Luxury is only luxury if…

Dr. Yasmin Sekhon of the University of Southampton’s Winchester Luxury Research Group has undertaken a study (2015) looking at attitudes of second generation British Asian Indians towards luxury. We looked at the results of the study and its implications for the luxury market.

Those that know luxury appreciate that the desire for luxury is a complicated construct. The superficial top layer is merely the glossy surface to a deep well of thoughts, perceptions and attitudes comprised of prevailing social attitudes, social status and most definitely of culture. Our culture in many ways defines who we are as people as we learn the social norms from family, friends and reference groups. But when a person is caught between two cultures, such as with second generation British Asians, they will experience a fusion of both cultures which will impact upon their attitudes towards luxury, the brands they want to buy, the experiences that they covet.

Second generation British Asians in particular are of interest to UK luxury brands as they represent a segment of society that hold luxury in high esteem. Dr. Sekhon of the University of Southampton who conducted research with the group found that they are careful about how they classify luxury. For something to be deemed luxurious it must be inaccessible, unattainable and difficult to reach, if it can be easily, simply or effortlessly obtained then, for them, it is not pure luxury.

However, Dr. Sekhon found that whilst luxury is a term bestowed with extreme care, the classification of products and services that could be defined as luxurious is wide. Research participants cited first class travel, chauffeur-driven cars, having a butler and having regular massages as examples of experiential luxury and cars, watches and clothing as examples of tangible luxury.

Within the study, Dr. Sekhon found that a large part of the desire for luxury within the second generation British Asian community comes from their perception that luxury equates to achievement. Members use the acquisition of luxury as a means of measuring their personal achievement not just from their own individual assessment but from the collective assessments of others. Buying into luxury is a means of acquiring status and gaining respect and acknowledgment from others. Research participants cited the desire to impress lots of people including friends, family, peers from the Asian community and from the British community as a driver for luxury purchase.

Furthermore, the research found that this segment in the UK are drawn towards high status, well paid professions down in part to the expectations on them to fulfil community and social expectations that come from being second generation immigrants. In many ways, the desire for luxury is another manifestation of the social and community expectations instilled in them from a young age.

The research also showed a strong propensity from this group to see luxury as a treat. The group have a hierarchy of luxury brands and when a brand makes it into the coveted luxury box, it obtains an almost sacred status. And in the event that research participants actually obtained the luxury item of their desire, they showed a reluctance to actually use or experience it; the usage diminishing its value, because of course for this group luxury equates to unattainable. The reluctance to use or experience the now obtained luxury object of desire also speaks of a reluctance to give up the idea of what they consider to be luxury, which would necessitate a reclassification of what they hold most dear. And so the question for the UK luxury brand is this, how do you attract whilst remaining unattainable, a question for which there is no easy answer but an endless commitment to offering something new, something fresh and something desirable. With thanks to Dr. Sekhon and the Winchester Luxury Research Group for sharing their research into this interesting area of luxury.

Yasmin K. Sekhon (2015) Sacred and Treasured Luxury: The Meaning and Value of Luxury Possessions amongst Second-generation Asian Indian Immigrants, Luxury, 2:2, 71-89, DOI: 10.1080/20511817.2015.1099345

About the author

Paul Russell is co-founder and director of Luxury Academy London,, a multi-national private training company with offices in London, Delhi and Vishakhapatnam. Luxury Academy London specialise in leadership, communication and business etiquette training for companies and private clients across a wide range of sectors. Prior to founding Luxury Academy London, Paul worked in senior leadership roles across Europe, United States, Middle East and Asia. A dynamic trainer and seminar leader, Paul has designed and taught courses, workshops and seminars worldwide on a wide variety of soft skills.