For a sector that’s often associated with being timeless, the world of luxury and how it’s communicated through design has evolved fairly rapidly in recent years.
We’re seeing a new era for the sector, where contemporary design aesthetics are noticeably different to the more traditional associations of luxury. What’s particularly interesting is that the new design aesthetic isn’t replacing old concepts of luxe design, they’re coalescing and existing alongside each other.
There’ll always be a market for a more classical, elegant but somehow predictable interiors approach the richness of marbles, gold finishes and bronzes – but a new generation of consumers as well as the familiarity with technology are driving a widening of the design scope as well as the palette and material tools to be considered.
Whilst many of our projects still fit within this traditional, elegant impression of luxury, a new type of shopper, with a new attitude and aesthetic understanding, expect to interact with their environments in different ways– playing, clicking, filtering, touching. In some of our recent projects for clients such as Harvey Nichols, and Rubaiyat in Saudi Arabia, the use of more architectural surfaces, concrete and plaster finishes, simpler and even rougher finishes and materials are now establishing themselves in the new luxury design vocabulary.
With their greater tactility, and diverse eye for design, this new consumer and fresher generation can get a sense of luxury without necessarily relying on materials that are themselves luxurious. Take concrete, potentially the most brutalist material imaginable in the eyes of the public or even bricks or corrugated metal, when mixed with traditionally more refined finishes such as stones, bronzes and marbles, can create unexpected combinations that still equates to today’s new luxury vision.
This new eclecticism and diversity means variety and more options, able to mix old and new, coarse and polished, to still reflect a luxury look and feel. Couple this with the enormous progression of technology in terms of materials, fabrics and lighting constantly being introduced in the market, and it’s a totally different world to even a decade ago. Look at the likes of Dover Street Market and even Balenciaga with its classic traditional background and their luxury stores are minimalist, spacious, creative and bright, with a sense of fun and newness. Yet also clearly luxury. They’re evolving the concept of high-end, and it creates a design framework free of preconceptions that still sets the products as stars of the show and of the shopping experience.
This trend is not a totally new idea and, as designers as well as shoppers, we owe a great debt to the rather avant-garde approach taken years, and even decades, ago from a number of Japanese fashion brands. The likes of Yoshi Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo- the talent behind Comme des Garçons- and Issey Miyake put themselves into direct conflict with the fashion establishment and their design language of chic European fashion houses, attracting a highly sophisticated audience in the process.
They’ve had enormous influence in an almost zero-based approach to interior design, building out from bare architectural shells and building a bridge between minimalism and luxury. It is remarkable when looking at those chic brands that stand up as leading today’s fashion how much they were influenced by the cutting-edge style, innovative fashion and a more creative and original approach to store design.
That zero-based mentality has evolved, and materials like rendered plaster, papercrete, raw untreated wood, or terrazzo flooring are featuring in boutiques around the world. The move has affected our use of traditional materials as we look at a wider array and recently went on a recce to Carrara to acquire unique marble that might not be the usual softer tones of grey or beige.
Whilst the change of the luxury aesthetics is a global trend it can adjust and adapt to different locations, incorporating ideas and materials that help users feel immersed in the culture where the project is inserted.
Our work for Andaz hotel in New Delhi, for example, rejected the stereotypical idea of colonial Victorian India generally translated into a cultural pastiche, and took a contemporary and actual approach, reflecting the modern local culture and materials, and integrated new Indian artists, for a grand scale project.
New luxury enables designers to deconstruct convention and integrate the elements, colours and textures that create a unique interior.
We expect taste to evolve, as it always does, and see the concept of new luxury expanding with more colour, more texture, more patterns and more interesting applications of lighting.
The future for luxury is building immersive spaces where visitors become almost the playing actors, interacting and engaging with a three-dimensional new luxury stage.
By Carlos Virgile, Director of Virgile + Partners