What is luxury?

For Bèla Adler, space, light and time are luxuries

Bèla Adler

For several decades Bèla Adler has been in hot demand as a leading fashion and advertising photographer. Allied with her partner Salvador Fresneda, studio AdlerFresneda has created a dramatic and absorbing portfolio. Their work has graced the pages of the world’s most influential magazines and style bibles

What do you think about when you hear the word luxury?

I think about space. Space, light, time. For me, that is luxury.

In a way, luxury can be pejorative because luxury for many people is going to places where it’s all…  shiny. That’s why for me, luxury is a space where you feel human. You feel good, you feel yourself. It’s not fake.

Luxury is also about how you work. If you are passionate about what you do in life – that’s a luxury. This is what I think about luxury. Not about materials or things but what you do with your life. It is a luxury to have time and to do what you really have to do. Most of us do not do what we should do… we work for money or for social climbing. At least, that’s what the system wants us to think about luxury. To have cars and possessions – it is more quantity than quality. For me, quality is a luxury. In anything… in what you eat. Everything.

“People are looking for something that is done with love.”

STRADIVARIUS model: Demy de Vries art direction: David Simarro styling: Jorge Suanzes and Sonia Peña

How do you think the luxury consumer has changed?

People are not spending on material objects as much. They are buying experiences.  That’s why you see yoga retreats and other experiences being super popular. Luxury is also more about having time to be with people. We are now more individual or independent, or even isolated, and we don’t talk with people as much.

The concept of luxury is heavily dependent on the culture of the person who defines it. In your life and travels, do you encounter differences in meaning?

Yes, in Japan, for example, I find it is space. But in some parts of the society, I guess, it’s also very much about brands. I think they appreciate quality and tradition.

Campaign for DOROTEA. Styling: Ana Murillas

“There must be quality not quantity. Spend less but better.”

There is a range of growth opportunities within the emerging field of sustainable luxury. But is it the promise of more revenue, or genuine concern for the environment, that is impelling brands to embrace sustainability? And does it even matter, as long as some progress is made?

I think they do it for both, and if progress is made then it doesn’t matter. Hopefully, they just do it.

Which qualities would you say are the vital foundations of an authentic luxury product, service or experience?

People are developing more artisanal tastes. I think people want more homemade things now. And products with a story behind them. I think it’s a global story – people are looking for something that is more authentic, special, more unique. That’s my hope… people are looking for something that is done with love.

There must be quality not quantity. Spend less but better.

What do you think of the idea that luxury is becoming more accessible – that there is a democratisation of luxury?

Well, often they are lying to us. You may have a high-street jumper that is copied from a Chanel Collection, but after you’ve worn it once, it’s not the same. The quality is not there. By lying I mean that they are giving us an idea of luxury, but not the quality.

Could you choose one word to describe luxury now?


Campaign for Stradivarius. Model: Aneta Pajak art direction: David Castillo, styling Jorge Suanzes and Sonia Peña

What is one luxury you couldn’t do without?

Not being able to do what I want to do.

How do you see the evolution of luxury and where is it heading next?

Maybe we will learn to live with less. This, I think, is luxury – to learn not to be afraid. I think we are so attached to so many things. To really go where you need to go. To be able to do your thing. Don’t be afraid of not being attached to anything.

Photographs provided by AdlerFresneda