Luxury is a word we think we know. However, on closer inspection, it reveals itself to be deeply complex and surprisingly personal. Its meaning is relative and contextual: what one considers a luxury, another might deem a necessity. What is aspirational in one culture might have little resonance in another.

Olivia was the creative force behind the sci-fi installations for the Hermes petit h exhibition that was inspired by a scene in the movie Apollo 13.

This leads me to believe that luxury is a fluid concept, one that is not only subjective but also evolves with society’s shifting values and ideals. Its Latin root is “luxus”, which carries the meaning of excess.

In early French, luxury meant debauched, while in the Elizabethan era, it came to mean something more akin to sensual pleasures and pursuits.

The window display by Olivia at Hermes Singapore Liat Towers during the 2019 Hermes petit h exhibition

The most recent dictionary definition attempts to balance all of the above, describing luxury as a condition of abundance and comfort, as well as indulgence and pleasure.

What I can glean from this contemporary definition is the shift away from materialistic connotations and ostentatious behaviour. Instead, it speaks to a measure of the quality of our experiences and the conditions required to feel comfort, abundance and pleasure.

The Canape Collector set created for The Balvenie.

I would argue that by redefining luxury as experience-driven, it becomes more subjective. We are thus free to define abundance, indulgence and pleasure uniquely and for ourselves.

“[B]y redefining luxury as experience-driven, it becomes more subjective. We are thus free to define abundance, indulgence and pleasure uniquely and for ourselves.”

olivia lee

Assuming our basic needs and responsibilities for survival are met, I believe a life lived luxuriously is a complex combination of not just means but perception and imagination as well.

A miniature golf course created in collaboration with CDKStone in Australia using sintered stone from Neolith. 

Having long, hot showers with good water pressure, lying in bed till noon on Sunday, sitting in a ridiculously comfortable gaming chair, preparing a pour-over coffee for yourself every morning, starting an indoor farm, hunting down the right travel bag with the perfect arrangement of inner pockets, enrolling in a painting class, et cetera, are all valid expressions of pleasure and indulgence.

“Luxury combines an awareness for what you want and take pleasure in with the ability to act on it.”

Olivia Lee

Luxury combines an awareness for what you want and take pleasure in with the ability to act on it. In 2020, faced with a global pandemic and being confined at home, many of us were forced to re-examine our priorities, needs and wants. Particularly so when our ability to act on them became curbed by factors beyond our control.

The Secret to Longevity cabinet created for Wallpaper Handmade exhibition.

We were reminded that time is the ultimate luxury, especially time spent with loved ones. We became either grateful or frustrated with our homes, recognising the limitations and the privilege of personal space .With travel and social gatherings restricted, we travelled inwards and sought deeper connections virtually.

“I think Covid-19 humbled all of us and gave us permission to slow down and re-evaluate. And from this, I think a new expectation for luxury is emerging.”

Olivia Lee

We taught ourselves to make sourdough and began to enjoy a slower pace of living. In a way, I think Covid-19 humbled all of us and gave us permission to slow down and re-evaluate. And from this, I think a new expectation for luxury is emerging.

Marble sample displayed like chocolate for The Marvellous Marble Factory installation.

Along with the quality of our experiences, I think we now have greater aspirations for how our time should be spent and what we indulge in.

I like to think that having been collectively confronted with the fragility of life and normalcy, we are more motivated to take charge of pursuing the things that give us pleasure and supportive of other’s pursuits too.

And I think this new era of luxury is one of meaning and self-awareness. 

Olivia Lee practises under her eponymous studio at multi-concept workspace The Wonder Facility. Visit www.olivia-lee.com for more information.