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What is Luxury?

What is Luxury? - About the Exhibition

Studio Drift, FF3 CC, Courtesy of Carpenters Workshop Gallery

© Studio Drift, FF3 CC, Courtesy of Carpenters Workshop Gallery

25 April – 27 September 2015

A V&A and Crafts Council Exhibition

What is Luxury? interrogated 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.

What is Luxury? framed work by designers, makers and artists using a selection of terms in order to engage with and expand upon current debate. It addressed the production of exceptional objects, which demonstrate an extraordinary investment in time and handmaking. It explored how attitudes to luxury are shaped by cultural concerns and personal dreams. It challenged preconceived notions of value and provides an opportunity for thinking about the future of luxury in the 21st century.

Creating Luxury

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. Makers of luxury are inspired by passion and curiosity for the intricate nature of objects, the potential of materials, and complex techniques. This motivation often exists beyond market demands and can require an acceptance of risk. 

Making luxury is not concerned with practical solutions but with the extraordinary, non-essential and exclusive. Mastery of a craft and exceptional expertise are demonstrated by outstanding precision, attention to detail and remarkable finishes. Such quality is achieved by challenging and broadening established standards of craftsmanship and accepted categories of design. The resulting work combines high levels of innovation with a respect for craft traditions.

A Space for Time

Luxury has the potential to unlock dreams of being somewhere else or someone else. It exists at the boundaries of daily routines and systems but relies on notions of breaking out.

The acquisition of luxury objects has always fulfilled aspirations. In a busy and intrusive world, people increasingly value time and space for enjoying special moments and extraordinary experiences. Contemporary designers engage with how the availability of time and space, and quality of time spent, can be seen as luxuries in their own right.

A Future for Luxury

Designers and artists speculate about the future not with the aim to predict but rather to reflect on current conditions and possible alternatives. The projects in this section rethink what luxury means today and how it might be defined in the future.

These speculations address the fundamental relationship between luxury and value. Rather than being constant and predictable, perceptions of value vary. They are driven by market forces, rooted in cultural conventions and subject to legislation and corruption. The fictional scenarios presented here subvert notions of value, introducing artificial, common, overlooked, distant and even condemned materials and their contexts. By doing this they challenge the relationship between luxury and materials which are commonly understood to be precious and rare.

What is Your Luxury?

The Last Man’s Seat, by The Last Man, 2015. Commissioned by the V&A, Private Collection

The Last Man’s Seat, by The Last Man, 2015. Commissioned by the V&A, Private Collection

The question of luxury is ultimately a personal one. Everyone decides for themselves what their luxury could be. Enjoying or affording luxury is not only a question of budget but of individual circumstances and preferences.

Freedom to dream and the ability to take decisions are fundamental to enjoying luxury. These principles of freedom and choice are central to the thesis of an ongoing project, The Last Man. It imagines a situation in which an individual finds himself alone in the world but with all of its resources intact. Free from obligation, economics, politics, fashion, society and the constraints of time, the last man gamely begins to design and build his own material world, reflecting his dreams and desires.

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Sponsored by

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Northacre, the noble force in landmark residential development, has been at the forefront of the revival and development of buildings of historical significance and stature for over 25 years. Northacre’s reputation is built on its intrinsic understanding of luxury combined with a passionate attention to detail and working with the finest craftsmen, values that chime with the content of What is Luxury?

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