Health & Luxury Through The Ages

Luxury: aspirational, powerful. A desire versus a need. A means of achieving social elevation. This constantly evolving concept is both tangible and beyond grasp. It is an item, a status, a label, an ambition or a feeling. The feeling component, though, this one trumps all others – because in order to feel good about luxury, we have to feel good ourselves. Without our own wellbeing, we can’t fully enjoy life’s pleasures. The baseline of luxury is a healthy body and mind, the rest is just a bonus. Luxury as we know it today seems to be slowly reflecting this shift – and it’s come a long way.

The concept of superiority and status has been around since the beginning of humanity. Picture the Paleolithic alpha figure, providing his fellow cave dwellers with shelter and sustenance for survival – luxuries of the time. However, the history of luxury in a more traditional sense starts with the ancient Egyptians and their powerful nobility class and elaborate burial practices: tombs full of jewels, weapons, food and ships. The embodiment of that “The one who dies with the most toys wins” philosophy – but the jury’s out on its efficacy. (For the record, we vote for embracing the here and now.)

Procession of figures with offerings

Egyptian tomb wall painting

part of a wall-painting from the tenth tomb at Gourna, Thebes

Ancient Romans and Greeks expressed concern over too much lavish spending. The Greeks looked down on those who consumed meat as being too excessive, some even going so far as to call meat eating cannibalism. Perhaps it was these tenets that planted an early seed for the vegan movement to come. Meanwhile, the Romans actually put legislation in place limiting the amount people could spend on luxuries like banquets. One thing they did not limit spending on? The purchase of an ancient fish sauce called garum which was routinely consumed by Romans to relieve ailments of all types. This health trend may not sound very appetizing, but garum was in fact a delicacy – and is considered to be the very first omega-3 supplement.

Saint Maurice and the Theban Legion

Pointy shoes bros

Saint Christopher before the King of Lycia

Middle Ages’ Britain also faulted frivolous spending. The elite, however, were an exception and used fashion to show off their status. Men wore long, pointed shoes – the longer the shoe, the greater the wealth of the wearer. Medieval women of means accentuated their foreheads – considered to be the focal point of the face – by removing their eyelashes and eyebrows entirely. Certainly a far cry from the bushy ‘brow trends popular these days.

The Elizabethan Era brought with it a widespread effort – at least by the women at court – to look like Britain’s Queen Elizabeth I. Pale skin equaled prestige, luxury and good health; tan skin was a sign of laboring outside in the fields. The lengths to which people went to achieve this coveted pale complexion ranged from egg whites to ceruse (a foundation made with vine-gar and poisonous white lead). Gives chemical peels a whole new meaning, huh?

Northern Italy,late 16th century -Portrait of a Couple

An Italian power couple flaunting their wealth, and boss lady Qween E no 1, anno 15th-16th century

Queen Elizabeth l, via Wikimedia Commons

By the 1840s, knowledge of and improvements around hygiene progressed, if rockily. Hygiene – named after Hygieia, the Greek goddess of health, cleanliness and sanitation – and the developments within it were not always welcomed, even by the medical community. As Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis would have attested to, change in hygiene habits can be an uphill battle. His research determined that handwashing would save lives when it comes to childbirth – and, despite results verifying it, his theory was ridiculed, eventually costing Semmelweis his career. Given the current focus on handwashing in everything we do, it feels like another world to imagine it being reproved.

As the Industrial Revolution increased quality of life, luxury became more achievable for the masses. Many chose to spend their disposable income going to medical (or medi-quack, jury is still out on that one) spas in an effort to improve their bodily function and wellness. Battle Creek Sanitarium was the most popular of these holistic wellness destinations in the US, run by none other than Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (yup, the cereal guy). Some of the techniques implemented at Battle Creek included electric light baths, electric sinusoidal current treatments and continuous water baths lasting for days, weeks or even months. Pruney skin, anyone?

A couple hundred years later, we come to an era that was strongly defined by luxury: the Roaring Twenties. The hardship and sacrifice of the Great War were over and life’s pleasures awaited: parties, music, indulgence of all sorts. Carefree extravagance became the hallmark of this rowdy decade. It was during this time that cigarettes started to segue into the health sector, with models dressed in white doctor’s coats assuring smokers that their coughing was caused by dust, germs and a lack of menthol in their cigs of choice. The solution? Fresh cigarettes, of course.

Fast forward to 2021. Any plans for a resurgence of the Roaring Twenties have been stifled. Instead, the luxury industry – and the world – finds itself in a unique space. The global pandemic is changing life as we know it, and the luxury industry is no exception, with huge drops in year-on-year growth. Consumer values are shifting toward sustainability, cultural diversity and ethical practice over glamor and glitz.

A stroll on the beach, 1896

A stroll on the beach with friends has never gone out of fashion.

By Michael Peter Ancher

Millennials and Gen Z-ers especially are walking a fine line between luxury as a product versus luxury as an experience, with many swaying toward the latter. Experiential luxury incorporates values of time, authenticity and learning something or doing good – which are of greater importance to rising generations than they have been to older ones.

And what goes hand-in-hand with experiential luxury? The good health to enjoy it. Health is the new embodiment of luxury – physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s the blueprint to being our best selves and doing what we love. One key component to our health is the essential omega-3 nutrient, which the human body needs but cannot produce itself. Sourcing omega-3s from a pure, vegan source has never been easier than it is here with Simris’ high-grade option.

Still Life with Fruit and a Monkey eating Grapes, 1635

What will post-pandemic parties look like?

Le Festin des Dieux, mid 17th century

It’s impossible to say what luxury trends will take hold in the future. But we do know one thing that isn’t going out of style: prioritizing the health and wellbeing of our bodies and minds above all else. Simris can help do just that (and you won’t have to make yourself a glass of celery juice every day to do it). Don’t rely on the goodwill of the goddess Hygieia – take your health into your own hands with a bottle of omega-3s and bring your self-care to the next level.

Artwork credits:
British Library/CCO, Rosewald Collection, Art Institute of Chicago, George Gower/Public Domain, Cleveland Museum of Art/Holden Collection, Michael Peter Ancher/Skagens Museum/Public domain, Adriaen van Utrecht/Åsa Lundén/Nationalmuseum and Jan van Bijlert/Stéphane Maréchalle, via Wikimedia Commons.