The new luxury: buying something you’ll never touch IRL

August 18, 2021
SCMP Insights
A few months ago, a digital Gucci bag sold for US$4,115, exceeding the cost of the real-life version. Meanwhile, Burberry has dropped an NFT collection fronted by a snazzy virtual character named Sharky B. This is fascinating – and weird – on so many levels. 

Burberry NFT Sharky B collection. Photo: Burberry

Considering we went from bartering just a scant few thousand years ago – a direct exchange of something I need for something you’re hankering after, down the many evolutions before we arrived at a tangible legal tender, to cryptocurrency and NFTs entering our reality and vernacular – it’s been a hell of a money train. Now, we can effectively pay with digital, decentralised currency for something we can’t touch IRL. We’ve come a long way from swapping my cow for your magic beans. 

The idea of paying through the nose for the intangible, however, is perhaps the purest description of luxury. Even after more than a decade in the luxury industry, not a day goes by that the thought doesn’t cross my head: “Why? Why does this bag/car/meal/experience cost so much? Why is it worth so much?” A tote from Zara can hold your essentials just as well as an Hermès Birkin, after all. Your smartphone tells the time and essentially negates the need for a mechanical watch. So why do we do it? 

Stills from Gucci’s first NFT: a four-minute video clip that fetched US$25,000 in an auction by Christie’s. Photo: Gucci

The short answer would be that luxury is, and always has been, emotional. Whether it’s something as basic as vanity and bragging rights, or something more nuanced like a collector’s appreciation of acquiring a rarity, the extra zeroes at the end of the price tag go toward that elusive feeling of owning a treasure, and of privilege. 

A look from the Gucci Aria collection; its campaign video was auctioned as the brand’s first NFT. Photo: Gucci

Gucci isn’t the only one riding the crypto wave – Dolce & Gabbana and Rimowa are also cashing in with NFTs, while brands from LVMH, Cartier and Prada to Breitling, Vacheron Constantin and Audemars Piguet are getting into blockchain technology, all done in the name of provenance, authenticity and privilege. 

This is something that the younger luxury consumer understands, and it accounts for the increasingly popular decision to purchase the intangible and the growing understanding of why it’s worth it.

As luxury evolves and its consumers with it, it’s clear that the line between the digital and bricks and mortar world is increasingly pixelated, and it’s something that we have to take into account as well now that we’re revamping STYLE’s print magazine. 

Our last major overhaul came in March 2013, and we’re long overdue for an update. The new STYLE certainly has a cleaner, more modern look, but the changes run deeper than aesthetics. Taking into consideration the fact that our print stories also go online, we have introduced new sections that we believe will speak to both our print and digital audiences, and they include both timely trends and evergreen content. We’ve also added a page that features the best of our online content, and it’s our hope that our print readers will become our digital readers as well, and vice versa. 

The new STYLE will be unveiled for its September 2021 issue, and we look forward to continuing on this journey of luxury with you.