The understanding of luxury is changing, which triggers a decline of inflationary consumption. Modern consumerism is shifting toward a luxury of connoisseurship. This puts a new emphasis on you: on individual knowledge, on personal relations, on network and, ultimately, on the creation of your own context. Taking a look at the book of Hans-Ulrich Obris titled 'Ways of curating' might give you a first impulse on this new perspective. I also invite you to read my blog posts!

Luxury: admired, desired, and declared dead

The luxury industry for a long time was considered a seismograph for the mass market. A big statement, starting with the question of what luxury actually means and ending with the question mark of what that means for my business.

The next generations (known in the media as Millennials and Gen Z), have been fortunate enough to grow up in an environment, in which nothing has ever been missing. They did not experience neither financial crises, no war. In fact, they have lived their formative years (between 10 and 25) in a globalized world, without geographical boundaries or limited access to products. When there is access to everything, the quest for meaning becomes even stronger. However, it would be very naive to assume that the latter has no impact on an industry dominated by consumption and material things.

One example is the airline industry: what was once a symbol for luxury and only accessible to a select group of people, has filtered down to the mass market. Nowadays flying is even perceived by many as a burden. Although, concepts such as NetJets, a private-flight provider, are steadily gaining ground. Why? This company does not sell flights anymore, but safety and independence for an exclusive clientele. These values describe the new luxury.

Knowledge creates conscious awareness, therefore meaning. The quest for meaning has made materialism replaceable. The understanding of luxury evolves from status to connoisseurship. Ultimately, the depth of knowledge about the product dictates the level of enjoyment. For example the menu presentations of Michelin-Star restaurants mention not only the local farmers, but even the dairy cows, creating a deeper understanding of the product.

How does this trend affect your business? Success will manifest itself for those who create meaning and place this new value in the right context.

The age of connoisseurs

I see a new chapter opening up: suddenly people gain attraction over big brands. Our current era values individual thinking and a certain level of depth over the superficial results of an average Google search. An upcoming revival of the appreciation for craftsmanship signals the shift of values: from the growing popularity of baristas who are experts in roasting temperatures and grinding, to the increasing willingness of customers to wait up to three months for a handmade pair of leather shoes.

The age of connoisseurs suddenly brings our attention to a profession that has only been found in the art world: the curator. This group cleverly combines individual works into an exhibition by creating a higher context, based on their connections with connoisseurs (artists). Sooner than later the skill of curating will be more and more prevalent in other industries as well, laying the foundation for a new form of recognition. The search for meaning no longer puts consumers in front of boutiques to wait in queues, but prompts them to seek access to connoisseurs.

I recently published an article about ‘curating inspiration’, which you can find here.

Let me give you an example, how the purpose of meaning can make a difference in a highly competitive market. James Freeman, the founder of the California-based coffee chain Blue Bottle had a dream: he wanted to offer the best coffee in the world. That was a huge vision back in 2004, especially because of the fierce competition among existing coffee chains. The best coffee for Freeman meant the most tasteful coffee. Many conversations, tastings and researches later, he found out that the peak of flavor decreased significantly 48 hours after roasting. After this discovery, Freeman’s goal was clear: to only offer coffee that is enjoyed within 48 hours after roasting. The result? More than 60 stores worldwide and revenue of $22.5 million.

The end of consumption

Excessive consumption is no longer chic. The luxury of connoisseurship can be distilled in radical sophistication, presenting itself in a more silent, unobtrusive enjoyment. Simply picking the most expensive red wine from the list is no longer enough. The quest for meaning breaks through the surface of price and status. The insight into wine style, winemakers, grape growing and winemaking draws the customer’s attention. The sommelier, who is actually a curator of wine, becomes the gatekeeper to knowledge. If he is not convincing, new generations will rather order water with lemon… or celleric juice.

People seek more clarity: easy access to information and domain-specific knowledge reduces our willingness to compromise. The consumer is more aware, educated and curious than probably ever before. According to a study by the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute (GDI), this trend will continue, stating that “the consumer is also a producer”. Let’s theoretically expand the circle of connoisseurship! As our own expectations are increasing and craftsmanship is celebrating a revival, could our motivation to buy one day be replaced by “doing-it-yourself” and barter?

What has inspired me recently?

The desire for lightness. I had a beautiful imagine in my mind of colorful houses, embedded among the rocks on the Tyrrhenian seashore and white, little beaches, inviting to refresh from the hot August sun. The reality of the Amalfi Coast was a different one: crowded pass roads, black, hot and rocky beaches where you had fit your towel as if playing Tetris between all the others.

Space, solitude, independence - for me attributes of new luxury - have not even come close to what I experienced. Three days at the coast in southern Italian has been nevertheless enriching: people, especially Italians, who seemed not to notice any of what I just described. These people truly enjoyed the moment being fully present, with style and pleasure, far from self-optimization or the staging of a next Instagram post. In our fast-moving society there is a huge urge to reconnect to oneself: yoga, mediation, plant-based diet, and artificial minimalism through the self-imposed reduction to only 100 items and so on. However, lightness might not come to those who spend all their energy on forcing themselves to reach a certain state, but to those who can let things go and simply... be.

Thank you for staying with me. I hope you received fruitful impulses. Please feel free to share the content with colleagues and friends.