1: In the Beginning there was Luxury

The authors' notion of luxury is that of a culture, not merely a set of rules and formulas. You have to understand it in order to put it into practice.

Luxury is fundamentally different to mass consumption, mass production, and mass marketing. Hence the "mass" mindset will likely find it unfathomable and bizarre, contrary to many of the principles - because these principles simply do not apply.

Using the mass-market playbook us a virtual guarantee of failure. If you want to succeed in the luxury space, you must set aside the culture of the masses and understand luxury as a thing unto itself.

A brief history of luxury

The appeal of luxury is deeply rooted in human nature, and as such the authors will "indulge in a little bit of anthropology" to consider its origins.

Primitive luxury: social distinction

One practice that distinguishes mankind from lower orders of animals is the way in which we dispose of our dead. Archaeologists who unearth burial sites do not merely find the bodies of the dead, but the items that were most precious to them: jewelry, weapons, horses, and even ships. These are the items that symbolized their power and prestige in life. This is the fundamental definition of luxury: it is what distinguishes an individual from the masses.

It is what also defines the values of a culture: when we look to art and literature, the things that people though were worthy of the effort to depict them. Every great civilization has developed its own values, chiefly focused on immortality and the afterlife, which represents the pinnacle of the things that are important in the present one.

Look specifically to ancient Egypt, which was one of the most spectacular cultures to have existed: they lived in a remote desert climate, in a highly hierarchical and sable society, with extremely sophisticated codes and rules for living, and a ritualized view of the afterlife.

In life, the Egyptians expressed splendor and power by every available means. The consumption of certain goods was restricted to certain classes, and there are some things that were the exclusive demesne of the ruling class. Even the practices of preserving the body for the afterlife required highly sophisticate and costly techniques, reserved for a very small elite.

What is also seen in the progress of time is the same kind of democratization as we see in the present world: the luxuries of the elite gradually spread downward to more ordinary mortals, This "dispersion of luxury" is a feature that is common to many societies.

The authors suggest that, even in ancient times, there was a raging debate about the usefulness of luxury. While some look upon luxury as wasteful extravagance, others see it as a driver of discoveries that gradually benefit all of society. But ultimately, for the buyers of luxury, it was about elevation.

From Greek antiquity to the 19th century

From the Greco-Roman perspective, luxury has been dichotomous: wealth and the things it purchases are the reward of virtuous action, yet the direct pursuit of wealth is seen to be at odds with the virtues of the common man.

During the same time, Rome dominated the more primitive continent, and a great deal of bitterness arose among the enslaved barbarian tribes of the refinement and luxury of their Roman masters. Wealth symbolized oppressive power, and the desire for wealth led many tribes to side with Rome against their neighbors. Hence, a hatred of wealth arose in primitive culture that has been handed through generations of their descendants.

This conflict is not confined to classical Europe, but can be seen in other cultures, including the Egyptian and Chinese dynastic periods, to the Tokugawa Shogunate in Japan (that persisted through the nineteenth century) and even to the Russian tsars of the early twentieth. Even in modern France, wealth is debated between those who perceive it as an insult to the poor and the source of skilled and steady jobs for the middle class.

The thing to remember is that wealth and luxury has always been a major sociological issue in society, which has to do with social stratification, the notion of practical utility and waste, and decisions about the distribution of wealth. It is a politically charged issue, even in the present day, much of which hearkens to the early and primitive civilization.

Turn of the 19th century

The political, philosophical, and social upheavals of the nineteenth century had much to do with luxury:

As society progressed toward the twentieth century, the culture turned in favor of legitimizing luxury. In the present day the process is not complete even in developed societies, but seems irreversibly headed in that direction.

The democratization of luxury

In the biological sense, species are influenced by their environment - not merely the climate and geography, but the competition among species. Darwin observed the bizarre fauna in isolated locations such as Madagascar and the Galapagos Islands, which evolved in an unchanging environment.

Human culture is much the same way: isolated tribes with little contact or competition with other cultures become highly unusual and idiosyncratic, rooted in folkways that have remained unchanged for generations because their environment has likewise remained unchanged for generations.

In that sense, much of humanity, up to the turn of the twentieth century, remained isolated and unchanged. An encounter with someone fro another culture was a rare event. With the invention of ships, and later airlines, and later the Internet, cultures gained exposure to one another. Before then, they were highly isolated.

