An incomparable meal at a five-star restaurant. An exquisite couture gown. A cup of coffee by the fire right in the middle of a hectic rainy day. Depending on whom you ask, any of these would be considered a luxury. In our fast-paced world, taking time out to contemplate the meaning of luxury can be, well, a luxury. Let’s do it anyway — small indulgences are good for the soul.
From April 25th through September 27th, 2015, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England will partner with The Crafts Council to present the exhibit, What is Luxury? The exhibition juxtaposes examples of exceptional craftsmanship with surprising examples of contemporary art designed to not only explore, but also to challenge our concept of luxury.
One featured object is a watch crafted by George Daniels. Dubbed the “watchmaker god,” Daniels crafted every single piece of each timepiece by hand from raw materials, building a total of 24 watches by the time he died at age 85.
The Second Space Travellers Watch, George Daniels, 1983 © Jasper Gough, Sotheby’s. Every single part of the Second Space Traveller watch is crafted by hand from raw materials. This exquisite machine shares exhibit space with another machine — a DNA vending machine fully stocked with prepackaged DNA samples, a contemporary art installation that asks, “Will on-demand genetic engineering someday be the ultimate luxury?”
Over time, certain ideas of what is luxurious have endured, while new ones have emerged. One would be hard-pressed to define the Palace of Versailles as anything other than a residence of extraordinary luxury. And while a stay at the modern-day equivalent, the luxurious Burj al Arab Jumeirah hotel in Dubai, is no doubt a treat for even the very well-heeled, what about the other forms of luxury that can bring just as much pleasure? Like the massage at the end of a grueling week, or leisurely time spent with your son as he explains his latest Lego masterpiece? What about wooden hangers? Wooden hangers? Yes, wooden hangers. But not just any wooden hangers — luxury wooden hangers.
Just as a silvertip shaving brush can transform a gentleman’s morning ablutions and the pleasure of applying an extravagantly rich face cream can make a woman late for work, an uncompromisingly crafted luxury wooden hanger can elevate the simple, or not so simple, act of deciding what to wear on any given day. Does this matter? Yes. In an age of breathtakingly fast technological advances, communication by device, and the ubiquitous e-everything, these private, daily gratifications provide a form of luxury that is essential for well-being.
These personal luxuries are of our own choosing; we decide what adds value to our lives, from the opulent to the seemingly mundane. Back to wooden hangers. Imagine stepping into the Victoria and Albert Museum’s exhibit and seeing a single wooden hanger, suspended in a beautifully lighted display — right next to Nora Fok’s Bubble Bath necklace. Wooden hangers and a bubble bath necklace in an exhibit about luxury?
Why not? For in addition to showcasing pieces such as the Second Space Traveller watch and a jewel-encrusted crown, What is Luxury? also seeks to present unexpected objects of luxury. Hence, the exhibit includes a necklace that, though knitted from nylon thread, gives the visual impression that the wearer is floating in a bubble bath. Ask any mother of young children and she will tell you that a bubble bath is, indeed, a luxury.
Necklace, Bubble Bath, Nora Fok, 2001. Photo: Heini Schneebeli, Courtesy of the Crafts Council
According to Annie Warburton, Creative Programmes Director of the Crafts Council, “The show invites visitors to consider the role of skilled craftsmanship in creating and transmitting value and, ultimately, luxury to determine for themselves what is luxury.” And, although not included in the exhibit, the elegant and flawlessly polished, perfectly formed wooden suit hanger, the best suit hanger, is an unexpected object of luxury — a functional work of art. Surely an object of luxury to consider, whether your suit costs $200.00 or $20,000.00.