September 13, 2015
Decorex 2015: Nigel Coates on the Future of Luxury
Preparing the Decorex 2015, the trade show team has invested some time interviewn some of the most important and iconic figures in the interior design scene in UK. One of the iconic persons is Nigel Coates. Todayt, BRABBU’s blog is sharing with you Nigel Coates interview to Decorex 2015 on the “Future of Luxury“.
“Luxury is an over worn, over-used term that often has virtually no meaning”. – Nigel Coates
To walk into Nigel Coates’ Great James Street studio is to truly learn the meaning of understated greatness. With its 17th century scaling ceilings and beautiful creaking wooden floors, the space is filled with Coates’ work, expertly curated into elegantly edited room sets. With a quick glance around the first of these stunning spaces we instantly recognise the ‘Rake’s Progress’ panels from last year’s Decorex entrance displayed prominently above the traditional mantle… but less of that. We’re here with one purpose – to delve into the mind of the man himself and interrogate his views on the meaning, and future, of luxury.
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1. Did the term luxury used to have more of a meaning? How has that changed?
NC: Let’s think about where the term luxury actually comes from. ‘Lux’ I understand to mean brighter than other things. It captures the notion that something could be made especially for you, or be made with the finest or rarest materials. Perhaps the maker would be the best in the world, or indeed the only person in the world who could make it. These are the basic meanings of luxury. When it comes to marketing a perfume on every bus stop hoarding in the city, obviously there’s a problem.
2. How do we ensure the longevity of the term luxury, and the ideals associated with it?
NC: First of all you have to dismiss all of the stuff that claims to be luxurious but clearly isn’t, and focus on its rarity, its exceptional beauty, its uniqueness, or its ‘made-for-you-ness’. THESE qualities will endure and surpass cultural shifts. None of this is necessarily to do with the cost.
3. So what has changed?
NC: We’re losing artisanship. Generally speaking there are fewer people who can execute the handmade than there were. In the Renaissance the artisan was key to the realisations of special artefacts of the period. Even master painters were artisans of a sort. Ever since artisanship has been in a steady state of decline.
That being said, I think we’re on the border of another kind of artisanship which comes with digital technologies. Now we can make unique things with machines – be they rapid prototypers, CNC devices, or 3D printers. With digital manufacturing, artisanship exists in the mind, and in the abilities of the people who generate the design data.
Back to Back by Nigel Coates
4. It’s not necessarily about the expense of something.
NC: No. It’s about how difficult it was to realise the object in question. An example that comes to mind is when I asked a friend in Italy if they knew where I could get hold of some wild asparagus. They said ‘oh, you can’t buy them in the shop’. The next day, they bought me a bundle collected illegally by an accomplice in a national park. Back in London, they were extra delicious, the first of the season, super flavoursome. To me they were luxury embodied, and didn’t cost me a thing.
5. Would you regard your own things as luxury?
NC: I’m reluctant to be too formulaic. The things of mine I regard as luxurious are limited editions. An editioned piece is rarer by definition. If anything, I’m doing fewer limited editions, and am trying to transfer that same sense of artistry into objects that aren’t inaccessible.
It’s interesting to realise that the value of your work and the pleasure it can g ive are not necessarily related to price. My things are not that widely available; they’re made in small batches so they’re bound to be more luxurious than other things. They’re the antitheses of what people describe as ‘commercial’.
6. Does the term ‘commercial’ then become the antithesis to ‘luxury’?
NC: Commercial is a tag for things that are desirable but obvious, that sell themselves. It implies meaning “easy to like”, or very like something you know already. So if a piece has an unfamiliar aura about it, you could say it has attributes of luxury.
The more we talk, the nearer we get to questions of taste. Taste hinges on editing the commonplace, and what is thought to seem refined at a particular time. A good example right now might be the preponderance of mid-century modern. It’s been done to death. Universal appeal excludes it from luxury, unless it’s a rare signed piece. On the other hand a more epicurean sensibility might come closer to what I think of as luxury.
7. An interesting use of ‘epicurean’…
NC: The epicure is an interesting term because it’s related to food. The earlier example of the asparagus had no cost, and was based on friendship. Another delicious example might be caviar, which I know is expensive. I’m not sure which is more luxurious.
8. Is luxury determined by individual taste rather than by manufacturers?
NC: Luxury is in the eye of the beholder, and not necessarily in a company’s brand values. We’re all familiar with the so-called ‘luxury clothing industry’. It means LVMH, Pinot, and all the companies in the sector. Dior, Gucci, Alexander McQueen – apparently that’s all luxury, or is it? The luxurious end of Alexander McQueen’s output is virtually couture. Everything is sewn on by hand using rare materials. These things deserve to be called luxurious, but a bottle of perfume does not. Most perfumes are coasting on luxury, and are little more than synthetically scented water.
9. Do you think if the pattern continues, the term will completely lose its meaning? Has it already?
NC: No. It’s still a perfectly good word when used carefully. As I’ve explained its role as a marketing tool is up to be questioned.
Nigel Coates for L’Abbate Bump
10. Any final thoughts on luxury?
NC: All of things we’ve talked about draw us closer to the uniqueness of art.
In the art world, we can easily grasp the significance of the artist’s line on a sheet of paper to be something special, all the more so if it is dedicated to a specific person. Whether thinking about painting or sculpture, we start from the position of a work being unique. Of course we can stretch this understanding to encompass the multiple. Damien Hirst does lots of spot paintings, but he’s still an artist. Most interior designers and architects don’t pretend to be artists, but I think when a design has a high artistic content, it has a better chance of fulfilling an idea of luxury than a simple product.
I think we need to go beyond the product. The very term ‘product’ suggests repetition, and the provenance of a factory rather than the artisan’s workshop. Artisanship and artistry are the two A’s of Luxury.