What is luxury? A fur coat, a silk Hermes scarf, a vintage Chanel 2.55, or a Guerlain lipstick? Or is luxury time, or even knowledge? Ultimately, everyone has their own version of luxury, but the V&A’s new exhibitionexplores the history of the subject and questions the traditional norms of what is usually thought of as luxurious. By collecting a highly curated selection of objects—from furniture made of human hair, to a classic Hermes saddle—the exhibition investigates the future of luxury through culture, economics, art, fashion and design.
Below, BAZAAR talks with one of the curators, Leanne Wierzba.
HB: How do you define luxury in terms of fashion?
LW: In terms of fashion, we’re really looking at the motivations of the designer and also thinking about the investment, time and application of skills that’s involved in the production or making of an object. So, it would be difficult to say that any one type of material could be considered universally luxurious. One of the fashion designers we included in the exhibition that we think epitomizes luxury is Carol Christian Poell. He’s Austrian by birth but based in Milan and does menswear, primarily. What’s interesting about Carol is that, unlike most designers who begin with the fabric, he begins with the thread. He spends a lot of time and puts in a lot of research in developing textiles himself. He’s developed a textile that is 15% glass beads—they reflect light in a particular way. Another interesting thing about his work is that he doesn’t use lining. You can actual see all the internal seams. All though there’s a very raw aesthetic, it’s completely precise because the lining typically hides a lot of mistakes or other fabric that hasn’t really been dealt with.
HB: Which fashion objects throughout time have represented luxury?
LW: One of the objects we have in the exhibition is a 17th Venetian lace chasuble, of course used in the church. Another fashion example that we have in the exhibition is Iris Van Herpen’s work. What we think is interesting about her is her compulsion to innovate and collaborate. Most of her work is done collaboratively, people from different fields—architecture, industrial design, or music, and she is bringing in knowledge and expertise and disciplines from other industries and applying them to fashion. We have a Savile Row suit in the exhibition, but it’s actually a military uniform. We thought that was incredible that the object is so heavily codified and it has so much cultural meaning—that’s luxury as well.
HB: Can luxury be inexpensive?
LW: One of the increasingly recognized luxuries in busy cities like London is time. Regularly, when we speak to people about luxury they say time is their biggest luxury. Time for yourself, time to spend with loved ones and family, and also time to develop knowledge and to become a connoisseur of luxury.
HB: Does sustainability play into luxury?
LW: One of the resources that will continue to grow will be human hair. In the exhibition, we have a project where they’ve created furniture and accessories using human hair, and resin. They’re quite beautiful, but once you look closely and realize its human hair, people are quite disturbed by that—which is interesting, because there’s a huge global hair trade at the moment. Having it re-contextualized as furniture is a really strong statement.
HB: What does the future of luxury fashion look like?
LW: It’s really tied up in supply chains and thinking of production. That’s really the focus of the exhibition. I think the supply chain will have to be more adapted to resolve ecological and ethical issues related to current fashion models. We agree that the future of fashion, especially pertaining to luxury is about small batch production and imbuing the kind of objects you’re creating with meaning and intention. Something that you would really want to invest in, value and hold on to. Luxury is something you’d want to repair rather than discard and replace.
What is Luxury is on view at the Victoria and Albert Museum from April 25th-September 27thand is in partnership with the Crafts Council and sponsored by Northacre.