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OPINION: The Nature of Luxury 1

FUNKE OSAE-BROWN

Over the years, there have been many attempts to define the term luxury. As with every discourse, critics have attempted to give concise meaning to the word, luxury. Has anyone been able to put it into proper perspective? That is the one-million-dollar question.

In this maiden edition of this column, I will make an attempt based on my experience spanning a decade and a half of interacting with practitioners in the luxury sector and my research on the subject matter, to bring to fore different perspectives on what luxury is.

As with every discourse, there are divergent views on what is luxury. Some school of thought think that luxury is a lifestyle; you live it. You don’t necessarily have to be rich to live it. It is your essence. It is who you are. They argue that many wealthy people don’t live a life of luxury. They have the money, yet they don’t spend it on luxury. Some rich people know what luxury is, and they spend their money on it.

There are not so rich who know what luxury is, yet they live that life even if they have to save money for a long time to attain that kind of lifestyle. They would save some money to obtain that object of desire they have always wanted.

There is another school of thought which argue that luxury is for the old money bags. They believe this age group consume luxury because of their experience and taste for classic brands or heritage brands. These are generational brands that have been around for more than 50 years. In this category are Rolex, Chopard, Backes and Strauss, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, among others.

Another dimension to the definition of luxury is to know or understand the distinction between a premium brand and a luxury brand. What is a premium brand? Loosely defined, a premium brand produces a quality product. This product may not be necessarily expensive, but it is premium or top-notch, and it is of good quality.

A luxury brand, on the other hand, is also of good quality, but it is exclusive. It is targeted at a particular group of people who have a taste for exclusivity. They don’t do ‘gbogbo ero’ to use our local Nigerian parlance.

I will use two auto brands as an example here. Let’s look at BMW and Rolls-Royce.
BMW is a premium brand. The quality of their cars attests to this. The engineering of BMW cars is premium. Although recently, BMW is now beginning to play in the luxury segment with the unveiling of BMW X7.

Rolls-Royce, on the other, is a bespoke quality brand. It is tailored made to suit the taste of anyone who can afford it. Rolls-Royce gives you that rare opportunity to build a car to your taste, the way you like and desire. Often, no two Rolls-Royce cars are the same because each one is custom-built. Hence, you don’t see anyone driving your kind of Rolls-Royce. Therefore, it is exclusive to you. It is this exclusivity that distinguishes a luxury brand from a premium brand. It is this exclusivity that makes those who are not in this class want to belong. However, this exclusivity comes with a price. That is why you can’t compare the price of a Rolls-Royce Car to that of a BMW. Therefore, when you buy a Rolls-Royce what you pay for is the craftsmanship, the time spent in the design and engineering and the rarity.

Besides, luxury is also defined along the lines of celebrity consumption. Critics believe that the fact that celebrities consume or use a particular product does not qualify it as a luxury brand. Although some brands have used a celebrity in their campaigns, however, that does not mean those brands are luxury. Yet there are celebrates who can afford to truly live the life of luxury.

With these broad definitions, let’s now look at the concept of African luxury.

So many things influence the definition of luxury in Africa. Our diversity is one. How do you want to define luxury in a country like Nigeria with large numbers of ethnic groups? By extension, the entire African continent?

When you talk about luxury on the continent, it is usually not about price, but instead, as Nisha Kanabar, co-founder of Industrie Africa, a platform showcasing the work of African designers puts it:

“It is about the strength and depth of “the story that a brand seeks to tell through its craft – be it a new take on indigenous textiles, a reinterpretation of artisanal techniques, or a genuine understanding of their identity and influences.

“Where luxury once used to be synonymous with exclusivity, and aspiration, today it resonates with a much younger consumer through pillars of authenticity, emotional connection, uniqueness, and environmental consciousness.”

Continues in The Nature of Luxury 2

NOTE: This article was first published in Business Day in the column ‘Luxe Thoughts With Funke Osae-Brown

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