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The University of Southampton
Winchester Luxury Research Group


The Winchester Luxury Research Group develops research projects that engage with the theory and practice of concepts such as pleasure and sumptuousness, excess and waste, extravagance and consumption.

Yet the Group also seeks to build a critical appreciation of luxury that investigates the intersections of theories of desire and necessity, practices of luxury, and applications of these theories and practices within historical and contemporary cultures.

In 2016 a new book was published: Critical Luxury Studies: Art, Design, Media.


 Research Themes


Reflecting the diversity of the Group's membership, the research themes encompass a wide range of luxury related topics:

Children and Luxury

Research focusing on children’s attitudes towards consumption and marketing dates back to the 1950s with the investigation of brand loyalty amongst children, evolving to the development of studies on marketing to children. There are a plethora of studies that explore why, how and when children consume; most notably socialisation theory considers the development of children as independent consumers, however the study of luxury and children still remains underexplored. Luxury designer brands such as Stella McCartney, Gucci, Fendi and Dolce & Gabbana among others have entered the luxury childrens market. These brands, understand how these purchases are ‘add-ons’ for parents wishing to indulge children with luxury, creating phenomena such as mini Monclers and Gucci girls. Such purchases represent an extension of parents’ identity. Equally, aspirational desire among children to strive, do well, achieve and be ambitious are a fundamental part of children’s luxury consumption choices, children are co-participants in the consumption journey and are the next generation of luxury consumers.  It is thus pertinent to understand their role in the journey, as well as the dialectical nature of luxury consumption, the desire coupled with the dilemma.  Today’s children are very much aware of the problematic, hierarchical status afforded by luxury, separating those who are able to and do possess luxury from those who can only ever aspire to it. It is clear that children in today’s society understand how luxury creates a desire to reach levels of a ‘higher stratum’; they are connected through social media and use this as a means of communication and sharing. Interestingly, the need for the latest Hermes Birkin bag, Chloé perfume or Louboutin shoes are central to children’s consumption activities, children continue to curate their identity through these consumption decisions and experiences, how they evolve as consumers is an area of interest for luxury brands and the luxury sector as a whole. The paradoxical nature of luxury, on the one hand creating social distinction but on the other thwarting the masses needs consideration from the perspective of the younger generation.

Critical Luxury Studies

Professors Joanne Roberts and John Armitage are currently leading a research project in the field of critical luxury studies. This research questions the notion of luxury in the contemporary context and encourages critical reflection on issues concerning luxury, particularly as they relate to art, design and media. The project involves an international network of scholars. The first research output from this project has been an edited volume entitled Critical Luxury Studies: Art, Design, Media, published by Edinburgh University Press in 2015.


From ancient history to the present day furs have not only kept us warm, but also signalled our wealth and status, made us feel protected and powerful, sensual and stunning. Yet the use of fur is also deeply controversial and has been the subject of legislation, prohibition and outrage unlike any other aspect of the fashion industry. Until the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries fur in the west was worn primarily as a marker of rank, ceremonially or as an element in military and other institutional uniforms. Fur was not for the common man or woman and many of the sumptuary laws instituted in the Middle Ages were directly designed to control and legislate against the wearing of fur by the lower classes. The history of fur and indeed the fur trade in the west has been indivisible from the history of fashion itself and the history of technological development. By the close of the twentieth century fur’s status in fashion had shifted, partly due to the fashion revolution of the 1960s with its emphasis on youthful, less formal dressing making fur seem the preserve of the establishment rather than the fashionable, alongside the rise of synthetic or ‘fun’ fur as it was called at the time and the growing support for the anti-fur movement. However despite an increasingly active anti-fur lobby, fur has recently regained its position on the world’s fashion runways with more and more designers incorporating it into their collections, prompting a re-assessment of our relationship to this most sensory of materials.

This aspect of the work of the WLRG is focussed on the research currently being undertaken by Professor Faiers, which will culminate in the publication of Fur: A Controversial History by Yale University Press. This book will develop his investigation into the relationship between fur and its representation included in his Dressing Dangerously: Dysfunctional Fashion in Film (Yale 2013), Alexander McQueen’s use of fur in Alexander McQueen (ed. Clare Wilcox V&A Publications 2015) and fur and the concept of exploration in Expedition: Fashion From the Extreme (ed. Patricia Mears Thames & Hudson 2017).  

Luxury and Knowledge

Research focused on luxury and knowledge follows two main lines of inquiry. Firstly, the contemporary prevalence of luxury is such that we all have an idea of what luxury is, in the sense that we associate it with expensive goods and services supplied by well-known luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Hermès. Yet, the label of luxury is attached to an ever-increasing number of goods and services without a corresponding uplift in quality, giving producers the capacity to command a substantial price premium. Luxury is often marketed through the promotion of mysterious and ambiguous references to undefined but somehow exclusive qualities. How luxury is known from a consumer, societal, and philosophical perspective has been overlooked. Consequently, to advance a critical appreciation of luxury, it is important to examine how luxury is known. Such investigations also raise questions about the unknown aspects of luxury.

A second line of inquiry concerns the use and development of knowledge in the production of luxury artefacts. Luxury goods are often associated with age old traditions that have a timeless quality, and their producers therefore resist change. The idea of craftsmanship is often evoked to convey such sentiments. Yet, while knowledge may be preserved in some areas of luxury production, in others the development of new knowledge through creativity and innovation is essential to the continued viability of the product. Understanding where the balance lies between the preservation of traditional knowledge and radical innovation is a key issue of concern for this second area of research on luxury and knowledge.

