Luxury Market Trends & Research

The Definition of Luxury: Experts and Tastemakers Have their Say

Now that it’s used to describe everything from a $1 million sports car to a bar of chocolate, we asked a range of experts to weigh in on what truly defines luxury

In recent times, luxury has become a shorthand definition for objects that we’re passionate about collecting—art, wine, jewelry, handbags—as well as the special experiences we covet, like exclusive resort stays, fine dining with friends, yachting in open water under clear blue skies… So, do we use it too often—and is there a better way to describe what we’re trying to express?

Yes, say the experts we spoke to. In order to convey the true quality of an experience they believe the word should be used as a noun—as in the ‘luxury’ of something—rather than the adjective, as in ‘luxury cars,’ which adds very little to a description.

An aerial view of a grand Manor House and its landscaped grounds
At Christie's International Real Estate it’s our mission to ensure every one of our clients enjoys the luxury of first-class advice from specialists they can trust. Pictured: Château de La Roche in Alpine, New Jersey

And at Christie’s International Real Estate we believe ‘luxury’ can—and indeed should—be used when discussing client service. It is a luxury to serve the world’s most discerning buyers and sellers, a fact that has never been lost on Christie’s throughout the company’s 250-year history.

Here, in a series of profound and personal observations, architects, artists, designers, and other tastemakers share their definition of luxury, too.

Luxury enables effortless living. Our homes shouldn’t be a burden to us, they should provide the backdrop for enriching our lives—Kathy Scott

“It’s the Freedom to Be with Others”

“Luxury is choice, time, space, and freedom of the mind, spirit, and body. Today, more than ever before, the old saying ‘the world is about people’ brings up the most important aspects of life. Having the people where and when you wish to see them is the real definition of luxury.”—Arik Levy, artist and designer

Friends talking and dining outside on a warm summers evening.
“Normal is the new luxury. It’s dinner with friends, deciding on Monday you want to catch the Eurostar to Paris, or booking theater or concert tickets on the same day.”—Alex Proud gallerist, club and restaurant owner. Image: Getty Images

“After the time we have had recently, freedom seems to be the most luxurious gift we can be given. The freedom to move around, to travel, to swim in the sea, to see our friends and family without fear. That’s my great luxury. And eating a lot of chocolate, too.”—Lucinda Chambers, fashion director and co-founder, Collagerie online shopping platform

“The pandemic has revealed to me that the real luxuries these days are the shared experiences that many of us, including myself, often took for granted previously. A multi-course meal at a great restaurant; seeing an outdoor theater performance with friends; sitting at a sidewalk cafe and people watching. These moments of the shared rituals of city life are more luxurious now than ever.”—David Rockwell, architect, founder, and president, Rockwell Group

“It’s Effortless and Elevates the Ordinary”

“Luxury is freedom from care. When design is carefully tailored to its user and environment—by responding to its specific climate, addressing fundamental functional needs, and using beautiful, durable materials—it enables effortless living. Our homes shouldn’t be a burden to us, they should inspire us and provide the backdrop for enriching our lives.”—Kathy Scott, principal, Walker Warner Architects

“I’m a great believer in splurging on luxurious versions of everyday items, because then I can be certain of daily doses of pleasure, rather than saving everything up for the amorphous concept of “best.” So it’s heavenly-scented soaps by Ortigia, delicious toothpaste by Nano, soft bedlinen such as brushed cotton from The White Company, Chanel No.5, and a good red lipstick for the school run.”—Jessica Fellowes, author of The Mitford Murders and Downton Abbey books

Someone holding a red watering can and watering a plant.
“Being able to choose plants for their aesthetic value and growing things for pleasure, rather than producing food to feed your family, is a luxury we don’t always consider.”— Aileen Scoular, garden designer and journalist. Image: Getty Images

“It Can Be Measured in Moments”

“I like to start my day with meditation—giving myself a moment of headspace before opening up inboxes and compiling to-do lists always feels like the ultimate definition of luxury. On a material level, I have an old pair of Giorgio Armani black label cashmere trousers that I love. To anyone else they just look like an ordinary pair of gray trousers, but the cashmere is so soft and they’re so well cut that it always feels like a special treat to put them on.”—Steven Short, editor, Christie’s International Real Estate magazine

“The greatest luxury is time. When you’re younger you actually believe that you can be bored. As you get older, you realize that there is never enough time in the day for family, work, exercise, reading, thought, and sleep.”—David Rabin, founder and operating partner of Jimmy at Modernhaus SoHo

“It’s All About Experiences”

“More than ever, as we emerge from the pandemic, we hear from our clients that the greatest luxuries are based in extraordinary experiences. Looking at an exceptional object, being inside a fabulous residence, visiting a glorious location, or learning from thoughtful programming are just some examples.”—Bonnie Brennan, President, Christie’s Americas

Banner image: Getty Images