If you believe the ads that line magazines this time of year, you think luxury is all about David Yurman necklaces, new Manhattan penthouses, and celebrity-fronted perfume. Someone dressed in Ralph Lauren, waving her Rolex-adorned and Dolce Gabanna-spritzed arm from her new BMW is at the seat of luxury, right?
Not so fast. Although any of those things can be luxurious, often they’re not. I think luxury is eating a perfect poached egg or having a cup of good coffee with an old friend or marveling at the body heat left in your blankets as you make the bed. Luxury is the fragrance that calms or inspires or dares. Real luxury evokes wonder, if you pay attention. It doesn’t have to cost a cent (although in the case of perfume, sadly, it does), and it’s rarely advertised in magazines.
As we think about what we want more of in the coming year, it’s a good time to ponder true luxury. To me, something luxurious probably has at least one of the following qualities:
Luxury has “voice”
Something luxurious doesn’t pander to focus groups and shareholders. It’s an expression of its creator and reflects her vision, as crazy or unfashionable as it might be. A luxurious item shows its maker’s hand, whether it’s the barely even weave of a silk rug, the hand-planing of a table leg, or the slightly queer angle of a hand-turned digestif glass. Something as simple as a scarf knitted by a friend can sing luxury. When you wear it you can almost feel your friend’s good thoughts.
To me, Vero Profumo epitomizes this kind of luxury. Each of Vero Kern’s fragrances casts a straight line to her vision, full of vintage gowns, Fellini movies, and lush bouquets. Aftelier encompasses a similar luxury through the distinct voice of its perfumer and quality of its materials. Many of the niche houses do, really. It’s the big houses with teams of perfumers beholden to marketing groups and tight-fisted shareholders that might neuter their voices in the hopes of gaining market share. No matter how expensive those fragrances might be, or how famous their starlet spokespeople, they risk banality.
Luxury can stem simply from memory and personal association. The key is “personal.” A cup of coffee brought to you in bed can be intensely luxurious (depending on who’s doing the delivering, I guess). A book might mean the world to you because it was your grandmother’s favorite (hello, Lorna Doone), even though you’d barely give it a glance otherwise. Something as ridiculous and personal as the smelly breakfast breath of an adored kindergartner as he asks, “What is the sun made of?” can exude luxury.
If you’re lucky enough to have a bespoke perfume, you surely experience luxury. But luxury can also be had from scents that remind you of people you love. For instance, Revlon Moondrops will always be special to me, thanks to my grandmother.
It might be mundane
Sure, the crown jewels are luxurious — the history! the craftsmanship! — but so is an egg. The next time you’re reaching into the refrigerator, take out an egg and appreciate it. Isn’t it beautiful? A complete breakfast in an astonishingly perfect package. Better yet if the egg came from hens who’d spent their days in a pasture, and you’re tasting grass and bugs and happy chickens. It’s an immense luxury at less than half a dollar each. Here’s another example: I asked one of my coworkers what luxury was to her, and she said, “It’s seeing a wide landscape.” So true. That landscape doesn’t have to be in Bali or the Caribbean, either. Anything with stars or a tree or light reflecting off buildings can be luxurious.
For luxurious yet mundane perfume, don’t neglect the drugstore. Sometimes a simple Jovan musk or dab of Tabu is pure luxury. And let’s not forget the luxury of freshly scrubbed skin or peaty-smelling bandaids, or even baby powder.
It rewards paying attention
The main thing about luxury? It’s everywhere. Tapping into luxury is often as simple as paying attention. And luxury’s central sensor is within you, not in some dumb magazine ad. When you go to sleep at night, feel the texture of your sheets and how your muscles stretch then go limp. Enjoy the warmth of the person beside you, or the weight of the dog who just jumped up, or the cool expanses of your deliciously solo bed. In paying attention to how you feel, you'll find luxury lickety-split where you didn’t even know you had it.
I guess that’s why you love perfume, though. You know to stretch your senses and parse what you experience. That’s real luxury.
What is luxury to you? What fragrances feel especially luxurious?
Note: top image is Fabergé Egg Pendant, Oeuf Tsarskoye Selo Empereur Rosé, $12,411.