What is luxury? This is a question I put to my four children, aged 15, 22, 25 and 26, who’d come back to our West Sussex home for the weekend. Their collective answer didn’t include the most fashionable clothes from the most exclusive labels, or exotic holidays, or the most advanced gadgets in the world.
Luxury to them is to be with their friends, in an environment where they can talk and laugh and feel that they don’t have to spend money, because they have each other and they can spend time together.
As I thought about their answer, it occurred to me that one of the most luxurious things in my home is a pizza oven in the garden. It didn’t cost a lot of money. With the help of a kit, we built it ourselves sealing it with concrete. We’re lucky we have quite a big garden with oak trees at the bottom. Every year they need pruning, so we use this to fuel the oven, which takes about an hour and a half to heat it up to temperature.
My children and their friends get great pleasure out of getting an axe out and chopping the wood, and lighting the fire. Then there’s everything else; the dough needs to be mixed and rested for around two to three hours, and we take ingredients from our own garden when we can, like the rocket in the window boxes. We’ve all learnt that when we do it that way, it tastes better. And it feels like it tastes better, because you’ve done it yourself. It’s not just the price. It’s the fulfilment.
And we’re not alone. People are enjoying doing things themselves. That’s why sales of Singer sewing machines have tripled in the last three years.
For decades, luxury was obsessed with conspicuous consumption. Fuelled by easy credit, society was seduced by the image and association of luxury. Luxury was seen as a foreign trip a while ago, but now it might only be travelling an hour to go to a British seaside resort – and a lot of those resorts have really got their act together, with high-quality restaurants and cafés, and clean beaches. It’s a sign that luxury is changing. Making a pizza in a homemade oven in the garden wouldn’t have been regarded as a luxury in the Eighties. People would’ve thought, ‘Oh God, an hour and a half? Let’s go out’. But that hour and a half of being together is re-teaching my wife Gerardine and I about what was valued in our childhoods.
I believe my children’s answer over the dinner table reflects what’s happening in society as a whole. It’s not some starry-eyed idealism; there’s a very real and very positive change going on.
Over the last five years, the label has been torn off luxury. It has been disentangled from the price tag. What matters now is what goes into the so-called luxury product, and the story behind it.
You can’t have a luxury bag just because of its print. But if that bag is made from a leather sourced from a farm that rears cattle ethically and sustainably, from a company that refuses to use fur, that conforms to animal rights, and the company is adamant on treating its workers fairly and paid a fair wage, that’s luxury.
Take Coke Cola. Since 2010, their plastic bottles have been made from a synthetic material that is around 25 per cent sugarcane. If, eventually, it’s completely sugarcane and I can throw that bottle on the compost heap when I’ve used it, that’s luxury.
Seeing as I’m writing in Audi Magazine, it’d be rude not to mention them. Audi is on an efficiency crusade, making each new car lighter than the one it replaces and producing engines that sip as little fuel as possible. Their cars are also full with technology that makes driving easier, and safer. That’s luxury, too.
It all demonstrates how new luxury is a reconnection with human values – it involves an awareness of the human element. People have learnt to rediscover what real luxury is. And showing off what you can afford isn’t one of them.
New luxury is responsible and it’s sustainable, it’s caring and considerate. It’s not just about the high-quality end product or experience, but the means to it, too. It’s also something tangible and concrete – just like the bricks that we built our pizza oven with. Try it. Luxury isn’t just a brand name; it’s what’s within it.