Fifteen years ago, popular culture was saturated with rich kid content — think: “The Hills,” “My Super Sweet 16” and “The Simple Life.” Simply put, excess was in style. Today, amid a global pandemic, fashion and beauty are significantly lower key. Still, that doesn’t mean luxury is totally out of style.
Take the latest trend on TikTok (across a variety of ages): that of buying the #cheapestthing from brands like Chanel, Gucci, Prada, and Hermès. That includes everything from keychains to lip gloss. Of course, even if you buy a simple lip gloss, luxury brands still supply luxury packaging, which makes for a postable social media moment. There’s no shame attached to buying the “cheapest thing” for a TikTok post — in fact, it’s a badge of honor. The hashtag has 119,100 views and counting.
Some users are using the trend as an opportunity to promote their own DIY projects featuring the designer tchotchkes. For example, Steffie In The City, aka Steffie Price, bought a $50 key chain from Prada with the intention of transforming it into a necklace. “It was $50, but trust me, this one actually has major potential…It is actually meant for a keychain, but I’m going to attempt to DIY it into a necklace. Hit plus [meaning: like the post] if you want to see how,” she said in the video. The video has 7 million views.
Glossy Pop spoke to Price about why she thinks these videos are resonating with her followers. “I noticed that TikToks with luxury items always tend to pop off, and featuring a product that’s actually reasonably priced is especially exciting to the young audience that is on TikTok,” Price said.
To Syama Meagher, CEO of Scaling Retail, the trend — particularly when you add the DIY element to the mix — references the culture of remixing, she said, like Gucci collaborating with The North Face last year. Ultimately, Meagher sees this content as being beneficial to the luxury brands and, essentially, free advertising and increased brand awareness for companies whose main customer bases are less active on social.
“Luxury brands understand that the way to take a customer through their lifecycle — going from people who are looking from afar to consumers, then to brand loyalists — really comes from being where they’re at,” Meagher said, “So even though Gucci will probably always advertise predominantly to luxury consumers, there’s a reason why they’ve done these collaborations that make the brand more mainstream. Luxury brands are trying to tread the line between keeping their luxury brand value and appealing to a more mass-market consumer.”
On the creator side, a “cheapest thing” video makes a statement. It cuts through some of the velvet rope that can encircle these staid luxury brands, which have for years been surrounded by airs of inaccessibility. “It’s like, ‘I too am a luxury consumer. I might make $35,000 a year, but I too can buy luxury,'” said Meagher. “That’s a really big statement. That’s basically saying that luxury brands are not untouchable to me.”
And finally, there’s the unboxing element. One of the fun things about ordering directly from Chanel’s website, for example, is that no matter what you order, you’re treated to a luxurious unboxing experience. “A lot of people will also buy the cheapest thing just to get the box or packaging to put on a display as a flex,” Price said.
In contrast, those who first popularized unboxing videos on YouTube typically did so in a room full of high fashion. “To me, this feels way more like a subculture statement about being able to engage in luxury and it being super accessible, whether or not the luxury brands want them to be their consumer,” Meagher said.
And ultimately, she said, these smaller sales still benefit the luxury brands, which can have a hard time staying relevant. “From a marketing and brand awareness perspective, I don’t think it’s bad news for these luxury brands. After all, you could go to Canal Street and buy a damn knockoff, right? They’re not buying the knockoff; they actually want to own a piece of the brand. And that means that they are the brand loyalists,” she said.
As for Price, she knew she was on to something with that Prada keychain DIY. “I knew it would go viral because I was combining the luxury trend, the ‘cheapest thing’ trend and the DIY trend all in one video. It was something so affordable and easy enough for anyone to do that it went kind of crazy. To this day, that keychain is still sold out in the original black color!”