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There is a story that is told about art collector Heinz Berggruen: he once sold a Picasso to Baron Alain de Rothschild, who paid for the painting in cash. After Berggruen carefully wrapped up the painting, he was about to walk the baron to his car, but Rothschild declined. The chauffeur had the day off, so the baron casually strolled through the streets of Paris to the nearest Metro station, all the while with the Picasso under his arm. Berggruen is reported to have said, “To me, that is luxury, true luxury.”
Was Berggruen right? The American Heritage Dictionary defines luxury as “Something inessential but conducive to pleasure and comfort; something expensive or hard to obtain.” The word comes from the Latin luxus, which originally meant “excess, extravagance, magnificence,” probably a figurative use of luxus (“dislocated”) in the sense of being egregious or out of place.
A more basic definition might be that luxury is very simply the things that the richest 0.2 percent of the world’s population can afford. One example might be a meal on the Maldives in Ithaa, the world’s first and only underwater restaurant, where courageous guests can enjoy sushi and sashimi while surrounded by barracudas and sharks, skates and sea turtles.
Under the sea and up in the sky: The ultimate challenge for rich people might be a trip into space with the new "SpaceShipTwo", launched by Sir Richard Branson.
But is money and good living really everything? According to the German business weekly “WirtschaftsWoche,” luxury has more to do with your state of mind than the size of your wallet, and it is tantamount to being free of obligation and compulsion. “Luxurious people celebrate their independence every day. They also turn their noses up at certain products as soon as they start to become commonplace or expected. (...) If everyone’s eating caviar, dry bread becomes a delicacy.”
The trend of doing without has created an entire industry. Busy executives visit relaxation spas to seek the solace of a life that moves at a slower pace and is free of cell phones; fasting weekends promise mental cleansing to those left disaffected with the high life and give them the chance to collect themselves. No less popular are monastery sojourns, where the sophisticated can experience simplicity for a few days at a time, swapping out business and late nights for prayer, reflection and the hope of finding an answer to the question about what is really important in life.> Back to overview