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Fueled by the need to adapt to the impact of the pandemic and attract more digitally-savvy young consumers, auction houses have been diversifying their businesses beyond public auctions and private sales. Emerging strategies include collaborations along with livestreams and virtual events. In February 2021, Sotheby’s partnered with Italian luxury brand Bvlgari for its “Masters Week” auction. The event included a livestream, “From Bernini to Bvlgari: The Beauty of Baroque,” featuring Bvlgari’s creative director for jewelry, Sotheby’s executives, and a British art historian discussing the background behind a piece at auction. Bvlgari also provided items of jewelry worn by some of Sotheby’s specialists during the auction.
Another innovation from auction houses has been the move towards establishing online sales channels that enable direct-to-consumer e-commerce, which goes hand in hand with the expansion of categories on offer to buyers. Sotheby’s launched its Buy Now platform in December 2020, allowing customers to instantly purchase fixed-price luxury items. The product categories are diverse, covering jewelry, art, sneakers, and rare wines and spirits and are drawing the next wave of buyers, according to Cynthia Houlton, VP and global head of fashion and accessories at Sotheby’s. “Buy Now is definitely a source of new customers for Sotheby’s with more than 50 percent of the Buy Now channel buyers being first time Sotheby’s customers,” she said.
The auction house is expanding its Hong Kong-based fashion team, “so we can better understand the demand for luxury fashion in China and how to best position for the growing Chinese Cultural Consumers,” said Houlton.
In May, Sotheby’s collaborated with Spanish luxury brand Loewe to offer a series of handmade traditional Galician-style chestnut roasting baskets, called the Loewe Weaves series. Highlighting Loewe’s emphasis on craftsmanship, the pieces were reinterpreted by artists, including Min Chen from China, who used innovative weaving techniques. The collection was made available for purchase via Buy Now, making Loewe the first major luxury brand to cooperate with Sotheby’s on the platform.
Sotheby’s also announced a collaboration in June with Chinese pop music icon Jay Chou, who is also an art collector and aficionado, to mark the debut of Sotheby’s “Contemporary Curated” auction series in Asia. Chou’s involvement was clearly aimed at broadening the auction house’s presence among a wide audience — Chou has 6.4 million followers on Instagram and more than 30 million followers on short video platform Kuaishou, home to his only official mainland Chinese social media account.
Chou served as exhibition designer, with an untitled 1985 work by Jean-Michel Basquiat as the highlight. It went for HKD 290 million ($37.3 million), and all 46 lots were sold for a total of HKD 846 million ($109 million), eclipsing the pre-sale estimate. In addition, the auction featured three sets of custom-made Moschino outfits worn by Chou during his Invincible world tour (2016-2018), with the proceeds going to charity. Through the collaboration, Sotheby’s integrated entertainment and art to reimagine the possibilities for fine art auctions.
Get your copy of “Chinese Cultural Consumers: The Future of Luxury” here.