To go a step further, in most economies the luxury segment has been virtually isolated from the rest of the economy. The producers and purveyors of luxury were well removed from the majority of the majority of the population, who were living in subsistence economies. And in the same way, the luxury market evolved separately and in isolation for many centuries and developed a deeply idiosyncratic character.

It was not until the mid-twentieth century that luxury ceased to be a world apart. More people see luxury, and more have access to it. In a sense, this is a bridge of land connecting the "luxury island" to the mainland of consumer society. And what we see is luxury leaking out and adapting itself, to some degree, to the larger society. There is even some degree of threat that luxury, in its original form, is largely disappearing, just as a species can become extinct when its environment and competition changes.

On the other hand, a particularly strong species can persevere and cause changes in the larger population. In truth, luxury does hold some major trump cards, in that it represents a great many things that common people want.

The drivers of change

The authors see two factors as the drivers of change.

First and foremost, as indicated in the previous section, is globalization, particularly the spread of democracy and capitalism to societies in which these concepts were largely unknown.

Second is gender equality. While the desire to have luxury is not exclusively female, it is in fact highly feminine.

But these remain generalizations, and the authors will next explore a number of more granular factors.


Democratization implies that everyone has access to the world of luxury. That is, there are no restrictions of goods to specific social classes, and the only requirement for having a luxury item is the ability to afford it.

To some degree, this vulgarizes luxury: when any individual, even a member of the lowest classes, can possess a luxury item if he can scrape together enough coin to purchase it, then luxury loses its value as an emblem of social status. This damages, but does not entirely nullify, the notion of luxury.

Also, democratization implies that social stratification is gradually disappearing. It is not merely that the poor can assume the trappings of the rich, but that rich and poor are meeting in the middle. This assaults the very core of luxury - such that when all people are equal, there is not point in seeking objects that communicate distinction.

An aside: architecture, as a particularly social and visible form of art, quite clearly has much to do with social stratification: the palaces of the political institution and the temples and shrines of the religious institution have always been done in the grand style. To a lesser degree, private homes have been public demonstrations of the wealth and power of their occupants. The same can be true of places of business, such as stores.

Increase in spending power

In terms of luxury goods, the increased spending power of the masses means the availability of money to purchase them. We can see this in the qualitative and quantitative increases in consumption: the lowest classes of developed nations have more and better food, clothing, and accommodations than the medieval nobility.

At this point, the authors obliquely imply the disconnection between luxury and wealth: wealth consists in the capital we have, luxury in the capital we consume.

What we can also see is the way that spending is proportioned: some opt for a level of quality across the board, whereas others attempt to obtain a high level of luxury in one concentrated area, to the neglect of other consumptive activities. (EN: Consider the instances of an premium-branded automobiles parked outside trailer homes.)

The choice between spending on many products and concentrating on a few will recur later, especially in the distinction between premium and luxury strategies - though for now the two are being treated as fundamentally similar.


Aside of the spread of capitalism and democracy, globalization has some qualities that drive luxury.

International trade provides markets easy access to products that were previously unavailable. This gave the upper classes in late medieval Europe access to things such as silk, spices, and sugar that had previously been entire unavailable. In this sense, the ability to obtain a good, rather than the intrinsic qualities of the good itself, was the source of its luxury. In that sense, international trade on a massive global scale can be seen as being destructive to luxury.

In some instance, a luxury product is rooted in culture. Buying a garment made in China is, in effect, buying a small piece of China, a distinct and foreign culture that is differentiated to native culture. In this sense a luxury good may offer an anchor point to a distant and distinguished culture. But in the same sense, globalization closes distances and erases distinctions. It "levels out: of all cultures and religions toward a perfectly globalized society that has only one language, only one class, and only one religion. The lack of distinction among peoples nullifies social distinction, which in turn nullifies luxury.

In that sense, many luxury products must be produced in a place that is consistent with its distinctiveness. A product that can only be fabricated in one place is more distinctive than one that can e manufactured anywhere. This is why many luxury goods are not outsourced, but remain produced in their country of origin regardless of the higher labor costs. This is where many products abscond the trappings of luxury to become merely "premium" products.

Mass Media

Another factor in the present day, and for the last century or so, has been communication and global mass media, such as television and film. The ability of the media to give everyone the awareness of the cultural richness and diversity of our planet and the many other possible ways of living has been a homogenizing factor.

Prior to visual media, people had little sense of the options that might be available to them, both at home and abroad. Movies and magazines model the social elite, and make people covetous of a lifestyle of which they would not otherwise have even been aware.

