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What is luxury?

What is luxury?” is an exhibit that opens today at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and a question I’ve pondered more and more during the years when I’ve had to rebuild a life.

I think there are a few sine qua nons of luxury: quality materials, precise craftsmanship, aesthetic and sensual appeal, impeccable service, and the seemingly small details that whisper deliberateness in all these things.

But even with these universals, luxury is necessarily personal, because in other ways what pleases us is as unique as we are. And so the pursuit of a luxury lifestyle requires discernment, contemplation, and planning, so that our lives are enveloped in what we know we enjoy, inspired but not controlled by what celebrities or the Joneses have or what marketers and “taste-makers” tell us we should want.

To me, luxury is not the trendy fashions. Sometimes it’s a well-tailored, high-quality, coordinated look that fits and feels great. Often it’s leggings and an old hoodie that feel snug and move with me as I’m working or writing in my apartment.

It’s rarely the hottest highest heels; it’s usually good quality pumps or cozy boots or the leather loafers I got for a steal in Florence.

It might be small-craft skin care or it might be what my dermatologist recommends from the drug store; what matters is that it feels great going on and sinking in and keeps my sensitive skin glowing enough that I can skip make-up when I want to.

It’s not high-end bling; it’s the viking-ship brooch I found in Oslo after saving up and searching all over for a unique circle pin, or it’s the ruby-and-diamond ring my grandfather gave my grandmother on their first Christmas as husband and wife.

It’s not a new flashy sports car; it’s my safe, comfortable, reliable sedan, with the amenities that matter to me: a moonroof for fresh air and the feeling of freedom and a navigation system to counter my terrible sense of direction.

It’s not a McMansion in the suburbs; it’s my cozy condo in a small city, where I have space to entertain, a balcony to enjoy the fresh air, and 24-hour security to make me feel safe.

It’s sometimes a gourmet meal at a fabulous restaurant. And it’s sometimes lobster sandwiches and a bottle of champagne on a blanket at the beach. And it’s sometimes a dozen hors d’oeuvres I’ve made for guests in my own kitchen, with a fabulous olive oil and herbs grown in my balcony garden.

It might be a 100-point wine. Or it might be a reasonably priced bottle that my friends and I are in the mood for. Or it might be a plastic cupful at a club-level bar on a perfect day at the ballpark.

It might be a suite at a high-end hotel. But only if it offers what I’m seeking for that journey: a central city location so that I can walk wherever I want to go or direct access to a private beach; a stellar chef’s restaurant or an uncrowded lounge where I can have a glass of wine and get some work or reading done or a full en-suite kitchen where I can serve leftovers out of doggie bags; a full-service spa that offers whatever treatments I need for the local climate and my plans and a variety of amenities in a relaxing environment where I can spend all day.

Luxury is what makes me feel vibrant but comfortable and safe at the same time. Luxury offers an escape from cacophony and a retreat into harmony. Luxury says it’s fun to be alive. Luxury means everything is okay.

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