• John Marques

What Makes It Luxury?

All the artwork used was created by myself mostly based on vintage pictures from the last century. This features Suzy Parker in Pierre Balmain at the Café des Beaux Arts in 1956.

All the artwork used was created by myself mostly based on vintage pictures from the last century. This features Suzy Parker in Pierre Balmain at the Café des Beaux Arts in 1956.

Luxury has taken many forms and been understood differently since its inception, but it has been in human society since the beginning. What remained constant was its meaning, always a synonym of prosperity, power and social status. This post will be about the elements that characterize these kind of goods, not only based on my personal opinion but also on scientific articles about this subject and the knowledge I resultant from my classes at the International University of Monaco where I undertook my Master’s degree in Luxury Management.

Overall a luxury product to be considered as such should address 8 different aspects or as many of these as possible. These key aspects are: history, extraordinary design, culture, handmade, exceptional quality, rarity, clientele and price tag.

Most, if not all, of these fields are intertwined but let’s try to analyze them briefly, one by one:


Pierre Cartier in his first trip to Russia, 1904

Pierre Cartier in his first trip to Russia, 1904.

Simply put this means that your product must have a history behind and not be just the answer to a practical need. Ideally this would mean a rich, century long history full of adventures and insane journeys closely related with the family that started the brand. An example of this would be Cartier, a brand which has a strong history behind it. From the beginning related to the crafting of jewelry, travelling, exploring, royalty and especially the dedication of a family during decades. More recent brands may not have such a valuable history but there are some other techniques that can be used to give a deeper meaning to your product.

Extraordinary Creativity & Design

1927 Bugatti Type 41 La Royale Coupe

1927 Bugatti Type 41 La Royale Coupe.

Even though history is important, it can’t stand on itself. A creative mind behind the brand is a must to reach success. A perfect example is Gucci, which even having a great history behind it, almost went bankrupt back in the 1990’s before Tom Ford got in and revitalized its brand identity with his personal approach to the Gucci’s design and image.

Brilliant design is not only important in the high fashion industry, the luxury automotive industry in particular relies massively on creativity and design. The pinnacle of this are design studios like Pininfarina and Zagato. Besides creating cars that many times are the same mechanically with just different aesthetics, these companies also collaborate intensively with luxury brands to create their flagship or limited edition cars, like the Ferrari Sergio or Aston Martin V12 Zagato, which then see their elements replicated in the models produced over the next five years to a decade.


Palm Court at The Ritz in London, 1907

Palm Court at The Ritz in London, 1907.

This is a very important aspect of the luxury industry - the local of birth or manufacturing. It’s called COE - Country of Origin Effect - and is especially important in the luxury industry. The local of birth is where the brand has started and the city or country that is usually associated with the brand. This is important especially for new products because the clients usually tend to associate certain destinations with certain products, there is a generalization that the best shoes come from Italy, the best fragrances from France and the sturdiest cars from Germany (even though this might not be true, it is already established in the mind of consumers). This is even more important in some product categories, usually the ones that need the Certificate of Origin such as the sparkling wine from the Champagne region and the brandy produced in Cognac.


Elizabeth Taylor wearing Bulgari jewlwery in Venice, 1967

Elizabeth Taylor wearing Bulgari jewlwery in Venice, 1967.

Handmade is something that is very specific to products that usually aren’t technology-related. This because a handmade product will imply two things: hours of work put into the conception and manufacturing of the object itself (picture a watch, a car or any custom made piece of jewelry), in others words means that someone dedicated their time and skills to create what you are acquiring; Secondly this will mean that there will be no other object like it in the whole world due to the imperfections that are characteristic to being human, in luxury this imperfections are something valuable because they are what differentiate yourself from the others. But don't get me wrong, this are the kind of imperfections you get when trying to paint a two exact portraits by hand, not the imperfections that will affect negatively the performance or aesthetics of the product.

This post is the part 1 of 2, the second part is now online here.

(For further information about these elements, development or evaluation of your brand/products please visit my consulting website here.)


"A Luxury Perspective on Brands - Characteristics, Value, and the Eye of the Beholder" - in Advances in Consumer Research (Volume 39) by Renu Emile and Margaret Craig-Lees, 2011;

“Observations: Understanding the World of International Luxury Brands: The “Dream Formula”” - in Journal of Advertising Research by Dubois, Bernard, and Claire Paternault, 1995.

"Entrepreneurship, Innovation and luxury" - in Journal of Corporate Citizenship by Miguel Gardetti and Ana Torres, December 2013.

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