The authors observe some of the aspects in which media is used in a similar way to religious ceremony. Consider that Apple's annual presentation of new products is "just like some ancient religious ceremony" in which sacred artifacts were presented for the worshipping masses.

Prioritizing luxury

We can likewise observe that globalization has had a ratcheting effect on luxury, propelling it to previously unknown levels. That is, when a luxury good is adopted by a significant proportion of the general public, those who still wish to distinguish themselves must go further in their pursuit of luxury - to objects that are unusual, impractical, and expensive to greater and greater extremes.

Another common effect for luxury items is the "non-return effect" in which a person who obtains an object of distinction is unwilling to part with it. For example, a person who wishes to demonstrate their environmental concern may be willing to trade in their gas-burning Chevrolet for a Ford hybrid, but if this person owns a Ferrari, they will keep it. The same is true of future purchases: a person who has a luxury automobile will not "step down" when they can no longer afford it, but sacrifice their consumption in other areas to maintain it.

An anecdote: the communist regime in China made a decision in favor of keeping up supplies of fingernail polish, even though it was manufactured in the same facilities as antibiotics. They considered that Chinese women had only recently enjoyed the use of nail polish, as a trapping of luxury in a time of deprivation, and that it's absence would suggest a failure of the communist system to provide for the people, resulting in an uproar. Meanwhile, most people are unaware of the amount of antibiotics that were used in hospitals, and those who were unable to get the medications they needed would not be in any shape to stage a demonstration.

The stages of change

The authors find it "interesting" to consider the degree to which luxury has gradually invaded the modern economy, both within each market and across world markets.

The late nineteenth century showed a sharp increase in personal wealth and consumption, which went on a hiatus for the first half of the twentieth century (what with the great depression and two world-scale wars), and has since resumed. With that in mind, they observe that luxury is "very much a peacetime industry" that is pursued when there are no major distractions.

As the world emerges from its present financial crisis, the authors foresee that luxury will become very much in fashion, and many providers will be rushing to answer the demand for it. But to be prepared to successfully meet this demand, it's necessary to consider the origins of the concept, to dispel all the "claptrap" about it and get to the essence of what luxury is about.

Luxury, the individual and society

Especially in times when there is talk of the end of social stratification and economic equality, it is necessary to reconsider the connection between luxury and the status of the individual in society.

Luxury and social stratification

The original point is that luxury is the visible demonstration of social stratification. A few points in that regard:

Ultimately, what mankind seeks to do with luxury has remained unchanged: it is a mechanism by which social stratification is to be demonstrated. While the cultural tenets that underlie social stratification change (from nobility by birth to nobility by achievement), the net result is the same: luxury items denote that a person matches those cultural values, whatever they happen to be.

Luxury as a social marker: luxury for others

Clearly, luxury is a social marker: through our conspicuous consumption of luxury goods, we are proclaiming our social status to observers. Or in democratic markets in which people choose for themselves and can have whatever they afford, it is more likely an expression of a desire to belong to a specific social class.

In that sense, luxury leads to escalation: when a significant number of individuals who wishes to pose as a member of a higher social class have acquired its trappings, the valid members of that class will move to differentiate themselves, generally by going a step further, into consumption of goods that the poseurs cannot easily afford.

This is seen as largely dysfunctional: the elite members of society are supposed to be unconcerned with the common rabble and be able to appreciate luxury for its intrinsic qualities, even if poseurs imitate it without enjoying or understanding it.

The author considers the markers of luxury, and some of the dysfunctional ways they are pursued:

The desire for luxury as a prop represents a significantly different set of motives to the desire for luxury in itself.

Luxury for oneself

Social elements aside, luxury is sought as access to pleasure - it has a very strong personal and hedonistic component. There is a distinct difference in the motivation of a person who seeks an object of luxury for his own enjoyment as compared to that of a person who seeks an object of luxury in order to gain or demonstrate social status.

Undoubtedly, there is a market for poseurs and snobs, and judging by the marketing tactics of premium brands, it likely is much larger than the market of individuals who genuinely enjoy luxury. But there is also a weakness to pursuing the latter: the poseur and the snob will drift aimlessly from one logo to another, because the status they are seeking have nothing to do with the quality of the product and the experience of consuming it.

Said another way, while snobs and poseurs may contribute a great deal to the revenue of a brand, they will never be its bedrock. To survive for the long term. A luxury brand must gather to itself as large as possible a corps of faithful clients who appreciate the quality of the brand, not the esteem they draw from consuming it.

