What exactly is luxury and why do we love it?

Ask anyone if they’d like a little more luxury in their life and the answer would almost certainly be yes. But what do we actually mean by the word and why does it make us feel good? We take a deep dive into the psychology of luxury to find out…

“Let me be surrounded by luxury, I can do without the necessities.”

Oscar Wilde was never short of a witty one-liner, but as chucklesome quotes go, this is one of his more relatable efforts.

Because whether you’re a devotee of designer labels or prefer the simple joy of a quiet weekend to yourself, we all need a little luxury in our lives.

But what do we actually mean when we talk about ‘luxury’?

According to Shirley Leigh-Wood Oakes, director and co-founder at branding agency WickerWood, it’s not as simple as looking at a price tag.

“It doesn’t actually come down to money,” says Shirley.

“It’s all about what a person regards as above the norm – something that is out of the ordinary.”

It’s a definition that makes a lot of sense. For most people, treating yourself to something luxurious is so enjoyable because it’s exactly that: a treat. 

Psychotherapist Audrey Stephenson agrees.

“Luxury is always about changing our state,” she says. “We all respond to the idea of being spoiled, of having the best.”

And according to Stephenson, “the best” can usually be defined by one of two distinct categories.

“Generally, luxury is either about contentment, or it’s about power,” she explains.

“There’s a difference between the sensation of luxury – the things that speak to our senses – and the things that speak to our brains of status, power and importance.”

It’s that first definition that explains what makes us feel good when we use a particularly fancy product, and applies to everything from hand cream to fragrance.

“That kind of luxury can be a wonderful part of a self-care regime,” continues Stephenson.

“The ritual and routine of it can be a really powerful mood elevator or stabiliser, and worth every penny.” 

It’s why beauty brands make such an effort to create products that appeal to the senses – things like Elie Saab’s new Le Parfum Royal, which combines notes of orange blossom and patchouli to luxurious effect.

“The house where I grew up in was surrounded by orange trees,” explains the designer, “and when the breeze blew through the branches, it brought their fragrance with it.”  

In this case, luxury is found in the sensations the fragrance evokes -  the smell of a Mediterranean city and the accompanying feeling of escape.

And the other side of the luxury coin? The side that appeals to the brain as opposed to the senses?

Well, that’s all about status.

“We define ourselves by the brands we use,” explains Dr Georgina Barnett, lead psychologist at luxury matchmaking agency Seventy Thirty.

“They form part of our concept of self. If a luxury brand aligns with the self we’re aspiring to be, then we’ll seek to associate ourselves with it.”

And even if we wouldn’t readily admit it, most people have at least half an eye on the way that their luxuries will make them appear to others.

“Few of us are indifferent to the gratification of being admired,” says Dr Barnett.

“Luxury can inspire envy in others as it sends out a message of success, wealth and taste. And who doesn’t like to be the subject of envy sometimes?”

That sense of keeping up with the Joneses can occasionally feel stressful, particularly in the context of a social media landscape where everybody’s life is under the microscope.

However, most of our experts agree that a love of luxury itself isn’t a bad thing. You just need to make sure you understand your relationship with it.

“Luxury is elusive for many,” says Professor Craig Jackson, part of the Department for Psychology at Birmingham City University.

“It’s elusive, because many people don’t understand the subjective nature of what luxury really can be.”

“When asked to describe luxury, most would list cars, yachts and mansions, but for some, luxury merely involves time away from the daily demands of life.”

Put simply, it’s worth spending time having a proper think about what luxury represents to you personally. 

Once that’s clear, it becomes a far more attainable commodity – a source of relaxation rather than a source of stress.

“Luxury can be afforded if we see the luxury for what it is and what it represents,” explains Jackson, “not how much it may cost.”

Want to add a little more luxury to your life? The newest addition to Le Parfum, the essential ELIE SAAB fragrance range, Le Parfum Royal introduces the exceptional into the everyday with notes of orange blossom and patchouli providing luminosity and brightness