Luxury to the Max
Maxim Australia|May 2017

The virtue of living very well...

Glenn O'Brien

The modern English word luxury goes back to the Old French luxurie, meaning sexual indulgence, lustfulness, debauchery, voluptuousness. Making whoopee. Over time it lost its naughty connotations and came to mean elegance and excess, and by the early 17th century luxury meant extravagance and magnificence; living like a king.

By the 19th century, luxury came to mean much more . Exploration brought wealth. Science brought industry and manufacturing. The old aristocracy was based on land. The new aristocracy would be based on money. Titles meant nothing compared to great fortunes. Power was up for grabs among the wealthy, and displays of wealth were the key to social advancement. Class wasn’t about blood but liquidity.

It is said that the first celebrity was George Bryan “Beau” Brummell (1778–1840), the inventor of dandyism and the most popular man of his time. Brummell came from the middle class; his fortune was modest. Taste was his genius. He ruled society by the way he dressed, his hygiene, his manners, and his cutting wit. The Prince of Wales, who became King George IV, sought him out as a best friend and spent hours at Brummell’s house watching him dress.

As the 19th century progressed, luxury came to mean indulgence in what is expensive and of superior quality, what is rare and costly, and pleasures and comforts beyond life’s necessities. At the end of the century, the sociologist and economist Thorstein Veblen published a revolutionary book, The Theory of the Leisure Class, which introduced the concept of conspicuous consumption.

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