The authors will return to this concept repeatedly in the book, but for now seek to highlight a few key points:

Duality of luxury: for oneself and for others

It naturally follows that creating a financially successful product or service depends on serving both motives: short-term success is achieved by serving the desire of those whose consumption is to make a social statement, but long-term success is achieved by serving those who seek individual pleasure.

The author notes that the "Luxury Institute" (a US consulting firm geared to studying high net-worth consumers) has two separate indices: the Luxury Customer Experience Index measures individual satisfaction with a product and the Luxury Brand Status Index measures the prestige or esteem given to a brand. This also leads to a duality of perception: people consider ostentation to be vulgar, but at the same time revel in having luxury brands and being ostentatious.

Ultimately, the authors feel luxury to be a subjective phenomenon. You cannot accurately state "this is a luxury item" except to imply that you (or a market segment to which you are referring) believe it to be so, whereas others may not.

Luxury and ethics

Some brief consideration is given to the ethics surrounding luxury and the consumption of it. In pursuit of luxury, be careful of the following:

Positioning of luxury in our present-day society

"Luxury" is defined in the context of a culture, particularly the attitudes toward time, money, and the individual.

Luxury and time

Present society's value of time is best expressed in the phrase "time is money," which is a bit outdated because time has become more important than money: we recognize the ability to make money by the way in which we use time, but time itself is a quantity we have little ability to increase.

As such, we have a dread of wasting time, which leads us to an obsession with finding productive ways to use it. But seem to largely ignore the concept of enjoying it.

Time itself is a luxury, and the enjoyment of others things is derived from the time we spend with it. As such, people gravitate toward sources of entertainment that have a forced tempo - such as a movie or a television program that can be consumed in a specific amount of time, as compared to a book that does not have a set duration, but allows the reader to make time to read, and take his own time in consuming it.

There are a few significant aspects of our society, in relation to time. Namely, we have monetized it and use accounting methods (schedules and forecasts) to manage our use of it. Time has also been externalized - time exists independent of man, and goes on regardless of his choices.

Practical concerns are slaves to time - in order to be efficient, a process must make good use of time. This is not so with luxury, which stands aloof, indifferent to time. Just as consumption of a luxury good requires spending money without measuring it against the pleasure derived on a penny-for-penny basis, do does the enjoyment of luxury consume time. Said another way, luxury refuses to be dominated by time.

In terms of time, luxury is often quite timeless and does not yield to the fads or fashions of the day. A luxury item may appear modern in its style, or it may seem an anachronistic indulgence from the past - and in some instances the two are blended.

There is also the notion of timelessness in regard to the durability of luxury goods. They tend to be products we will own for an extended period of time. If something is to be used and consumed, needs to be constantly replaced, or is disposed of when it is "technically superseded," then it is a practical good rather than a luxury item.

Many luxury goods are already old, and improve with time - or at the very least, are of a design that is perceived to be capable of withstanding the test of time. In that sense, luxury goods are built to last, whereas common goods are built to be replaced, so that the machinery of production can be kept busy making replacements.

Relationship to people

Society itself is made of people. The buildings and artifacts change over time. As such, it is significant for a luxury product to bear a person's imprint - a nothing that will be discussed in greater detail in Chapter 8 but bears some consideration in our present context.

Society itself is made of people. The buildings and artifacts change over time. As such, it is significant for a luxury product to bear a person's imprint - a nothing that will be discussed in greater detail in Chapter 8

This is the reason many luxury items are hand-made, or have a distinctive design that is attributable to the person who produced it. Luxury products can be said to have "a soul" whereas mass-produced goods lack this quality. They are designed by committee and manufactured by anonymous people, sometimes even by machines.

Relationship to desire

The relationship to desire is difficult for the authors to communicate. Consider these concepts:

Money, fashion, art and luxury: boundaries and ambiguities

The authors wish to consider in greater detail the relationship between luxury and a few closely associated concepts, namely money, fashion, and art.

Luxury and money

Luxury is so often taken as a synonym for money that the confusion of the two seems natural, almost inevitable - and making this mistake is one of the main causes of failure in the management of luxury.

In fact, many luxury goods also happen to be expensive - but merely placing a high price on a commonplace item does not make it a luxury item, and the attempt to do so has not been sustainable for those who have tried.

