Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


Luxury Redux

What’s in a name — true luxury service needs a clear message to separate itself from ‘pop culture’ luxury projects.

A colleague recently commented, “I don’t like the term ‘luxury’ to describe what we do.” The comment gave me pause, having understood the luxury designation to indicate a product, service, or experience that is, due to the quality of materials, workmanship, and intellect, clearly superior. What’s not to like? Well, for starters, the way the definition of luxury has changed.

Luxury Home Theater
Photo: Paradise Theater

The original definition, as stated above, is an admirable label and would accurately describe the values of those producing excellence in the category of private cinema. Electronic systems with imaging systems that produce film-like, if not life-like, images; audio systems capable of faithfully reproducing the audio artistry of movie and music studios alike; theater construction, interiors, and furnishings featuring state-of-the-art acoustical building materials; exquisite interior finishes and bespoke designs by specialized masters in every discipline — basically engineering, design, and concierge-quality care and tuning that bring about a result that will elevate the recipient at every turn. All of this speaks to the excellence possible in a private cinema, but what about the true value of this luxury amenity? The transcendent quality of those inimitable moments made possible by a quality private cinema is its most prized attribute. What shall we call this transcendence if not luxury?

Also by Sam Cavitt: Building A Private Cinema Community

Maybe a better question is what are we calling luxury home theater today? We seem to be following the trend. Technological and societal disruption have combined to fundamentally change what luxury means to a large sector of the market. Instead of exclusivity, the new luxury seeks inclusivity and focuses on brand recognition rather than excellence. Exquisitely crafted product is not easily identified in the instant-gratification Instagram world we live in, and the masses are more intrigued by the impression of quality, or more likely, popularity, than the “boring” details of what make a product truly great! It is a kind of “pop luxury.” This means that what were once luxury brands sell lesser items based on their brand alone. But at what cost?

If a luxury brand produces lesser products, do they remain a luxury brand? What of a luxury category like home theater? If the designation luxury no longer represents things clearly superior, the lesser definition may indeed represent those lesser products and categories. So, if luxury has come to mean lesser, where does that leave those who aspire to excellence? How do we establish those offerings as uniquely superior to pop culture luxuries?

If we do not distinguish what has become levels of luxury, we will become guilty by association. For home theaters, this has already come to pass. Like luxury, the meaning of the term home theater has become ambiguous. Many try new labels to distinguish themselves, using terms like “dedicated home theater” or “private cinema.” But is that effective in communicating the distinction to our market? It is up to us to find a way.

Also by Sam Cavitt: Planning in the Pursuit of Perfection

As an industry we will determine our destiny. If we are to identify and elevate a high standard of luxury to our market, we need to communicate why it is worthy of our client’s consideration. We should look at why luxury even exists. People experience and value luxury in three dimensions — Function, Experience, and Symbolism.

  • Function is where the superior materials, workmanship, and intellect produce something that performs better than lesser alternatives. It costs more to do that, so superior products will require a greater investment.
  • Experience. The experiential dimension of luxury is important. Some may be willing to pay a premium to obtain performance for performance’s sake, but most will need to appreciate the difference to personally place a value on it. It is the elevating and transformative experience that gives improved performance its value. Like the sensation of power in a supercar or the complex flavor sensations of a prize vintage, fine luxury experiences are inspiring and transcending.
  • Symbolism. The third dimension is the symbolic value that exclusive luxuries distinguish themselves to elite luxury clientele. Where more common pop luxury seems to portray a “me-too,” keeping-up-with-the-Joneses mentality, elite luxuries are meaningful to their owners in a deeply personal way. That authenticity is important for luxury providers to keep in mind because elite luxury clientele, although demanding, are profoundly satisfied when we succeed in exceeding their expectations and will share that satisfaction with their peers.

The relevance of this information is that it requires a different message than that being spread in the pop luxury world. One that requires a longer conversation than a snapchat or tweet to convey. It is a conversation between connoisseurs of the finer things.

Our industry includes many successful businesses that focus on providing good, value-engineered solutions. These firms enjoy a sizable market — most of the market, in fact. It is a competitive market that is fast-paced and depends to varying degrees on volume. Those who serve that market successfully know what it takes and do it well. On the other end of the spectrum is the firm that focuses on serving traditional luxury clientele, which is a niche market that is motivated less by popular trends. They are a clientele willing to invest time and money with the expectation of experiencing or procuring something rare and transcendent. It is a bespoke business that requires careful attention to the details and each client’s individual wishes. These are very different markets being served by our industry. Each one represents a valuable and worthy enterprise, but each is also deserving of its own message. We’ve been providing a mixed message.

Nearly 30 years ago, when I was just entering the home theater industry, I gave a talk at a design school. The faculty director thought it would be interesting to have the home theater guy talk about unique opportunities in design. I spoke of our clientele and projects and how our clients wanted us to give them something unique and inspiring. How they were less interested in the cost than what the results did for them, their experience. The instructor questioned me about what she termed “the exclusionary nature” of what we did. That it seemed the cost would preclude many from being served. After a moment’s pause I replied, “Not exclusionary, but exclusive.” Then I addressed the class with this message — the same message I would share today: “Know yourself. Know who you are inspired to serve and serve that market with focus, discipline, and transparency. If excellence and no compromise are what inspire you, commit yourself to excellence. Excellence requires no excuse!”