From my village I see as much of the earth as can be seen in the Universe …
That's why my village is as big as any other place on earth

Because I am the size of what I see

And not the measure of my height …

In Keeper of Sheep, from Alberto Caeiro
(Fernando Pessoa)

When we talk about luxury, what is the first image that comes to our mind? This was the question I asked my friends on Facebook a few days ago.

As I suspected, the answers were as many as the number of people that answered. Why? Because luxury lives in our emotion e the emotions we project on what surrounds us. This is the only way it makes sense and becomes what it should have been in the first place: genuine.

Cars, Champagne jewels and shoes. Status. Houses, vacations on some paradise destiny, private islands and to not have to work. A luxury in the present days. Caviar and white wine, on some beach terrace. Comfort, health and friends. Love. Silence….one actually says it is golden. Is there a more luxurious comparison than to gold?

What is luxury then? Or even better, where is luxury today? Let’s see how one can answer this…

Luxury, as society’s referential system, lives in the opposite side of what we can call vulgarity.


Imagine a long corridor, where luxury is its ceiling and vulgarity its floor. Now, admit that in the end of this corridor there is a wide window.


The wider our referential is, the farther the ceiling is from the floor, the higher the corridor of our existence is, and therefore, the wider the window from where we see the world.

To lose luxury as a referential is to lose part of our culture. And if we lose that legacy, we’re losing a piece of our Humanity.

Putting vulgarity and luxury at opposite ends of the same reality, is to admit that the first one is close to bestiality, that is, to physiological behavior which brings us close to animals, and the second one is seen as something intellectualized and culturally assimilated.

The fascination by luxury comes from human self-pity. By not being divine, we try desperately to rise above vulgarity, as a way to become unique.

The big mistake

Left: Daphne Guinness on a photo shoot for Italian vogue. Right: Becoming a Haute-couture's icon.

Some time ago I saw a TV programme about the Haute-couture phenomenon. For about an hour, the journalist took us through her last year, telling us the stories behind the selective world of fashion as a work of art, as a unique piece.

When asked about one thing truly luxurious for her, the socialite Daphne Guinness told that it would be “something rather unique, because from the moment I see it on someone else, I stop desiring it.”

A presumptuous idea, but when analyzed with care, full of substance. It is an intuitive summary, coming from a person whose life has been as good as it gets, but that actually makes us see what luxury is all about: the search for an almost divine status, associated to the will of possessing unique features.

It is wrong to think that luxury is a new product from Mankind. It is wrong to think it is a product at all. Throughout History, certain features have always been associated to it, such as domain, power and uniqueness. In tribal societies, the leader had to have the best furs. In the first urban settlements, the leader, and usually the richest man, had his house placed in the highest point, considered the most secure place to be. Pharaohs raised funeral monuments, so that they could be buried among their most precious treasures. And Louis XIV demonstrated how it was possible to use ostentation as an intelligent means to govern.

Golden details from Versailles. The decoration is full of symbols of supreme power.

There are many stories about the court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, where clothing rules were so strict that noble families went bankrupt, due to the famous Rose Bertin’s suits’ exorbitant prices. They cost as much as a house.

Luxury is undoubtedly associated to economic power, but it is also a matter of choice. According to legend, when the sultan of Brunei gets tired of his Rolls Royce cars, he fills them with cement and sinks them in the China Sea. Fact or reality? One could not tell, but this creates a certain kind of sensation, be it good or bad.

Nevertheless, throughout the 20th century, something quite specific took place: the birth of the bourgeois society rose from the end of the Second World War. The bourgeoisie, the middle class, is undoubtedly associated with commerce. And in fact, this became the great power of the post-war emerging countries.

Man has never been richer. Bill Gates was considered the richest man ever to walk the Earth. So, what happened to luxury?

Connected to the complex commercial network, we began to assume that luxury had something to do with financial capacity. The American dream has whispered into our ears that the largest houses and the fastest cars were attainable, with hard work, and, of course, some luck. Everything became possible and was for sale.

This was when one had committed the original sin of luxury.

The price of everything and the value of nothing

Today one can apply, more than ever, one the famous Oscar Wilde’s quotes: “These days man knows the price of everything, but the value of nothing.” Price and value, herein lays the difference. Subtle, but strong.

