Extremely online luxury.
Terry Nguyen on Tiffany’s ongoing rebrand and foray into web3.
Six months into Alexandre Arnault’s reign atop Tiffany and Co.’s diamond-encrusted throne, the luxury jeweler proffered a new creative vision, one that seemed to defy its storied legacy. This is “not your mother’s Tiffany,” the brand declared in a campaign last July. In other words, this is not the Tiffany that sold your grandmother’s pearls. And this is certainly not the Tiffany that Audrey Hepburn perambulated past on Fifth Avenue, nibbling at the delicate tail of her breakfast croissant.
No, this is a new Tiffany: Under its 30-year-old CEO, this version boasts silver heart tags engraved with Supreme’s sans serif logo; gauge link chains; diamond-encrusted sunglasses (seen on Pharrell); and, as of this past Saturday, 250 custom-made pendants featuring unique CryptoPunk avatars. The collaboration was predictable given Arnault’s personal abiding interest in NFTs, but that doesn’t make it any less aesthetically jarring.
The pixelated pendant, nestled within the brand’s iconic robin blue jewelry box, appears underwhelmingly flat against the dark velvet, seemingly too tinny to be delicate. Here, exclusivity is made conspicuously wearable at the expense of inventive design. Flexing IRL is par for the course among holders of rare and expensive NFTs. Their ownership is put on display on Apple Watch interfaces and custom-made apparel. But the replication of NFTs among physical products is often done with little consideration for the threshold between digital and analog.
I expected the purveyor of timeless jewelry to realize this — to opt for a design with dimension, rather than mere spectacle. Then again, this is the New Tiffany. If money talks and wealth whispers, NFTs are a primal scream. Flaunting comes with the territory, and Arnault, a proud CryptoPunks owner, knows this. In April, he teased the collaboration with a video of his bespoke necklace dangling before a Supreme x Tiffany T-shirt. He later posted a Twitter poll to gauge interest in the pendant, which more than 3,500 people voted in favor of. The collaboration, first revealed on July 31, seemed to be as much of a pet project for Arnault as it was a branding exercise.
On August 5, Tiffany’s released a collection of “NFTiffs” that cost 30 ETH, or around $50,000, each. Customers, provided that they are a CryptoPunks holder, could redeem the NFTiffs for a physical necklace in the form of their Punk. (Though you could also flip the unredeemed NFT to an actual Punk holder.) The drop sold out within 20 minutes, generating a flurry of reactions on Twitter. People debated. Were the necklaces overpriced or undervalued? Each CryptoPunk pendant, according to the jeweler, will include at least 30 precious gemstones selected to match the specific avatar and embellished with five diamonds on the chain. For comparison, Tiffany’s currently sells a $48,000 diamond-encrusted necklace, weighing in at about 6 carat. And its collaboration with artist Daniel Arsham, which included a limited edition bracelet and a bronze eroded box sculpture, was priced at $40,000.
Then, there were concerns about ethics. Was the project a successful brand experiment or a shameless cash grab? A laudable marketing boost for Web3 stakeholders or a potential corporate overstep on NFT intellectual property grounds? (After some Twitter users expressed concerns over the legal language in the NFTiff’s terms of service, it was promptly revised.)
No consensus was reached. The most pressing question, perhaps, has less to do with the CryptoPunks collection and more with the brand itself. If this is “not your mother’s Tiffany,” then who does she belong to? Only Arnault can answer that, although the young scion seems disinterested in maintaining tradition. While at RIMOWA, he adopted the streetwear playbook for the century-old luggage brand, introducing collaborations with Supreme, Off White, and Fendi. Fine jewelry, however, carries more emotional cachet than luxury luggage. Buyers want a story. They don’t care about hype. They want to fall in love.
Tiffany flirted briefly with Beyoncé and Jay-Z as the regal faces of its “About Love” campaign, balancing Breakfast at Tiffany’s nostalgia with an iconoclastic fantasy of modern glamor, complete with a Basquiat painting as the backdrop. Its Instagram presence heavily centers celebrity-ambassadors like Hailey Bieber, Lady Gaga, and Rosé from BLACKPINK. But Arnault seems to intuit that stars can’t be the brand’s sole conduits — especially not if he wants Tiffany to be “present everywhere,” always “entrenched in people’s minds,” as he has said.
If you love Dirt, we could use your insights! Take our 3-minute survey here.
For Tiffany to be everywhere, she must be for everyone, from A-listers to NFT owners. Is it possible, though, for the brand to be classic and modern; American and chic (“We are not a nation of chic women,” fashion designer Elizabeth Hawes once declared); exclusive and accessible?
The CryptoPunks collaboration might be the best evidence of this incongruity. While the NFTiff drop was widely announced on Twitter, it escaped mention on the brand’s Instagram page and website. The branding of the NFT Tiffany page, too, seems clunky and unsophisticated relative to the official site, blending together a peculiar mishmash of fonts. It exposed some reluctance on behalf of a brand attempting to chameleon its way into pleasing every kind of customer. It reminded me a bit of the mid-2010s collaboration frenzy between luxury houses and fast fashion brands: H&M x Moschino; KAWS x Uniqlo (ft. Sesame Street).
In those cases, as with CryptoPunks, the collaboration was hollow publicity. It was a superficial attempt at crafting something new. Artifice was masquerading as fashion, logos blurring together into something recognizable but devoid of meaning.
Arnault is aware of the scrutiny. “The brand is looked at with binoculars and sniper guns,” he told the Wall Street Journal in February, “and people are really waiting to see what we’re doing.” Beyond its solipsistic advertising to die-hard CryptoPunk fans, Tiffany has made a disappointing case for luxury wearable NFTs. By being a brand for everyone, Tiffany runs the risk of losing sight of itself. — Terry Nguyen
The Dirt: Pixels are a girl’s best friend???
Thanks for reading Dirt! Subscribe for free.