03/28/2008 02:45 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Age Of "McLuxury" Dawns

The next time you're waiting for your bags to arrive at O'Hare, ponder this: In Milan there's a leather goods store called Valextra, just down the road from the famed La Scala opera house, whose signature product is a line of exquisite luggage quite unsuited to modern life.

The suitcases, which start at about $5,000 apiece, have no wheels, no pull straps, no retractable handles. Most striking of all, they come in gorgeous white leather with a subtle creamy hue that would scuff instantly if checked onto a commercial airline. As Valextra sales assistant Martina Terazzi discreetly points out, they are best suited for people who travel by private jet.

This is what "luxury" used to mean: beautifully crafted, hideously expensive, and unashamedly elitist. Owning such items was not just a question of wealth; it was also a question of class. Luxury goods were sold in stuffy stores with intimidating personnel in white gloves who glanced at your shoes before deigning to show you their merchandise.

Read more on Fortune