Spending lots of money is of interest to luxury-for-others crowd, so much so that they will readily speak of the high prices they pay for things. Consider that in certain cities in China, people will intentionally leave the price tags on their designer clothing, so that others might notice that it is new and expensive.

Genuine luxury, for oneself, is an abstract concept: beauty and pleasure are not created by the purchasing transaction, not is a luxury item made more appealing by its price.

Luxury and money as purely sociocultural phenomena

The most compelling case for money and luxury being separate things is that luxury exists in societies that lack money.

Money itself is a token of exchange in societies in which people are productive beyond their need for consumption and that there are a large enough people who have the need for a token to substitute for physical goods.

Sooner or later, money becomes representative of wealth, and is used as a measurement of value on a social scale: it represents a person's power to consume good in future, derived from the power they exercised in producing goods in the past.

Money also has value only so long as someone else is willing to accept it in exchange. In a society that uses salt or seashells as a medium of exchange, coins and banknotes are worthless. Money is also highly democratic: it is only good if a lot of people have and use it.

This is the connection between money and luxury - those who have money have the power to obtain luxury. Consequentially, it is believed that people who have luxury also have a great deal of money. This is not necessarily so because some spend all of their money (and sometimes more, going into debt) on items of luxury.

The dimensionality of money and luxury

Money is referred t as a "unidimensional" abstraction of value: you have it or you do not, you have so much of it, and you can have more or less of it. Money itself grants no satisfaction, but is a means to purchase that which has the ability to satisfy.

"There is nothing luxurious about a banknote" - and for some, money is a byproduct rather than the primary motive for their endeavors. For a concert pianist, the money he receives for playing is not enough - what he wants is to be appreciated by others for his skill. He hungers for the public's applause.

Likewise, if you give someone money as a gift, it basically means that you do not know them well enough to select an item they would appreciate. In that sense, money is an empty gesture that reduces a human relationship to an act that lacks meaning for its lack of specificity.

In that sense, money is objective: it represents "value" without having a sense of the very definition of value. Luxury is entirely subjective, as the desire is fulfilled by the experience of something specific and unique, in a way that cannot be quantified. No two people who have identical things place upon them the exact same value in terms of the pleasure they derive of them.

Ironically, those who are looking for financial success (to make a lot of money for themselves) would do well to avoid the luxury market. The most expensive products are not the most profitable, and it can be seen that the companies that make very expensive products in small quantities are not as financially successful as those who produce for the mass market. Very often, the production of luxury is a labor of love, and a losing enterprise.

Luxury and money summarized

If luxury were no more than a synonym for price, there would be no reason to consider it further and we could conclude that raising the price of things would make people enjoy them more. This is not only false, but quite absurd.

The two often coincide, but one is not derived from the other, and only a very naive person would assume that a more expensive product is better or more satisfactory simply because of its price.

Luxury and fashion

There is also some entanglement of luxury and fashion that requires separation.

Until the nineteenth century and the mass production of clothing, fashion belonged to the world of luxury. People on a certain stratum of society could purchase impractical garments for appreciation of their quality, and could afford to buy new clothing seasonally, whereas most of society dressed in a functional manner and kept their clothes until they wore out.

Today, even the lowest ranks of society in developed nations have an abundance of clothing, such that the overlap between luxury and fashion is in practice extremely slight. Fashion wishes to claim to be a luxury, but mostly no longer qualifies.

Fashion in western societies derives from the desire to escape the negative consequences of urbanization - anonymity. Fashion attempts to express individuality, and differentiation is not necessarily stratification.

Fashion is also characterized by the desire for recognition and admiration by others - and therein is a fundamental difference: to wear a fashionable garment is to seek satisfaction in the attention of others, not that derived from the garment itself.

An interesting note: some societies that live in isolation, such as pacific islands, have a social stratification (chiefs, warriors, peasants, and slaves) and have luxury objects (the possession of which identifies the class of the owner), but no sense of fashion.

However, fashion and luxury are not entirely separate: the best example of this is haute couture, the making of garments to order, often unique to the individual buyer, as opposed to pret-a-porter garments. With few exceptions, the haute couture industry is largely dead, in part because of a lack of demand, but largely because of the ease of imitation. As such, fashion has fallen out of luxury, but still exists as premium products.

Luxury and art

Luxury and art are very closely linked: many of the objects found and early tombs are both artistic objects and luxury items. By its nature, art is appreciated and serves no functional purpose except pleasure.

