Why the future of luxury is time
A view from Tracey Follows

Why the future of luxury is time

There's only one sense in which we are all born equal. It's our time.

We are all born with 24-hours in the day available to us. No more, no less. It doesn’t matter whether you are rich or poor, entrepreneurial or managerial, young or old – we all have the same 24-hours in a day. It’s just a physical fact.

Whether we create successes or failures of ourselves when we look back on our lives often comes down, not to how we spent our money but how we spent our time.

That phrase, "Spending our time" is interesting. The acquisition of luxury objects has always fulfilled aspirations. But as the V&A showed in their exhibition What is Luxury? two years ago, in a busy and intrusive world, people increasingly value time for enjoying special moments and extraordinary experiences.

Increasingly, designers are demonstrating how the availability of time, and the quality of time spent, can be seen as a luxury in its own right.

it’s important to remember that having the option to think about how you spend your time is a luxury many people can’t afford. All their time is already spent. For some, their time is allocated from birth through the rest of their lives, to work and survival.

A valuable gift

Perhaps the greatest test of something’s value is revealed when you try to give it as a gift. If I were to give you a gift of a scented candle, well that might be nice.

If I were to give you something you already had, well you might just put it in the bin.

So valuable is the commodity of time that any unit of time that we receive from others is perceived as the greatest give they could give.

If I were to give you the gift of a holiday on a yacht that might be considered over the top – what might I want from you in return? But if I were to give you the gift of time, then neither would it be seen as something you already had enough of, nor something you could ever get too much of. You would receive it knowing that it could never be over the top and yet equally never seem too little.

So valuable is the commodity of time that any unit of time that we receive from others is perceived as the greatest give they could give.

Time is fluid, and expansive. But It’s valued by all. It’s why companies like Virgin have such high employee engagement – they know the value of time and they gift it to their employees. Whether it is through flexible working hours, working the days you choose rather than the days you are told to use - or whether it is through unlimited holidays, taking as much holiday as you like where you decide the limit not your employer, the gift of time is seen as rare, as precious, as invaluable.

Invaluable as an investment

In the world of consumer brands and marketing we like to put a value on things. But it is only when something becomes Invaluable that it reaches the epitome of Luxury. And time is invaluable.

In fact I would argue that time is the biggest and best luxury investment one can make. The most worthwhile. And the one that lasts the longest. Through generations.  

I was listening only last week to Stella McCartney’s Desert Island Discs. This is a woman who knows a thing or two about luxury. In part of the interview, Kirsty Young remarked, in mock horror, that there was a dress for sale online for three and a half thousand quid.

And Stella’s reply was remarkably pertinent: "I make to some extent fairly expensive clothes. 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 and Japan and England.

"I think you also have to keep those crafts alive. You know I don’t think that good things should come really, really cheap. I’m trying to make something that last 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."

Stella McCartney basically saying that she’s in the business of time. Generational time. And that time is luxury.

Margaret Attwood knew that time would be the ultimate future luxury. She gave Future Library its first book, an unpublished, unread manuscript that will be printed on wood from a forest planted in 2014.

The people working on the project had to face the startling fact that they would not be alive to see their work reach fruition. "Thinking beyond my lifetime, I was pulled out of my ordinary perspective", explained the project manager

This long-lasting thing, it gives hope, it gives meaning.

And the one direction Luxury is moving towards is something more meaningful. All luxury brands want to eschew empty meaningless marketing memes and move towards something more meaningful.

Time is not only an emerging luxury consumer need. It’s the most luxury material we have.

Tracey Follows is chief strategy and innovation officer, The Future Laboratory.