When I was little, my Mom wanted a mink coat because, as she put it, "It was the ultimate luxury". But every year orthodontist payments, a new car, cleaning up after a flood, etc., etc. took precedence over the mink.
Finally, my Dad bought her the mink coat. She went for fittings, paraded around in it (even on hot summer days), took joy in showing us how soft it was, and, generally, just loved her one big luxury item.
Back then, I knew what Luxury meant. I'm not sure any more, not since I started running into things that are billed as Luxury but seem to be fairly ordinary.
Companies call us to do "luxury marketing".
My most obvious run-in with faux luxury happened a few years ago when I was invited to speak to the Luxury Marketing Council at a new "Luxury" hotel in downtown Miami. The hotel was new and clean with great service but the decor and layout were minimalist. Maybe that's luxury these days. If so, what do we call the 7 star hotels in Beijing, Milan and Dubai? Deluxe luxury?
A few weeks ago, I took a cruise on Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas, the world's largest cruise ship.
A lot of my fellow cruisers thought the ship was luxurious. They'd saved for years to take this vacation. I thought the Oasis was nice, the food and service were great and the crew and staff were outstanding. And there was a spa. But it wasn't even close to luxurious. It was just very good.
I looked up the word Luxury in the dictionary and the words that describe it include lavishness, sumptuousness, opulence, magnificence, indulgence. Like the Savoy in London in the old days with two butlers on every floor and eight foot long bathtubs.
Wikipedia, which is hard to rely on, says a Luxury Good is an economic good or service for which demand increases more than proportionally as income rises.
I'm not sure about that. When I was an undergrad at Boston University, my summer job was at a Franklin Simon Store in New York City. I sold very expensive handbags, and most of the people who bought them were middle income ladies. Some of them paid for the handbags over time (layaway). Their income didn't increase but their desire for these status handbags remained solid.
I think we overuse the term luxury as much as we overuse "world class" and it means different things to different people. Last Saturday, my friend Angela and I headed out to a Luxury Auction, because she'd received an invitation in the mail. We got to the "estate" home, went inside and were amazed that we'd driven all that way to a nice but middle class home and that they were auctioning off televisions and costume jewelry.
There were no luxury items there, none at all, so we turned around and went home. Angela remarked, "We've thrown away better stuff than that".
So what have we done with this word? We've overused it so that it really means nothing to us now. Luxury might mean a new Bentley for Angela, or a Maserati for my friend, George. Maybe somewhere on Long Island, there's another mother who thinks a fur coat is the ultimate luxury. To me, it's spare time. To Mike, our creative director, it's a good book, a double Irish whiskey and a comfortable chair in the shade.
I don't have a problem with the concept of luxury. It's a nice thing. It's just hard to define, except I know that really rich people expect it and people who are merely well off can afford a lesser version of it and far too many middle-income people spend money unwisely on it. I also think that if what you're offering is really a luxury, you don't have to use the word. Res ipsa loquitur - the thing speaks for itself; it's something rare and magnificent, like a Vermeer painting.