merged with luxury, its visual language borrowed by the mainstream ”

The Seventeenth Century economist, builder and essayist, Nicholas Barbon might have been less astounded than most. ‘The wants of the mind are infinite […] his desires are enlarged, and his wants increase with his wishes, which is for every thing that is rare, can gratify his senses, adorn his body, and promote the ease, pleasure and pomp of life,’ he said in A Discourse of Trade (1690). In other words, it’s natural for man to continue to want more, and to pursue ever-ambitious trappings of luxury. The question is, why?

We’ve touched on the new, global luxury customer with his or her own desires, driven by their own cultural background. There is also the argument that this is a reaction to luxury’s commoditisation. Luxury has lost its lustre because it is no longer measured or restricted. It’s available to all – from designer handbags ready to buy on eBay, to a glut of designers’ high street collaborations at a fraction of their price.

Premium has merged with luxury, its visual language borrowed by the mainstream – gold, silver and scripts adorning everything from own brand champagne to chiller cabinet meals – until its glut of products have rendered them unusable by the brands that initiated them. All this goes to show how Luxury has now become an accepted part of our culture and how we are now accustomed to the pleasure it brings to our lives.

“Requests have included closing Sydney Harbour Bridge for a marriage proposal at the top,” reveals Quintessentially founder, Ben Elliot

Many of the boundaries that distinguished what luxury was (exclusive; available only to an elite; priced out of reach for most) have blurred. A designer bag, frock or hotel room has become popcorn to the billionaire in search of true luxury. He or she wants an experience beyond dreams – and beyond comparison – and if it takes a gold plated yacht then so be it.

Yet, how will such extravagance impact on luxury and its future? Has it gone too far? The Romans believed that there should be a natural limit to luxury. They created laws about luxury, describing it as a ‘disruptive power of desire.’ Is this new manifestation disruptive? What challenges does it create for luxury’s creative force?

So, here’s a thought. If these extreme displays are an expression of our wish for the ultimate – at all levels, it pushes the luxury house to think beyond the box. As luxury takes on new levels of meaning and relevance it needs to push the boundaries, to achieve new and inspiring forms of expression.

Brands need to satisfy the ever-growing, hard-wired wish for greater achievement, higher status and more deeply resonating experience. And ultimately to continue satisfying that thing that lets luxury live, which is creating desire. Luxury in the future will be about many different ideals, one of which will certainly remain is the desire to impress – without limit.