All entries for Wednesday 25 June 2014

June 25, 2014

What is Luxury in a Globally Mediated World?

Researching the concept of luxury in action

Our industry tutors Sara Lattey and Sandy Bradley are currently working with MA Global Media and Communications students on a specific luxury travel-related Applied Communication Project brief this Summer Term 2014 and this has given us all a great opportunity to study the concept of luxury as background research: what it is; the people who seek luxury and aspire to embrace luxury in their lives; and those for whom luxury is the norm. Below they reflect upon what they have discovered so far and their visit with some MA Global Media and Communications students to the Four Seasons Hotel in Hampshire.

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The study has involved comparisons of luxury brands, immersive research into how some of those brands position themselves and how they reach out to, and cater for the people who buy into them.

One of the several definitions of luxury is A pleasure obtained only rarely’, whereas others include ‘An inessential, desirable item which is expensive or difficult to obtain’ or ‘A state of great comfort or elegance, especially when involving great expense’.

For us, this raised a number a questions.

If luxury is defined as a rare treat, then how do the uber-wealthy who live their lives in a state of permanent luxury define the word? What lengths do they go to in order to create a state of ‘beyond luxury’ where it is still a ‘pleasure obtained rarely’ but still way, way beyond the reach of most of us?

And how do luxury brands go the extra mile for those who seek them out?

Luxury brands are regarded as images in the minds of consumers that comprise associations about a high level of price, quality, aesthetics, rarity, extraordinariness and a high degree of non-functional associations. (Klaus Heine 2012)



A global luxury brand that particularly interested us was the Toronto-based hotel management group Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and a field trip was arranged to conduct observational research at Four Seasons Hampshire UK.

Four Seasons’ current brand mantra is Extraordinary Experiences, a promise that they keep in all their establishments, worldwide – offering authentic, local experiences for the wealthy traveller wherever they may be…..seeing how the locals live, but with the safety net and brand reassurance of Four Seasons. The sky is the limit (literally), with their latest offering being a round-the-world tour in a private jet stopping at Four Seasons hotels wherever they land – at a cost of £75,000 pp.

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Four Seasons’ Hampshire did not disappoint and provided fascinating insight into their approach and how they interpret the Extraordinary Experiences brand ethic in the heart of the Hampshire countryside. In an idyllic location surrounded by small villages and thatched cottages, they have the perfect opportunity to offer the ‘typical English country house experience’ – with as many associated bells and whistles as their guests are prepared to pay for: an impressive state-of-the-art equestrian centre, huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ within the massive estate housing the original, now-extended Georgian residence, a canal boat on their own stretch of canal, their own ducks and chickens, sheep and goats, with a finger-on-the-button concierge service that can arrange just about anything a guest requires; from men’s final Wimbledon tickets to ‘hitherto full-house’ London West End theatre tickets. An extensive spa and fitness centre offers a mouth-watering array of treatments – including facials at £500. They even have their own perfectly-trained pet Labrador called Oliver….who roams freely in designated areas of the hotel…. to the delight of guests.

With suites costing between £1,000 and £3,000 per night (not including breakfast), their guests rarely have to worry about the cost of anything they need…..this is luxury.

Members of staff are rigorously trained in absolute discretion, but interestingly – not deference. Famous names are never revealed….but everyone is treated politely and in a friendly manner but with top quality service. They have a simple philosophy for interaction with guests: 'Treating guests as peers - neither subservient nor aloof'. It seems to work. Guests come here to relax – and retreat from the stresses that come from managing their wealth. They return time and time again….trust is paramount.

For our research visit (humble students from the University of Warwick!) they went to as much trouble as if we had been royalty. A guided tour, meeting key members of staff and seeing both ‘front of house’ and ‘heart of house’ ( their wonderful name for the service areas), we were served a fabulous array of cakes and pastries with coffee with a ‘hand-crafted from icing ‘ University of Warwick logo as the centrepiece….all produced by the pastry chef. ‘It’s simply what we do’ shrugged our guide as we gasped at the work involved.

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The concept of luxury is not new. It is many centuries old. Wealthy people have always craved the unique, the special, the generally unattainable….and would delight in collecting the work of popular, skilled artisans of the day as a physical expression and demonstration of their wealth and status. (Indeed, as the new world opened and global trade developed, wealthy merchants would increasingly trade objects from distant lands.) Intricate carvings, precious gems and metals and the finest fabrics were all desirable to those who could afford such luxury.

Interestingly, it was the artisans themselves who created such exquisite work who subsequently rose to become a ‘nouveau riche’ in their own right as their popularity spread. Thus began a symbiotic relationship between the creators of original work and the purchasers….each pushing the other acquire to bigger, better and more unique possessions.

Was this the beginning of the luxury brand? The principles remain the same today.

The students’ study continues and some of them attended the Leverhulme Luxury Networkas part of their research.


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