What is Luxury? Exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum

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Second Space Travellers Watch, George Daniels Timepieces

The Second Space Travellers Watch is one of George Daniel’s most well-known pieces. Image taken by Frances Spiegel with permission of the V&A, all rights reserved.

The word ‘luxury’ has many meanings, so when we talk about luxury what exactly do we mean? We might own many luxurious items but do we have the luxury of time or the space to enjoy them?

What is Luxury? features over one hundred intriguing objects and challenges our traditional interpretations of luxury and the relationships between luxury, value and materials, as well as popular ideas about time and space as luxuries in their own right.

So, What is Luxury?

Speaking at the V&A, co-curator Jana Scholze, Victoria & Albert curator of Contemporary Furniture and Product Design, reminds us: Essentially, the question of luxury is a personal one.’

Jana Scholze and co-curator Leanne Wierzba, V&A/Winchester School of Art Research Fellow, explore luxury through examples of contemporary design and craftsmanship. They tell the stories of carefully chosen items such as The Space Travellers’ Watch, a mechanical timepiece, hand-crafted by renowned British watchmaker. George Daniels.

Giovanni Corvaja Golden Fleece Headpiece

The Golden Fleece Headpiece, Giovanni Corvaja, 2009. Corvaja’s inspiration stems from the ancient Greek myth of the Golden Fleece. Taking 2,500 hours to make, this headpiece uses 160 kilometres of superfine gold threads intricately woven together. Image by Frances Spiegel taken with permission of the V&A, all rights reserved.

Another exquisite item that tells a fascinating story is The Golden Fleece Headpiece intricately woven by goldsmith Giovanni Corvaja who spent more than ten years perfecting a technique for transforming gold into thread. The headpiece took more than 2,500 hours to complete and over 160 kilometres of superfine gold threads.

An Interview with Co-curator Jana Scholze

Co-curator Jana Scholze is a renowned specialist on contemporary furniture and design. She spoke exclusively to Decoded Arts.

Decoded Arts: You must have had great fun putting this exhibition together?

Jana Scholze: I have never been asked this question, but, yes, this is actually true. We had huge fun putting it together. The fun came when we thought about the people we chose for inclusion in the show. No one asked the question ‘Why am I part of this?’

Without their work necessarily speaking of any kind of conventional ideas of luxury, they were all absolutely crucial. They had to be part of the questioning. We address not so much the luxury industry, but notions, the idea of luxury, the understanding of it, how it is defined.

Decoded Arts: Why was it so important to investigate the various concepts of luxury?

Jana Scholze: It wasn’t easy especially at the beginning when we had to convince everybody to have a conceptual exhibition. It raised a lot of questions. The response to the concept was scepticism. Also, I feel the media often speak about luxury and how it is understood by a general audience as not changing. It is often referred to as a safe investment, like gold, a material that will only get rarer and become more valuable.

At the same time it is important to show how our very personal ideas and our understanding of luxury changes all the time, depending on the conditions we live in. What I find really fascinating is that in a day you start with an idea in the morning and you have a totally different idea in the evening because the conditions have changed.

You desire something differently, and all of a sudden you make a different decision. We want to hopefully be very positive about this and encourage those ideas and the bravery of breaking out and doing the ‘special’, doing the ‘other’.

Decoded Arts: How do luxury and craft relate to each other?

Jana Scholze: I think luxury and craft have been closely connected historically, and quite often talked about as synonyms. I think that will change in the future. We have included a number of craft examples here that are probably not the expected crafts or luxury like Giovanni Corvaja’s Golden Fleece Headpiece.

It is important to us because it speaks about Corvaja’s fascination. He chooses the freedom to invest in something that might not make sense in our society. It might not make sense from a commercial point of view, but it makes sense for Corvaja. That was something that we felt is very important to show. It’s not just the maker, the designer, it’s also us, ourselves.

Decoded Arts: We all long to own luxurious things, but do we really think about time and space as luxuries in their own right?

Jana Scholze: I think that’s why we feel the exhibition is so incredible. It is wonderful that the museum can afford the luxury of offering What is Luxury? as a free exhibition to our public. We feel it’s instrumental to ask those questions and to give everybody the opportunity to see the exhibition and reflect on those topics.

Decoded Arts: Did your own ideas of luxury change while planning What is Luxury?

Jana Scholze: Absolutely! Fundamentally! When I started the exhibition I was highly sceptical that I am the right person to curate this show. I can’t claim that I have done research for years and years on luxury, historical or contemporary. I felt that it is really interesting, as a contemporary curator, and now I feel very appropriate to do something like this – to ask those fundamental questions.

Decoded Arts: Do you have a favourite piece and why?

Men's suit Carol Christian Poell

Men’s Suit, Carol Christian Poell, 2010. The finish of this suit is exquisite. The body of the jacket and the trousers are each cut from a single piece of cloth. There is no visible lining or exposed stitching. Glass beads are woven into the yarn to reflect light. Image by Frances Spiegel, taken with permission of the V&A, all rights reserved.

Jana Scholze: I have to admit that my favourite piece is changing all the time. One project I absolutely love is the suit by Carol Christian Poell. It’s such a humble object because it doesn’t scream anything. It isn’t what you expect in the luxury sense. For me, this is pure luxury. It’s someone who is just taking the freedom to work away, in a very unfashionable way.

He doesn’t do any shows any more, but he just creates clothes, garments that can be worn, but they are so exquisitely done. He is brave to reveal every single part of the construction of the suit. Normally, the lining is covered up, Normally you don’t see inside the suit, but at the same time he doesn’t need the performance of it to shine.

What is Luxury? at the V&A

What is Luxury? is a free exhibition at the V&A, open from 25th April to 27th September 2015.

This is the third in a series of joint V&A and Crafts Council exhibitions. It follows Out of the Ordinary (2007) and Power of Making (2011).

What is Luxury? challenges everyone’s interpretations of luxury, giving us all a broader idea of what luxury might be. Will you have the luxury of time to enjoy it?

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