Luxury and Fashion

Luxury and fashion today are increasingly uttered in the same breath, and while fashion certainly does not have to be luxurious, the two terms are becoming increasingly interdependent and indeed interchangeable. Luxury fashion implies cost, exclusivity, indulgence and excess and is typically understood as being constructed from the finest materials, involving a high level of craftsmanship, laborious production and often originating from a specific manufacturing location. Today luxury fashion is being consumed and produced on an unprecedented scale, but this very proliferation of luxury begs us to ask some important questions about fashion’s relationship to luxury, for in an age where super brands dominate the luxury fashion landscape, it might seem that as long as there are enough prominently displayed logos and the most expensive materials are used the title 'luxury' can be attached to any piece of clothing or accessory. But alongside easily identifiable, branded luxury, exist other formulations and, indeed interrogations of luxury, and luxury fashion now takes on many guises so that we need to consider terms such as minimal luxury, conceptual luxury even affordable luxury. Critical luxury studies looks beyond the tidal wave of monogrammed handbags and fur linings to ask who are the designers who have really understood the relationship between luxury and excess, that luxury can look like poverty and the role traditional craftsmanship plays in the production of true luxury fashion?  What are the relationships between luxury and innovation, luxury and novelty, luxury and technology? What can we learn from all of the historic prohibitions that have been levied against the conspicuous consumption of fashion and ostentatious display and have we now arrived at a moment where luxury and fashion now occupy completely different aesthetic and philosophical spaces?

Luxury and Visual Culture

To study luxury and visual culture is to study that aspect of visual culture expressed in visual images of great comfort or elegance. Yet, few academic fields examine this relatively new subject, even though it touches upon cultural studies and art history, critical theory, philosophy, media studies, and anthropology. Among theorists working within contemporary luxury and visual culture, this area of investigation intersects with analyses of the superfluous in fashion, with the excessive in art, with the gratuitous in photography, with unwarranted desire in film, with the wanton in television, and with the unnecessary in social media; it can also include images of pleasure in magazine advertising, beautiful objects displayed by luxury brands from Louis Vuitton to Dior on the Internet, and any other medium that has a crucial lavish or enjoyable visual component. The topic’s importance arises from the variety of abundant objects and experiences that can be contained within the term “luxury and visual culture,” which combines sumptuous visual events in which uplifting cultural information, indulgent visual meanings, or extreme cultural satisfaction is sought by the viewer and/or consumer in an interface with luxurious new media technologies, such as a Brikk iPhone coated in 24 carat gold. Because of the changing technological aspects of visual culture, of technologies of perception and augmentation, it is no longer clear what “the visual,” “the cultural,” or “the luxurious” are. Consequently, the task of the scholar of luxury and visual culture is to understand how images of longing and gratification, amusement, and enjoyment work and what they do, as well as to ask what hedonistic ideas they represent or the decadent reality is that they claim to portray.

Luxury Brand Management/Marketing

The luxury industry has more than doubled over the past 10 years, with developing markets in the BRIC economies flourishing due to globalisation and the democratisation of luxury, even though this sector has traditionally been associated with Europe. However, there have recently been significant changes in the luxury market, with Japan providing a source of growth as the luxury goods market continues to grow globally.

Luxury brands continue to target the elite while understanding the need to communicate with the masses.  With the use of differing segmentation and targeting techniques, luxury brands communicate and market their brand values through a number of media forms, social, traditional and new media. Nowadays we see a number of different luxuries extending beyond the elitist market, to one that encompasses different categories of the population, characterised by their purchasing power, their social groupings and their social and personal identity goals and ambitions. Through luxury brand management we develop our understanding of how and when to communicate to these markets. Luxury brands are developing their awareness of the brand values most desired by their potential and actual markets, with the realisation that luxury branding and marketing goes beyond mere marketing messages and must also consider consumers wants, desires and ambitions. The management of luxury brands includes appreciatiion of how luxury brands have evolved over time and place, and considers the symbolic and experiential dimensions of luxury, as well as understanding how luxury and its very meaning has evolved with the changing luxury sector and marketplace.

The digital landscape continues to develop and evolve  luxury marketing. Messages are aimed at different segments, as social media is instrumental in the communication and sharing of these cleverly crafted marketing messages, ensuring luxury continues to be desired.

Luxury and Space

In many ways, spaces of luxury are progressively contesting spaces of necessity as defining aspects of cultural reality, and simultaneously they are becoming part of the growing attempt to create a global cultural sense of place. Spaces of luxury are thus becoming a key area for critically engaging with the multiple issues raised by luxury. Numerous spaces of luxury require investigation: from the intimate spaces of domestic interiors to luxury flagship stores and hotels, and from regions specialising in the production of luxury products to global cities renowned for luxury residential and commercial quarters. Moreover, the spaces of relevance for luxury promotion and consumption include virtual spaces from luxury brand websites to social media platforms and the online communities they support. Consequently, understanding the spatial aspects of luxury increasingly requires consideration of the philosophical condition of being luxurious.


Click here to browse a selection of Luxury-related resources    

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The staff, research students and affiliated members of the group.

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