Africa And The Luxury Market

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Luxury, a new type of luxury,  a new definition?  The definition of luxury is changing, from one that alluded to expense and quality, to another that now includes sentimental, cultural, moral and ethical considerations.  Africa, its resources, its science, its culture and craftmanship are relevant to this new discourse.

Traditional luxury goods were those high-quality goods that only elites could afford to purchase:  Large diamonds, exotic furs, rare perfumes, expensive cars.  Very often, the boundary between luxury and simply expensive became blurred:  Around the world “old money” often ridiculed the “nouveau riche” for their poor taste.  Often this poor taste consisted of purchasing ostentatiously expensive goods rather than real quality.  Truly aristocratic families were often discreet with their wealth, quietly cultivating “good taste” and purchasing goods that perhaps were not obviously expensive, but which exhibited extraordinary craftsmanship.  In today’s world, the term “bling” refers to flashy, expensive goods rather than authentic quality and craftsmanship.

The past fifty years have seen the traditional luxury brands, such as Luis Vuitton, scale up their production lines using mass production techniques. Thus while they may still be regarded as “luxury,” they are no longer in any sense elite. As hundreds of millions of people now have the wealth with which to purchase a $5,000 handbag, “luxury” brands are also now mass market brands. At the same time, the same mass production techniques that have been used to develop products for “luxury” brands are now used for other mass market brands. Thus, there is no longer a sharp boundary, with respect to quality, between “luxury,” on the one hand, and one of the better mass market brands.   The past fifty years have also seen a growing movement towards the moral implications of our purchases. To some extent this movement arouse out of the counter-culture passions of the 1960s.

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