2020 has been a year of rapid change and recalibration for us all in so many ways. A year of necessity that has, inevitably, shifted how we view the place of luxury – and wants versus needs – in our lives.

As is often the case, amongst the financial hardship that many have experienced this year, the super-rich has, most likely, retained their fortunes, their possessions and way of life. Indeed, superyacht sales – one of the status symbols du jour of super wealth – have allegedly boomed in the pandemic, as their owners attempted to commission the ultimate in self-isolation.

For most, however, extended time spent at home, suddenly made us realise that the idea of adding to our possessions, with even a touch of excess, felt increasingly stifling and cumbersome. Because regardless of whether or not you have the financial means, the idea of ‘consuming’ has become less gratifying than it once was. Seemingly overnight, a new more essential sensibility – focused on our health and access to our families – has redefined our universal desires.

When having more than you need is no longer aspirational, and investing in only what you really love has come into vogue, needs versus desires exist in sharper contrast to each other. Our lives have changed, and so must luxury brands to reflect and become a key part of how culture is reshaping itself.

In our new future, a sense of luxuriousness and lightness need to co-exist.

‘The House of Chanel survived multiple world wars, the stock market crash of 1988, the Great Recession, and many other world-changing, life-altering events. So did Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Prada’. (Source: BOF & McKinsey)

In fact, the most successful brands always have understood this. Those luxury icons that have stood the test of time and survived are the ones that have fostered their core values but adapted to and, ultimately, led the culture around them. The past year has been notoriously challenging for certain sectors of the luxury sector, including hospitality and fashion, and we are already seeing them adapt their behaviour. Following a well-publicised scandal where they burnt unworn garments to protect copyright, Burberry’s ReBurberry programme now repurposes excess fabric to fashion students.

The cultural codes of luxury are already becoming less prescriptive, providing a new kind of depth and a more creative and original enrichment to its fanbase. The elite experiential events the luxury world championed until recently – think catwalk shows with models circling imported icebergs – have given way to a new era where, for example, a broader and more inclusive approach sees consumers able to view a beautiful Gus Van Sant x Gucci film that triggers the imagination and allows a moment of escapism for its brands in an entirely different way. Which brings us to perhaps the key point: the ability of luxury to enamour and enchant us. What everybody needs, at least a little of, right now.

The future creative expression of luxury is key. Historically luxury could be seen as heavy – almost weighed down by its history. But as luxury brands ultimately shift from gilded opulence to establishing longer-term ethical legacies; from providing us with material goods to taking us on more emotional journeys; and from prescriptive codes to new creative and fluid expressions, we are at a point where we can truly create its new direction.

Luxury should certainly aim to honour its traditions, but at the same time, it is essential to do this in ways that offer its audience a feeling of transcendence, energy and revitalisation. Luxury can often present us with tension, but ultimately it should lift and lighten us. This kind of joy is perfectly captured by the brand Hermes with its recent ‘saddler’s spirit’ campaign, evolving its equestrian heritage to an enduring, dynamic and joyful expression of modern luxury.

The idea of ‘daily’ luxury continues to be introduced into an increasing number of sectors and areas that were never previously considered as a premium experience. The sale of street wear brand Supreme for $2.1 billion in November 2020, for example, shows that brands that premiumise everyday essentials have taken on a remarkable new significance in our new daily order. From personal and household care to supplements, bringing our needs and desires together, in ways that we can afford, adds a justifiable light touch of luxuriousness when life is less cheery.

Ultimately, luxury has always made its consumer feel special because it is special. The luxury world defines and influences all of our desires because luxury is an emotional and aspirational concept that tells us a story of worlds more brilliant, beautiful and magical than our own.

Luxury seemed a fitting end to our Design for Life in extraordinary times series. After considering the future of Taste, Community, Mobility, Body, Leisure and Nature over the last six months it is fair to say that what Luxury does next will, in some way, influence them all. It has, and will always have, an over-arching effect on culture. But its ever-evolving expression today is a far more active one, embracing participation, access, intimacy and an emotional lifting of spirit. Ultimately, all brands wishing to become part of today’s luxury and premium spheres need to look for ways to bestow that enigmatic lightness, that touch of joy that enriches our day and our lives.

It can affect how people look, sound, think or feel – either momentarily, or it may change the course of someone’s life altogether. True luxury is a special experience – closer to a verb than a noun. Hannah Barry, Bold Tendencies.

Discover the full series of Design for Life in extraordinary times:

– Introduction: Design For Life in extraordinary times
Design for Community in an isolated world
– Mobility when movement stops
– Design for Body in pursuit of protection
– Design for Nature as it resets around us
– Design for leisure when there is no liberty
Design for taste to feed our primal needs
– Design for luxury in a time of necessity