We Spa Spies are doyennes of luxury. We have to be. Our Five Bubble Luxury rating is one of the most sought after in the spa industry. If we can’t define luxury, then we’re doing something wrong.
Our standard at Good Spa Guide HQ used to be all about glamour and decadence: a five-bubble luxury spa was the kind of place a celebrity would helicopter into -- designer labels, acres of marble, gold and decadent extravagance were essentials. Staff were expected to be snobbish and condescending.
After all, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) describes luxury as: “A state of great comfort or elegance involving great expense”.
Yet the definition of luxury is a moveable feast, reflecting the times we live in, as well as our dreams and aspirations.
“The materialistic view of happiness of our age is starkly revealed in our understanding of the word "luxury,” wrote Alain de Botton.
Lately, we have noticed a shift. Luxurious living is now more about nurture and care. We want warm, pro-active customer service where we are treated like a valued VIP, whatever our status. We want to feel we are being taken care of by people who care about the world.
In the wake of mindfulness, eco-awareness and compassion, then, is luxury becoming less materialistic and more emotion-based? Or a little bit of both?
Luxury is green
Thanks to social media, consumers wield more knowledge and power than ever before. Green issues, social and gender inequality, and authenticity are important to millennials and influencers. Instead of rolling up the red carpet, smart five-star spas and resorts have taken the idea of sustainability on board and rebranded as Eco-Luxe. This may mean a total ban on the use of plastic, pools cleansed by low-dosage bromide, use of natural and local building materials, and creating responsibly-sourced treatments and menus. It seems it is worth it. Market research in China, quoted in Forbes, has shown that consumers are prepared to pay more for ethical brands.
It seems Green is the new designer label. Luxury has developed a conscience… but still charges luxury prices.
The second OED definition of luxury is: “An inessential, desirable item which is expensive or difficult to obtain.” According to market research, time is the ultimate luxury in this commodity-obsessed world, where we are made to feel guilty if we aren’t doing something productive (invariably for somebody else).
Taking time out for yourself is seen as self-indulgence. Yet if you don’t, you’re heading for a burn-out. As a well-known song says: “When people run in circles it’s a very, very mad world.”
Simply soaking in a warm bubble bath is a luxury (Oprah Winfrey said in Vogue that her bath was her number one luxury). If you find taking time out hard, you could always join a meditation group or go for a lunchtime walk and try to notice your surroundings rather than run through to-do lists in your head. Being in the moment is easier when your surroundings are luxurious…
Luxury is self-care
At least it is if you are wealthy and white; if not, then self-care is more a basic essential. But luxury isn’t about basics, it’s about extra: self-care with silver knobs on. A spa day gives you permission to be utterly self-indulgent, to soothe your inner Gwyneth Paltrow with some (often undrinkable) healthy teas and eye-watering yoga poses. These days, you can’t throw a crystal in a spa without hitting a mindfulness colouring book. The ultimate indulgence du jour? A de Mamiel treatment using seasonally infused oils that are sung to.
Luxury is handmade
We have noticed luxury resorts and spas, such asVerdura in Sicily, shouting about using local craftsmen. Not because they’re cheaper, on the contrary: handmade is the ultimate in luxury.
"I make, to some extent, fairly expensive clothes,” explained fashion designer Stella McCartney recently on Desert Island Discs. “I struggle with it, but I also really struggle with fast fashion, with fabrics that aren’t beautiful and don’t use the best mills in Italy, Japan and England. I think you have to keep those crafts alive. I don’t think that good things should come really, really cheaply. I’m trying to make something that lasts a lifetime; that you can give to your daughters and they can give to their daughters. I’m in that business. And I think that is luxury."
Luxury is neo-real
Authenticity is priceless, yet luxury is by its nature unreal, above and beyond the norm. But you can create a mash-up of luxury and reality, an authentic experience made tidy and failsafe-ly-fabulous.
Pools like freshwater lakes (albeit heated), preferably spilling into a stunning outdoor landscape. Treatments delivered by a local shaman in the comfort of your own rustic-luxe eco-lodge. It’s reality, but not as we know it.