Snob sites

Gucci, diamonds, vintage watches -- with the Web awash in luxury goods sites, the rich needn't leave home to shop for baubles.


Mark Gimein
September 22, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

If you make yourself say it with just the right Eton accent, wrapping it in a kind of vocal layer of cashmere, drawing out the vicuna-cloaked sibilance of it, you might evoke the snobbish pleasure of the name "Ashford.com."

Ashford.com is -- as you may have guessed if you have an ear for highbrow-sounding brand names coined by marketers -- an online vendor of ritzy items for the hoity-toity set. Preparing to go public as early as Thursday, Ashford.com is an early entrant into what is probably the next big Web race.

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Internet retailing and the burgeoning incomes of the upper class are two trends that go together as surely as milk and Oreos. The big luxury brands are moving to the Web as quickly as they can. Conglomerate LVMH (or Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey -- let that trip off your tongue) is set to launch Boo.com, and if, darling, you're just dying for the latest Gucci, you can slip into Gucci.com. A gaggle of New York financiers have teamed up to launch Luxuryfinder.com, and they've even come up with a nifty new tag line for their customers: "Generation Luxe."

And that's just the beginning. Ashford.com is for watches and other accessories. (Ashford.com originally had the URL Watches.com, but that apparently didn't carry enough cachet; after all, it's not about the watch, it's about the lifestyle.) Ashford's specialty is vintage watches, with a 1940s Omega selling at $997.50 -- whew, glad it's not $1,000. There's Guild.com, a site that sells high-end contemporary crafts, and then there's Internet Diamonds. In the mid-tier, there's 2Jewelry, with thousand-dollar necklaces.

Without fail, these new sites carry advertising copy that soothes with that adjective-rich soft focus we have come to expect from luxury marketing. "For over two thousand years," announces Gift-ties.com, "men have won the affections of women by offering them something vibrant, sensual, soft, rich with color and straight from the heart. Now it's his turn."

OK, bad example. Nothing will make the gift of a tie particularly personal, but you get the idea.

So does all this sell?

The answer, smarmy marketing copy or not, is yes. The Guild.com says that the site has sold a $15,000 painting -- "Seeing the Moment" by Brad Durham -- in its first months of operations. Ashford.com sold $3.6 million of accessories last quarter, and the profit margins on this stuff look awfully good. (Full disclosure: I myself have purchased a filet mignon dinner over the Internet.)

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Already insulated from pretty much everything else, the wealthy can now use the Web to insulate themselves even from the necessity of shopping with other rich people.


Mark Gimein

Mark Gimein is a staff writer for Salon Technology.

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