Labels were associated to mass production and to an increasing societies’ buying power. They began producing the so called self-named luxury, that is, the luxury available in every single corner of the world. From NYC to Shanghai, we’re suffocated in Louis Vuitton’s bags, Don Pérignon’s bottles of Champagne, Bulgari’s precious stones, and Ferrari’s super sports cars.

But it happens that luxury lives from thought emotions, from the consciousness of the pleasure we get from something. That’s what luxury is, pleasure. Pleasure at the end of a research process.

I don’t blame us for what’s happening. It’s easy to understand the glamour coming from a Louboutin’s pair of shoes. They’re exquisite, beautiful and tremendously expensive. It is harder to apprehend, though, the value of a Chinese table from the Ming Dinasty, full of dust and cracks. But in fact, the shoes are one store away from us, or even one click away from us, as they can be bought in the Internet. But the table will always be one of a kind. There might even exist some Chinese tables like this out there, but one can easily enumerate them. And people who have one, must understand the emotion of possessing something that rare.

Left: Dior Spring 09 collection shoes. With the woman figure on the heel, the shoes became an instant object of pleasure. Right: Louboutin's interpretation of Marie Antoinette's universe.

That’s what any Haute-couture suit’s owner feels. To have something that no one else in the world has. And this is why Haute-couture’s companies do not turn over the big money. They’re just not supposed to. They represent an endless research for the unknown, for the best raw-materials, for the newest techniques and, in the end, for perfection. They are not centered in the turn over, or at least, that’s not their purpose.

Haute-couture has always recreated fashion as art objects.

Today one faces luxury, as something rare and exquisite, coming from exclusive sources, to luxury as a mass production. The luxury exhibited by Angelina Jolie, Oprah Winfrey or Puff Daddy. But the so called luxury labels have been throwing dirt in our eyes. Golden dust, in fact. They’ve been selling us luxury as something to be sold in a flea market, and because of that, they’re not far from retail stores such as Zara. They’re not even far from Banana Republic or Bloomingdale’s.

To accept luxury is, above all, luxurious. To distinguish, accept, and live among luxury implicates an education, hard study and research process, which is not, I’m afraid to say, within everyone’s reach.

As one of my friends would say, a fur coat by Fendi is luxurious. They are actually great fur manufacturers, and the materials they use are impeccable. Even though it isn’t so difficult to get one. Money is all it takes.

But above a Fendi’s fur coat, there is a fur coat specifically designed for, let’s say, Daphne Guinness. This is the ultimate-luxury, or über-luxury, the term used to re-designate what should be called luxury in the first place. These are the luxury’s degrees, subjected to different cognitive values.

And if one wants to raise the standards, one can always think about Shahtoosh shawls. The Persian word literally means “Pleasure of Kings”, and these shawls are woven with the down hair of the Chiru (a tibetan antelope which lives in the Himalayas, at over 5.000 meters of altitude), by the weavers of Kashmir. The delicate hair was so difficult to weave that these shawls became one-of-a-kind pieces. It is told that an average sized shawl is so thin and smooth that it can be passed through a ring. This is also the difference between a pearl necklace and a pearl necklace belonging to Marie Antoinette (let’s face it; I almost transformed the first necklace into something a little bit ordinary, didn’t I?).

If we want to go a little further into this thought, we might say that luxury has little to do with expensive objects. They are expensive indeed, but because they are rare, and not because they are labeled with a price one hundred times higher than their value.

Left: Horse figure from Ming Dinasty and golden Scythian Necklace. Right: Dress and necklace belonging to Marie Antoinette.

Yves Saint Laurent died a few months ago. He had what was then considered to be the last eclectic collection of luxury. It was estimated in over 700 million dollars. Those were the objects he collected throughout his life, creating the sense of belonging around him. These objects bore a sense of comfort, of pleasure. They represented him. And beyond that, they represented the French spirit. And that’s why I will never understand how the French state let this collection be torn apart after his death.

Luxury is to acquire a piece with a soul inside. Within resides its true value.

Yves Saint Laurent's universe of comfort and pleasure.


  1. Interesting "new friend"

  2. muito bem escrito!
    estou espantada! escreves lindamente em inglês! quem me dera. acerca do tema, acho que exploraste de uma maneira gira todos os recantos desta poeira dourada.

  3. O luxo deste começo de noite foi ler-te. Obrigado por me fazeres aprender alguma coisa.