Luxuria and luxus - the double face

What is your first association with luxury?

Luxury is a word that has been controversial for a long time. In Latin there were two words with this root: Luxuria and luxus. Luxuria would stand for extravagance, magnificence and splendor on the one hand whilst luxus had the second meaning and would stand for lack of moderation, debauchery, and overindulgence.

During the Middle Ages Christianity saw luxury as a barrier on the way to heaven. At the same time the church itself used generously decorated manuscripts to show the work of God, and it that sense luxuria and luxus continued to co-exist.

The Renaissance period brought a shift in culture from a focus on religion to the abilities and potentials of a human being. “The man is the measure of all things” said the Greek philosopher Protagoras whose wisdom was rediscovered during that time. The word ‘luxury’ began to lose its negative connotations and the idea of indulging yourself or looking for pleasure in a social life was not connected anymore to guilt but rather a fostered activity. 

Luxury in ancient Greece

The 17th century was marked by the strong influence of France and French style. Versailles dictated the fashion and lifestyle all over Europe where luxury was used as an instrument of power. During that time the industry of luxury goods began its development.

The industrial revolution raised the standards of living and luxury became more accessible. The 19th century was the time when many luxury brands were born: 1828 - Guerlain, 1837- Hermes, 1847- Cartier, 1854 - Louis Vuitton, 1856 - Burberry.

Retail and distribution was developed and department stores such as Harrods - London 1834, Galeries Lafayettes- Paris 1965, Macy’s - New York 1878, and La Rinascente - Milan 1895 were opened.

Those brands were called luxury because they created unique and rare pieces, which were made by hands and from very expensive and high quality materials. In the era of the industrial production they stood out thanks to their exclusive designs and creativity. All those characteristics are the main features of luxury brands. So how have luxury brands changed since then? Which definition could we use for describing the phenomenon today: luxuria or luxus?

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