Our friend Merriam, as in Merriam Webster, defines luxury as “something adding to pleasure or comfort but not absolutely necessary.” And when you think of luxury, what comes to mind? If visions of yachts, private planes, 5-star hotels, Michelin-star meals, and designer goods are dancing in your head, you’d not be wrong. All of the aforementioned things not only feel luxurious, but they also feel rather exclusive. Etail, reports that the key to luxury will always be centered around a certain idea of exclusivity and if something is exclusive, it’s certainly not easily accessible.

For years, contemporary and indie brands have touted this idea of “accessible luxury,” but if something is easily accessible, it lacks an air of exclusivity. Can a handbag, or other good, that’s accessible also be a luxury? Let’s discuss.

Luxury As A Marketing Gimmick

The term accessible luxury feels counterintuitive, almost an oxymoron at that. Created as a marketing tactic meant to speak to a consumer’s innate desire to have the very things they cannot access or afford, many brands have capitalized on the affordable luxury schtick (think Coach, Kate Spade, and Michael Kors). Still, it comes at a price in the long run, and oversaturation often negates a brand’s perceived luxury.

Touting oneself as affordable can lead to a certain level of devaluing, as luxury signifies that something is scarce. Hence, as a brand becomes more and more accessible, it is at the risk of losing sales and valued consumers.

Of course, a brand’s perceived luxury value is defined by attributes other than just its accessibility alone (think price-point, quality of materials, etc.), and luxury can feel different to everyone. One person’s Hermès can be another person’s Louis Vuitton, and my luxuries, the ones that take months of planning and saving to achieve, may not be the same as yours.

How do you define luxury? Does accessible luxury really exist?

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Lbk
Lbk
1 month ago

I have many Coach bags, and some of them are more luxurious than my Gucci bag. Have you seen the classic Rogue? They are more accessible than higher end names for sure. I feel like I get much more value out of Coach than the more expensive Gucci bags I have.

Many high end designers don’t line their bags in leather anymore! It’s a a snobbery (which I am totally a part of), but I think the general feeling towards more accessible brands as being unworthy is wrong. Specifically with Coach and other mid tier brands that actually use great quality leather and craftsmanship vs basically paying for the name on higher end brands. (Why would I want a coated canvas bag for over $1k? Unless I only cared that it had LV all over it).

Ok…end rant

Kelleypuppy
Kelleypuppy
1 month ago

Luxury is “look what I have.” Full stop. Those that carry on about heritage, or craftsmanship are full of fluff. Look at Aspinal, or Strathberry or Furla. Heritage, style, craftsmanship-but they don’t carry the water of say, an LV monogram or CC. The best example is Hermes Birkin. Flopped open, straps hanging about, bulging everywhere. Just ugly. But everyone carries it to show what they have.

Nechama
Nechama
1 month ago

I really think it depends how you define luxury. The article here seems to take the definition of luxury as “inaccessible and exclusive,” in which case yes of course accessible luxury is marketing nonsense.

But if luxury means “crafted to the highest standard, sparing no expense,” then luxury can easily be gotten for a few hundred dollars, rather than a few thousand. There are many such accessible luxury boutique leather ateliers in Europe.

I think a point few people touch on is the way in which an exclusive and high-status brand name can, counterintuitively, work against quality and craftsmanship. Brands with sought-after names don’t actually need to keep quality up because people will still buy for the name and status associations.

Terri
Terri
1 month ago
Reply to  Nechama

I totally agree!
If I may add, there are also leather ateliers in Asia that does truly wonderful crafts for much less as well.

seattleminimalist
seattleminimalist
1 month ago

Luxuries are not needs, therefore they’re inaccessible.

Tai
Tai
1 month ago

I may be in the minority, but I define luxury as having financial security, food security and housing security.

Accessible luxury is being able to afford something to treat yourself beyond the basics – whether that’s a yummy Starbucks drink, a designer item that you can comfortably afford within your means (regardless of the brand), or a spa day.

jiljenner
jiljenner
1 month ago
Reply to  Tai

I concur wholeheartedly with this definition of luxury, Tai. Especially in this day and age, with rampant inflation, the threat of stagflation, and the larger threat of recession, the ability to afford to eat, live, and afford both without worry is luxury.

Americans, especially, tend to ignore that we have enjoyed relative prosperity for decades when compared with the average global citizen. Now that said prosperity is finally being threatened (and when I say “finally,” I mean timewise, not karma-wise), and we are forced as a society to reckon with the misuse of that prosperity, it can no longer take it for granted.

I also agree with your definition of accessible luxury, but would use examples like Starbucks, Target, and Nordstrom (or perhaps T.J. Maxx, as its stock is enjoying a relatively strong week) instead. Being able to patronize those establishments, with little to no financial distress, in spite of the rampant inflation we are currently experiencing, is luxury.

On to topic, I actually do agree that affordable luxury exists. Any brand or establishment that allows luxury-loving fashionistas an opportunity to experience the craftsmanship and quality long-associated with ultra-luxury brands at suburban price points, offers affordable luxury. Coach is an evergreen example, as are Dooney & Bourke, Polène, Nordstrom and its Rack, Saks and its Off Fifth, and T.J. Maxx and its Runway.

Kate
Kate
1 month ago

Accessible Luxury in the scope of fashion marketing is an oxymoron imo.

lalarey
lalarey
1 month ago

Let’s be honest, almost all handbags are a luxury. A luxury is something extra, that you don’t need. An inexpensive backpack is not a luxury, a canvas tote bag is not a luxury, but pretty much anything beyond that is a luxury and we are all lucky to be able to afford them, whether it’s Rebecca Minkoff or Hermes. Now, whether something is luxurious is another matter. That’s when I think of things like craftsmanship and ultra quality materials. I agree with other posters about certain Coach items having a super luxe feel to them- and then there’s the Prada saffiano leather or the LV neverfull. These may be sturdy and chic therefore we decide they’re worth the price, but I would not use the word luxurious to describe them, in the way I would for a vintage chanel lambskin flap.

Torontosarah
Torontosarah
1 month ago

Luxury in fashion has become far more about perception, marketing and price point than it is about quality or craft. It’s not to say that “luxury” brands do not have quality products, but rather that quality is something that more perceived when purchasing luxury. Luxury brands know that customer crave the double c more than they demand the highest quality materials, and they are taking it to the bank!

For me, as someone who could never afford to shop in store, accessible luxury is scouring thrift stores, consignment and eBay for great pieces (often vintage) and when needed repairing them. I have a closet full of incredible pieces purchased at incredibly low prices which I wear and love and care for.

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