what is luxury in the 21st century?

As the V&A launches its 'What is Luxury?' exhibition later this week and registering to vote ends today, i-D looks past the clothes dripping in diamonds and trimmings and explores the real luxuries for our generation.

by i-D Staff and Billie Brand
20 April 2015, 1:35pm

Big Brovaz once sang, "buy me diamonds and rubies, I'm crazy about Bentleys," but is this all that comes to mind when defining luxury in the 21st century? Are we all material girls in our material worlds, sipping champagne in Gucci dresses and sporting Louis Vuitton logos?

The fashion industry is one that has always been synonymous with luxury. It's worth over £20 billion in the UK alone, the fall/winter 15 catwalks glittered with Swarovski crystals and "luxury" was on the tip of every editor's tongue. From Givenchy's velvet clad Chola girls, with super-sized septum rings and giant gems placed on their pretty faces, to Ryan Lo's bejeweled Snow Queens that could've stepped straight out of a musical jewelry box; we were spoilt with trimmings fit for princesses. It's easy to get sucked into fashion's dreamland, flicking through the pages of glossy magazines and blinded by the sky-high price tags. But all that glitters is not gold. How can you dream of life inside a Moschino Malibu mansion, when in reality, the world is in a crisis?

Having a place in fashion's luxury industry comes with a responsibility. For a designer, the catwalk is a platform to transport the audience to a place where they can dream about the story behind the clothes. As magical as the clothing may be, it's the concept that's often the most captivating thing about a show. For better or for worse, the internet era has broken down the exclusivity of a fashion show and live catwalk streaming is accessible to us all. There has never been a better time to have your voice heard through the element of fashion, particularly if you're using that platform to protest against politics.

Take Dame Vivienne Westwood for instance, fashion's first revolutionary, who's been railing against the state of politics since she helped define punk's aesthetic in the 70s. Dressed to protest in face paint, the fall/winter 15 Red Label girl is a book reading, culture loving, Green voting babe, and Viv urged us all to do exactly that: Vote Green, the collection was titled. She's not alone, a number of designers including Meadham KirchhoffRick Owens and Walter Van Beirendonck have previously used the catwalk to radically demonstrate their social and political manifestos - but she's arguably the most notable. Perhaps her campaign came across with more sincerity than Karl Lagerfeld's attempt to petition against the patriarchy with his spring/summer 15 megaphone lead feminist finale, because Dame Viv's message could actively make a difference to the world we live in - particularly amongst young people.

It's so easy to shut ourselves away from the playground riot that is politics. We've had false promises made in the past so there's no surprise that the future can feel so bleak. But engaging in politics has never been so crucial. In 2010, 15.9 million people didn't vote. The disillusioned say their vote won't make a difference, but when you look at the statistics, that excuse is no longer viable. The forthcoming election has become one of the most anarchic yet, and there's so much we have to stand up for: youth culture, rent control, free education, the protection of our nightlife, equality of class, race and gender, that - in and outside of the UK - these are the "must have" luxuries of the future.

What's important to remember is that having the right to vote is a luxury in itself. We've been given the chance to define our future in politics so it's about time we took matters into our own hands. The youth of today are the people of the future, and we have the power to make a difference. As we're all well aware, the government are happy to knock us down and kick us out, and they won't listen if we don't speak up. Our generation has been both blessed and cursed with the gift of social media. Despite all its ironically anti-social faults, when utilized progressively it becomes a global platform to post petitions, share public opinions and like the changes it's making to the world around us. From #BlackLivesMatter to #freethenipple, the internet has become a destination for demonstrations and it's actively working - but it's not enough. It's never been so easy to form groups online and together step outside of cyberspace and put pens to placards. Are you in favor of the economy or equality, climate revolution or capitalism?

Just think of the current state of society around us. For example, the capital's housing crisis - down come the tower blocks, council estates and affordable housing - something that's become integral to London's working class and multi-cultural communities for generations - and up come polished "luxury" flats with separate poor doors to keep people apart. Can the word 'luxury' really be attached to something when it's pushing others into poverty? Our capital is turning into an emerald city ready to be resided in by only the super rich. It seems there really is no place like home. And outside of the UK… well, a quarter of the world is living in extreme poverty, but who's to blame? Making a political statement on the catwalk is one thing, but the fashion industry is one that often relies on exploitation across the globe. It seems in replace of our hearts, we've been wearing logos on our sleeves. Perhaps our conscience should come first, not seeking compliments based on consumption.

There's so much at stake, the world's a mess, in fear of terror and corruption, and young people have it harder today than ever before. But we're all in this together, on a low wage, in an overpriced property, struggling to pay off an excessive student loan for a degree that's not getting us the full time job we'd hoped for. It's not going to be easy, but if we engage we can change the political path for the future. There's so much more to luxury than a £3000 designer price tag. It isn't about labels and champagne socializing; it's about having a voice that's heard, standing up for what you believe in and being able to make a choice. So make sure you make the right one. 


Text Billie Brand
Photography Piczo, Vivienne Westwood fall/winter 15

What is Luxury