Image: Gucci

On the heels of Gucci’s Executive VP of Brand and Customer Engagement Robert Triefus revealing that it is “only a matter of time” before luxury brands get in on the non-fungible token – or “NFT” – game, the Italian design house is offering up its first NFT as part of a newly-unveiled auction at Christie’s. Entitled, “PROOF OF SOVEREIGNTY: A Curated NFT Sale by Lady PheOnix,” the NFT-specific auction, which runs from May 25 to June 3, contains a single work from Gucci: a fashion film co-directed by creative director Alessandro Michele and award-winning photographer and director Floria Sigismondi.

Following from – and inspired by – the Milan-based brand’s recent Aria collection and the corresponding collection film, which was also created by Michele and Sigismondi, the new NFT work, “with its dream-like landscape and effervescent energy, marks a historic moment for the storied brand, as it bridges into a new media space,” according to the Christie’s listing, as first reported by Vogue Business. Christie’s further describes Gucci’s new offering as “speaking to Aria’s overarching message – that of a universal desire for renewal; a yearning to bloom and flourish after the shadow of winter has passed. Doors open as darkness yields to light and that long-awaited feast of air.” 

All of the proceeds of Gucci’s “Aria” NFT – bidding for which starts at $20,000 and which is being offered up alongside works from artists like KESH, Claudia Hart, Tamiko Thiel, Raf Grassetti, and Jeron Braxton, among others – will be donated to UNICEF USA to “support UNICEF’s role in COVAX, an initiative aimed at ensuring global equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.” 

THE BROAD VIEW: Gucci’s new NFT comes as luxury brands are embracing various tech opportunities, whether that be collaborations with digital gaming platforms, such as Roblox, or more recently, early steps by companies like jewelry-maker Jacob & Co. and LVMH-owned luggage brand Rimowa into the realm of non-fungible tokens. As for what is driving brands to experiment with NFTs (which are distinct from non-blockchain-linked virtual fashion items), it is not all that different from what pushes them to participate in other, more tangible art-centric projects: it is an chance to engage with luxury-seeking consumers in a different way than traditional advertising and marketing efforts.

More than that, though, these art-focused endeavors enable brands to build equity. “Luxury fashion brands know that they need a point – or better yet, multiple points – of differentiation” if they want to maintain their images of exclusivity and charge higher prices for their products, according to Alessia Grassi, a lecturer in marketing at the University of Huddersfield, who notes that studies “have suggested that an association with art allows commercial brands to be perceived as more luxurious.”

With that in mind, Grassi asserts that luxury brands have been “moving directly in the art field, as demonstrated by the stream of art-centric collaborations that appear on runways each season and/or in brands’ flagships across the globe,” as well as their establishment of art-centric foundations and museums, and their contributions to cultural endeavors. By way of foundations, as well as commission and residence programs, brands like Salvatore FerragamoTrussardiHermes, and Ermenegildo Zegna, among others, “are readily investing in art, and collecting valuable contemporary (sometimes modern) pieces.” The likes of Prada and Louis Vuitton have gone a step further with their respective Fondazione Prada in Milan and Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, “which may carry the names of fashion houses, but they are fully-fledged art galleries open to the public.”

While the future of NFTs is very much up in the air, it is no secret that the crypto market, as a whole, has been especially volatile as of late, and NFT “values in dollars will have fallen sharply,” in some cases, by more than 50 percent from April,” per Business Insider, prompting questions about whether the bubble has burst. “The NFT market boomed earlier this year, reaching a high of almost 49,000 sales a day in early March, as celebrities, artists and musicians tapped into the mania for digital work,” BI reported early this month. “Almost all NFT sectors saw a decline in terms of sales and dollars spent throughout April, although overall sales volume in dollars spiked again in early May, averaging over $176 million during the first week of the month.” 

Regardless of the potentially fleeting nature of NFT-tied art, one area where blockchain technology (and in some cases, NFT digital passports) may be taking a more permanent hold is in the tracing of luxury goods. In April, luxury goods titan LVMH revealed that it was preparing to start offering up Aura – a blockchain-hosted platform that it says will “serve the entire luxury industry with powerful product tracking and tracing services, based on Ethereum blockchain technology and utilizing Microsoft’s [cloud computing service]” – in an industry-wide capacity. In making such an announcement, LVMH revealed that Swiss conglomerate Richemont and Prada Group will join what it is calling the Aura Blockchain Consortium. 

The use of an industry-wide blockchain that securely holds information about luxury goods would “increase customer trust in the brands’ sustainable practices and product sourcing,” LVMH, Richemont, and Prada claimed in a joint statement last month.