The meaning of luxury at a time like this

Published December 5, 2021, 1:24 AM

by AA Patawaran

THE LUXURY TO BE FREE Cover design by Jules Vivas

Luxury is…

… being alive in a world where you could be dead tomorrow. It’s keeping your head up when things are weighing you down. There’s luxury in the little things, in the simple things, like sitting on a park bench in the shade of a lush tree, or sprawled on the beach digging your toes in the sand, or strolling down a leafy street in the neighborhood when there is no one else around. There’s luxury in birdsong in the treetops. You can hear it, if you listen hard.

Not everything in this world is free, especially not luxury. There’s luxury in waking up in the morning feeling rejuvenated even if you have had only a few hours of sleep. There’s luxury in feeling your skin come alive in a haven of linens. It might be your hormones, the melatonin in your system dropping, your serotonin cells, sensitive to the gathering light, rousing your senses. It might be your disposition. It might be getting up on the right side of your bed or exciting things coming up in the day ahead. But it might also be your bedsheets—Doyle & Furnham Core set, high-grade Pakistani cotton, OEKO-TEX certified, as white as the winter wonderland of your dreams—and your Tempur pillows, huggable, soft, medium, or firm in feels, that put your head in the clouds.

Paradise is our inheritance and, though at some point we have squandered its riches, some of it remains. Now, luxury is a sense of being back in the world built for us in the beginning of time that now often comes at a price. The soulstirring view of the sunset framed by the picture windows designed to seem invisible at your signature suite on the sky wing of Solaire Resort, for instance, or a book club dinner, themed and all with a loose but fun dress code, in the company of intelligent and endearing people at the MacArthur Suite of the Manila Hotel. In these times, paradise, like luxury, can be as simple as being with a friend, or someone you love, distance breached, face masks tucked in the pockets of your jeans, and you’re free to cry on each other’s shoulder, or even kiss, or do more as you please.

…in an age of distraction, nothing is so luxurious as paying attention. —Pico Iyer

Luxury is driving the new Lexus ES 350 Premier away from the madness of life as we live it today and driving it as if you were driving for the very first time, lost in the semi-aniline leather seat in a space thoughtfully crafted to provide luxury while moving on a 302-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 engine controlled by an eight-speed direct shift automatic transmission. Open the windows and feel the wind on your face. That’s freedom that, in this world, is pure luxury, especially because it never lasts long enough.


Luxury is every vacation that ignites your sense of wonder. There is luxury in going back to nature, the remnants of the Garden of Eden, still abuzz with the rustle of leaves, the flutter of avian wings, the chirping of nocturnal insects, the gurgling of a spring or the rush of sea waves, the sparkling of celestial bodies overhead without the shroud of city smog or without being smothered by urban lighting.

In food too lies luxury when it not only pleases your palate but also expands your world or brings you back to cherished moments. When a dish does more than filling your stomach or satiating your cravings, it becomes an adventure, a memory, a learning, a taste of a life you might not have known. Such is the food at the tasting menu restaurant Linamnam, where the young chef Don Baldosano once took his guests back to 1521, imagining what Ferdinand Magellan and his diarist Antonio Pigafetta ate upon arrival on Philippine shores, or at Helm where British-Filipino chef Josh Boutwood once dished out his autobiography in multiple courses of self-revealing transnational flavors and techniques and remembrances. Take heed, however, that a glass of Château Lafite Rothschild can never be as special as a paper cup of coffee at Mini-Stop with someone you consider your favorite in the world.

Luxury is craft. It is thoughtfulness in design. It is the labor of the hands, the pouring of heart and soul into objects that turn them into articles of luxury, sometimes even into works of art or even sacred ornaments. It is the two years it takes for each one of the 20 or so silks Hermès releases every year to be completed, from sketch to scarf. Or the one person, just one person per bag—a craftsman, an artisan—responsible for the make of every Birkin, from start to finish.

Luxury is tailormade for you, like a custom shirt from Ascot Chang or a suit made to measure by Ermenegildo Zegna or a showstopping seven-gemstone necklace from Tiffany & Co. that won’t be seen around anybody else’s neck but yours.

But all that is expensive in luxury is only icing in the cake. The cake is what makes you feel special. Luxury is a rose, picked from the same garden that looks like every other rose, but in your hand, as the French aviator and novelist Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once suggested in The Little Prince, it is special, it is different because it is yours.

Luxury is never forgetting what is special about you and all that is yours and never taking it for granted.