Fashion and luxury brands can dabble in the Web3 world in myriad ways, from kiddie breakfast cereals to bespoke fine jewelry, a Paris audience heard Wednesday.
The first step, however, is to nudge consumers past the fear of digital currencies and/or the fear of digital assets being stolen.
“Once you’re past this, and you understand the mechanics of how it works, I think the audience is huge because NFTs and digital assets can touch every single category,” Alexandre Arnault, executive vice president for product and communication at Tiffany & Co., said during a panel discussion at the Ledger Op3n Paris 2022 conference, and mentioning art and token-gated rooms as examples.
“Now what I think we all have to work collectively to do is, how to break the barrier, and how to get people excited about it and not scared anymore,” he told an audience of about 250 people gathered at the Gaîté Lyrique event space. About 1,400 people attended the two-day Ledger event, organized by a company that bills itself as a leader in digital asset security and utility.
Arnault stressed that family-controlled luxury group LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, parent of Tiffany, Dior, Fendi, Loewe and other brands, is very entrenched in high-quality, physical products.
“NFTs and digital products are a way for us to talk to the audience that spends half their day on their phone or on Roblox or whatever, just so that we can stay in their minds and stay relevant,” he said. “When we were their age, we’d be at the mall and now they’re all on these platforms.”
A gold necklace glinted over Arnault’s black turtleneck as he spoke: an example of the bespoke Tiffany necklaces 250 fellow CryptoPunk owners will begin receiving over the next days, each pendant handcrafted in U.S.-based workshops to resemble their personalized crypto artworks.
“We sold out pretty quickly,” Arnault said, calling it a “fun way as a 175-year-old brand to connect with a new audience.”
Arnault noted that a lot of non-fungible-token projects to date have been connected to “merch like hoodies,” while Tiffany opted to “do it at a very exclusive level, at the uppermost quality level using gold and stones and not just fleece…. I think selling out was the proof that it was well received by holders.”
Ian Rogers, chief experience officer at Ledger, moderated the conversation, speaking like a peer to Arnault, since Rogers had worked for five years at LVMH as its chief digital officer before moving over to the start-up specializing in protecting digital assets.
“Someone in our group once said that we won’t be selling $20 sneakers in the metaverse,” Arnault related, a veiled reference to his father and LVMH chairman and chief executive officer Bernard Arnault, who made the remark last January at LVMH’s 2021 results presentation in Paris.
The younger Arnault stressed that the luxury giant wouldn’t jump into the metaverse “just to be gimmicky” and if it does one day partially, “it would be in a differentiated way” from what brands do in physical stores.
Rogers said the sneaker quote is often repeated to him, but most people miss the point that “it’s about the quality of what you do in this space, not about whether you do or you don’t. The same person who gave the world that quote also showed me their OpenSea profile and the NFTs in their collection.”
Arnault cautioned that it’s difficult to create high-quality things online “because replicating the craft, replicating the DNA and all these things takes a lot of energy, so I think that’s one of the reasons why we haven’t really totally mastered it.”
Still, Rogers noted that the Web3 world of digital assets — based on craft, belonging, aesthetics and scarcity — have much in common with the luxury goods and art worlds.
Yoon Ahn and Verbal, cofounders of Japanese fashion brand Ambush, talked up their recent forays in the metaverse and what they anointed the “breakfastverse” — a collaboration with Reese’s Puffs, allowing them to get their brand name and content in front of a young, mass audience.
Ambush designed a limited-edition cereal box and offered an interactive online experience. Ahn characterized the project as a no-stress way to introduce people to the Web3 world.
“I don’t want to push the hierarchy that we often see in the fashion. This is more of a way to make it a little bit more softer and easier, so that people don’t get intimidated,” she said, lamenting that the fashion crowd, so tethered to physical things, often has an “allergic reaction” to NFTs and crypto.
While some brands are still taking a wait-and-see approach to Web3 and the metaverse, Ahn advocated a “develop and see” approach.
“Have a vision on how you want to utilize it, and what you want to develop as some content, and then you should start making those things,” she suggested. “This is such a new space. And there’s no right or wrong way of doing. It’s just literally just software and it’s just a platform. Just think about what you want to build.”
Ahn mentioned as an example a sweatshirt Ambush did with Azuki which was embedded with a “physical back token” or chip. “It’s so wide how you can use that chip and what you can program into it. I just want to see if people get more creative with what they want to do with it, rather than just waiting for a case to happen.
“There’s so many different ways of consuming and enjoying what fashion could be, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” she added.
American artist Nina Chanel Abney said she helps other contemporary artists enter the NFT space and has her own collection of more than 5,000 NFTs called Super Cool World.
“It allows me to to connect better with the audience than Instagram,” she said. “I’m interested in working digitally to reach a younger audience. I mean, we’re on our phones half the day, so it only makes sense that artwork would be viewed eventually in a more digital capacity.”