Influences, London, Material Culture, See
Leave a Comment

What is Luxury ? : Analysing Our Material Futures

What is Luxury ? is an exhibition questioning the idea of luxury at the V&A that ended last month. It let us discover the history and prominence of luxury within society. I was striked with loads of inspiration and questions towards my own practice.  Here are some ideas :



Fragile Future Concrete Chandelier by Studio Drift are made from real Dandelion. Seed heads were harvested before opening into ‘clocks’ and individually applied to LED lights to make this chandelier. The lights are powered by an innovative 3D bronze circuit which conducts electricity to avoid wiring. This fusion of nature and technology is a poetic comment on the possibilities of uniting two opposites.

Fragile Future Concrete Chandelier, Studio Drift, 2011 , Phosphorous bronze, electronics, LEDs, dandelion seeds, plexiglass, MDF


JELLYFISH INSTALLATION by Steffen Dam is born of his fascination with the air bubbles, ash marks, soot residue, cracks and crookedness that appear in the glassmaking process. He enhances the aesthetic and illusory qualities of these unexpected and unpredictable irregularities. Here, the hyper-realistic jellyfish forms within the solid glass ‘specimen jars’ are the combination of impurities from layers of carbon and silver foils.

JELLYFISH INSTALLATION , Steffen Dam, 2010, Glass, silver foil, carbon layers


A Rematerialisation of Systems, Body I and Body II by El Ultimo Grito is a metaphor for real world systems. Luxury is about something new and better but usually requires a trade-off between competing desires and available options. Transparent glass ‘bodies’ give the impression of a intelligible network of spaces (real world ) – However, the transparency is in part an illusion, as connections within systems are complex, overlap and have dead ends – questioning our limited freedoms and capacity to choose.


A Rematerialisation of Systems, Body I and Body II, El Ultimo Grito, 2014, Borosilicate glass, lycra




Iris van Herpen pushes the boundaries of fashion with innovation. Her practice combines traditional dressmaking techniques with innovations often adapted from other disciplines. Here, working with architect Philip Beesley, she explores the application of laser-cut mesh structures to form highly articulated 3D patterns. Read the Interview .


Dress of Voltage Haute Couture, Iris van Herpen in collaboration with Philip Beesley, 2013, Polyester microfibre, polyester film


George Daniels mastered every aspect of watchmaking, usually a collaborative process, to produce unique timepieces. The watches on display represent the beginning and peak of his career, each introducing innovative mechanisms. The Space Traveller is his most renowned and features numerous complications for calculating horological and astronomical data, including the age and phase of the moon.


The Space Traveller, George Daniels, 1983, Gold, silver, gilt brass, steel


Nora Fok crafts unique pieces of jewellery that combine everyday materials and tools with time intensive techniques. She delicately hand knitted nylon filament around toy marbles. The work plays on the opposition between material and subject, where durable synthetic thread has been used to capture bubbles, one of nature’s most fragile and ephemeral forms.

Bubble Bath, Nora Fok, 2001, Nylon



Dominic Wilcox explores ideas of value and luxury associated with a simple pleasure cherished in the pastime like skimming stones on the surface of water. By choosing ‘ideal’ stone, covering them in gold leaf and keeping them in individual pouches, it becomes exclusive, unique and precious with the ultimate purpose of being thrown away in a special moment.

Luxury skimming stone with belt pouch, Dominic Wilcox, 2009, 24 carat gold leaf, leather, pebble




 The Rise of the Plasticsmith by Gangjian Cui imagines a world in 2052 where plastic has become rare due to the depletion of global petroleums and can no longer be mass-produced. He then suggests how to produce plastic furniture via new skills – crafting plastic by hands.

The Rise of the Plasticsmith, Gangjian Cui, 2014, plastic




HAIR HIGHWAY by Studio Swine  is about future sustainable materials. It takes us behind the scene of the world’s human hair industry in China. In the future, as the human population grows and natural resources diminish, human hair could become an increasingly viable alternative. The objects are made from a combination of hair and bio-resin, creating surfaces which evoke endangered materials such as horn and tropical hard woods.



Studio Swine, 2014, Human hair, resin, stainless steel, mirror



Tendered Currency : Shane Mecklenburger has made a series of diamonds from culturally-charged sources of carbon as a commentary on the relationship between value and authenticity.  Asking why manufactured diamonds that have the same visual appearance and material properties as natural ones,  do not hold the same symbolic or financial value.

Gunpowder Diamond : Diamond made from gunpowder, glass, metal
Roadkill Diamond : Diamond made from armadillo ashes, glass
Superman Diamond : Diamond made from script of Superman III , glass, paper






Luxury has the potential to unlock dreams of being somewhere else or someone else. It exists at the boundaries of daily routines and systems but relies on notions of breaking out .

The acquisition of luxury objects has always fulfilled aspirations. In a busy and intrusive world, people increasingly value time and space for enjoying special moments and extraordinary experiences. Contemporary designers engage with how the availability of time and space, and quality of time spent, can be seen as luxuries in their own right.




OVERALL IDEA : Looking through the history of luxury and values in society helps us realize what luxury means today and will be in the future – How it can grow against the backdrop of social inequality, and a new, less tangible forms of luxury, such as the desire for space and time.

The question of luxury is ultimately a personal one. Everyone decides for themselves what their luxury could be. Enjoying or affording luxury is not only a question of budget but of individual circumstances and preferences. However, freedom to dream and the ability to take decisions are fundamental to enjoying luxury.






share your thoughts here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s