How Sotheby’s Embraces the Power of ‘Art-Lennials’

This week, Hong Kong is heaven for art-lovers and fashionistas — two segments that are increasingly interconnected at an unprecedented pace in China. The vibrant, metropolitan city offers art lovers a glimpse into their favorite artists’ collaborations with luxury fashion brands, while also allowing fashionistas to visit exhibitions or art-related initiatives created by their beloved labels.

The intersection of art and luxury seems to be inevitable. More and more luxury brands have acknowledged the power of art to connect with China’s millennials and Generation Z, creating an authentic and unique experience for them. Some profound examples from this week are Prada’s Prada Mode, a members-only private club that celebrates art, food, and fashion, and Moncler’s art summit, which is to unveil the latest “Genius” collection by Hiroshi Fujiwara. Looking back, the success of Louis Vuitton’s “Volez, Voguez, Voyagez” museum and Gucci’s “The Artist is Present” exhibition in Shanghai last year both boosted the popularity of brands among Chinese luxury shoppers.

The connection should flow in both ways, though. The art world should benefit from this intersection as much as the luxury side has. It’s actually happening, but there is still a great deal of potential yet to be unleashed. Some traditional power players, such as Sotheby’s, see the urgency of adjusting their business models and adapting to a digital-first mindset to cater to the rising “Art-Lennials” generation, who purchase art through the same digital means as they purchase luxury goods. And during this process, there are a lot of lessons to learn from the luxury sector.

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In collaboration with Jing Daily, Sotheby’s hosted its first-ever luxury summit on March 29 to explore the “Future of Luxury: E-commerce in Asia,” as a way to kick off its bi-annual Hong Kong Spring Sales 2019. The half-day conference mixed art and luxury, as evidenced by its speakers lineup, which included keynote speaker contemporary artist Daniel Arsham, as well as Sotheby’s CMO David Goodman, and luxury industry heavyweights like LVMH Asia President Andrew Wu and Farfetch‘s Greater China Managing Director Judy Liu.

Tad Smith, CEO of Sotheby's, was giving an opening remark of the conference. Photo: Sotheby's

Tad Smith, CEO of Sotheby’s, was giving an opening remark. Photo: Sotheby’s

“Sotheby’s is not only curating luxury, but creating luxury,” said Tad Smith, CEO of the 275-year-old auction house during the opening remarks, setting the tone of the conference, as well as the company’s direction into the future.

The conference explored the behaviors and preferences of China’s digitally-savvy consumers and ways to attract them — a conundrum that both the luxury and art industries are facing. Topics included why having an online presence is no longer enough for brands, and China’s cross-border e-commerce market and the challenges that artificial intelligence can bring to brands. Through hours of discussions, the two industries saw that they share a lot of similar problems and challenges and have the same target group of audiences, be it consumers and shoppers, or collectors and bidders.

Sotheby’s foray into luxury business has only just begun to unfold. At this critical stage of art and luxury coming together, and as all companies strive to create uniqueness in the ever-burgeoning Chinese market, the hand-in-hand relationship between luxury and art will continue to grow, and their strength and significance will only grow further for companies like Sotheby’s.

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Art & Auction