Art is created for pleasure, with little or no consideration of utility, which are also indispensable conditions for luxury. Both luxury and art are largely symbolic and demonstrative of social separation. The value of both are highly subjective, such that it is virtually impossible to get a consensus among all people as to what, in fact, is art and luxury - not that any consensus should be sought, as a common opinion is grounds for common taste and commoditization.

But there are differences. The use value of a luxury item may be negligible, but it is never zero - if it were, it would be an object of art. It's also notable that the creators of luxury are recognized during their lifetime, and they generally seek to live off their trade, whereas an artist may crave recognition, the greater motivation is immortality through their work.

A more stark contrast is that art seeks to be universal and wishes to be understood, whereas luxury is selective and is not meant to be grasped or appreciated by another except its consumer. Also, while a luxury object may be unique, an object of art must be unique.

The two are compatible in some regards: Luxury is a great patron of the arts, as individuals who can afford luxury are often patrons of the arts. In that sense, luxury is the artist's means of financial subsistence - whether through direct patronage or through commercialization (when talented artists work as industrial or commercial designers). The application of artistic concepts to practical items is also what gives them their beauty, which is required for them to be appreciated as luxury - and likewise necessary for a luxury item to maintain its value over time.

Some argue that art and luxury are diverging forces - which is evidenced by contemporary artists use of low-quality materials, such as sculptures made of rubbish.

Luxury, art and religion

The author considers three main stages in the relationship between luxury, art, and religion in western societies.

In ancient societies, religion was linked to transcendence, and was the exclusive demesne of priests and theologians. The arts were there to give them the ability to depict or appreciate this transcendence, and they were therefore focused on religious places and, by the extension of the divine authority of rules to the places and artifacts of power. Luxury, religion, and are were therefore very closely linked.

Around the time of the renaissance, the relationship changed. The separation of church and state set power apart from religion, and the consequence was to make the arts the servant of this new power. The objective of artists during this era were different: they no longer derived from religion, but instead sought secular aesthetics, still for the pleasure of the social elite.

It was during the twentieth century that the nobility began to collapse and real democratic societies began to appear. These societies are extremely individualistic, hedonistic, and focused on gratification for its own sake. This totally changes the paradigm for the arts, making art perishable, temporary, and common. What we know as art in the present day is closer to fashion than to luxury, though it remains patronized and consumed primarily by the wealthy.

Luxury: learning from religion and art

Luxury, religion, and art are deeply related and spring from similar sources: they all originally were aimed at elevating people, making them go beyond the needs and functions of everyday life, and set those who consumed them apart from the common rabble.

What is notable is that whereas art and religion have been popularized, even to the point of being vulgarized, luxury remains aloof. It is still the taste and province of the elite, though elitism arises from causes other than wealth and political power.

Interestingly enough, modern luxury acts like a religion, and it seems entirely appropriate to use the phrase "cult of luxury" when referring to the spread of the taste for luxury to emerging counties. The people of these nations, deprived for many years, have a hunger to possess the trappings that indicate the life of the well-off - though in many instances they long for the appearance of luxury, rather than luxury itself.

The worship by youth

The young iconize luxury brands because they epitomize consumption: luxury is a "condensed version: of beauty, quality, esteem, power, reward, and self-indulgence. It is, in essence a vision of what they wish to achieve.

Youth is a time of developing one's identity. They are not careful about their diet, but are highly considered with their identity. Particularly among the middle classes, luxury is a sign of distinction they wish to achieve, and the aspiration of the class to which they wish to belong. They want to be part of the luxury class, or at least, to be seen as belonging to it.

Elements of cult

Another parallel exists between religion, art, and luxury: all three are concerned with eternity or timelessness. Art survived for centuries, religion promises an eternal afterlife, and luxury is about timeless objects of quality and beauty.

But like religions, which appeal to many adherents, luxury brands start small with only a few clients. If it remains small, it remains luxury; if it seeks to grow, it degenerates to premium.

Structurally, luxury brands have the following in common with religion:

Transcendence through art

Luxury also transcends functionality - much about it is utterly needless. One never speaks about the function of a painting, and buying a painting is not a means to any end.

There is also the sense that excess must be destroyed, such as was the role of sacrifices to the gods in theocratic societies. The rarity contributes to its value.

This is a difference between premium and luxury: with premium, the buyer can justify the additional price he paid for an item. He is getting more quality, more functional benefit, than a less expensive version provides. Luxury is differentiated from common, and premium for that matter, in ways that do not yield to a cost-benefit analysis.