What is luxury? Is it having the latest technical gadget; relaxing on a super-yacht in Monaco, wearing a unique gold watch from a well-known Swiss or French maker, or perhaps, just having time to enjoy these or even lessor luxuries? Sometimes it is having something truly beautiful that is natural, either real and impossible to replicate or created.
Time is at the heart of the exhibition – What is Luxury? – jointly organised by the Crafts Council and the Victoria and Albert Museum. It is well designed to reflect its theme – the entrance space is dark, with precious objects behind glass cases, as in the most exclusive retailer in Mayfair, but with a large pendulum creating circles in the sands of time.
Within the glass cases and in the adjacent gallery are over 100 of the most unique and luxurious objects, dating from 1670 to 2015 and onwards into the future, showing individual examples of contemporary design and craftsmanship, where the luxury is the time taken to create the objects the uniqueness of the material and being one of the few – if not the only – person in the world to own the objects.
The cases include a gown by fashion designer Iris van Herpen, Nora Fok’s necklace made out of 1,000 knitted-nylon-covered bubbles, two of George Daniels’s hand-crafted fob watches (he only made 27 in his life) and a suit by Carol Christian Poell where the jacket and top are woven out of one seamless piece of material. Other objects include Joris Larman’s Bone Chaise based on an algorithm on the growth of bones and trees and a luxurious briefcase by Studio Ruuger, one of only two in the world, each of which took over 300 hours to create using traditional skills and new technologies – not a briefcase to be bashed and abused on a daily train journey (or perhaps doing so is the ultimate luxury). Steffen Dam created an illusionary jellyfish installation from air bubbles, carbon and silver foils in glass, while Studio Drift created LED chandeliers of real dandelion seed heads – when did such a natural species become an object of luxury?.
What of the future? In The Rise of the Plasticsmith, Gangjian Cui examines when, in 2052, plastic has become a rare and valuable material used for furniture and, in Hair Highway, Studio Swine speculates on using human hair as a sustainable material, embedded in bio-resin to create unique finishes for furniture while El Ultimo Grito explores the illusionary transparency of glass with interconnecting systems which may have no end.
A stimulating exhibition which shows off some of the most exquisite and unique items which can be designed, but if there is a theme at the end of the day, it is time. The most valuable and luxurious objects have taken dedicated time by craftsman and artists to create, whether the materials are the most expensive gold and jewels or whether something much more ordinary like dandelion heads is made into something unique. What we all need in this modern age is more time; so the most valuable objects are those which give us more time, to be able to go to nightclubs an, attend art shows and parties on our yachts. Is there any point in having luxurious objects if we do not have the time and the opportunity to show them off?.
Quite apart from the questions it raises, this in an exhibition worth seeing for the beautiful and unique items that few of us are ever likely to own.