Following the session in Florence last year, the Leverhulme funded International Network on Luxury and the Manipulation of Desire met for its final open conference at the University of Warwick Business School in the Shard, London last week. For three days delegates met to consider The Spaces of Luxury: Places, Spaces and Geographies from the Renaissance to the Present.
I joined keynote speakers Giorgio Riello and Peter McNeil (introducing themes from their new book on luxury capitalism and the pervasiveness of luxury) and Candy Li of Ogilvy & Mather, China (reviewing the digital spaces of luxury brands and their relevance for Asian consumers) to present a keynote on narratives of luxury in the cultural history of London.
The setting could not have been more appropriate. Warwick’s business school has only recently opened on the seventeenth floor of the Shard, and its seminar and lecture rooms look out onto futuristic vistas familiar from the opening credits of The Apprentice or the marketing hype for the countless new luxury apartment complexes currently featured in the property pages of the national and international press.
Speakers at the conference included historians, curators, brand consultants and marketing experts and the subject matter was both compelling and disturbing. The final panel developed into an intense discussion on ethics and demonstrated the need for a critical context, informed by historical knowledge, in any consideration of Luxury’s place in contemporary discourse.
As I flew back into Edinburgh on Saturday evening above the Pentland Hills and Firth of Forth, stunningly illuminated by an intense sunset, I have to admit to feeling a sense of relief and elation. Natural beauty and its appreciation still counts as a luxury, conditioned through centuries of the privileged tourist’s gaze, but for me it is a superior one to the sublime offerings of global fashion brands.