About a month ago, as I was attending a press preview for the jewelry designer Millie Savage, I noticed a commotion on the other side of a vitrine housing some $300 cocaine spoons. The cause: a key chain dangling from another guest’s handbag that resembled a metallic snake winding around a slim BIC lighter. A second attendee said she’d seen three walking around the city that day, to which the first replied, pouting, that she’d have to stop using hers.
Call it confirmation bias, but since that night, I, too, have clocked frequent appearances of the Serpent Lighter Holder, designed by Chen Chen and Kai Williams from their 2018 collaboration with the accessories brand KARA. In fact, after I left the aforementioned event, I counted two more: one swinging from a Fendi Baguette dupe and another from the zipper of a mini-Kipling. A third appeared outside Leo in Williamsburg, on what I like to imagine was a post–San Giuseppe, pre-soft-serve cig break.
When I started asking around to figure out why this three-inch coil of stainless steel — it’s almost always the stainless-steel version, though it does come in brass — seems to have taken downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn by storm, everyone agreed that sometime in the last four months to a year, the word-of-mouth exposure and peer-to-peer copying that make a trend finally reached a saturation point. Unfortunately, no one could pinpoint a patient zero. (Fabiana Faria of Coming Soon says she can’t recall seeing a celebrity post it.) But I heard plenty of anecdotal evidence that supported my own observations.
“I’ve been to some art shows where there were definitely skate bros — who are not carrying handbags — and they’re like, ‘Oh, I have one of those,’” says Sarah Law, the founder and creative director of KARA. “It’s not particularly specific,” she continues, which might explain why it’s been circulating in fashion, design, and yes, skate circles — disparate (but sometimes overlapping) scenes. Meanwhile, Chen says the design duo is tagged every other day in Instagram photos of the key chain by “Japanese teenagers with 100 followers.” (When I looked through their tagged pics to see who else might have bought the lighter holder, I did confirm that there are a lot of pics by preternaturally well-dressed Japanese youths — and some Engineered Garment dudes, as well as a few little shirt, big pants women.) My colleague Simone even spotted one in Cleveland at Cent’s, a pizzeria with an adjoining shop; Vince Morelli, the owner and a former Bushwick resident, says it’s a best seller.
Evan Scott, the manager of retail and merchandising at the Noguchi Museum Shop, which sells the key chain, chalks the popularity up to its playful, clever design: “a snake polished down to its essential, abstract shape” that makes a quotidian object at once prettier and more personal than its unadorned self. (You pick the lighter color that shows through the spiral; Scott says pink and blue are the most popular at Noguchi.)
Its aesthetic, Faria points out, is also very much in line with the spinning drain of a Y2K revival we’re in right now — and with that, an uptick in smoking versus vaping. “I think people just want more physical connection with their objects because we’re living in this digital age,” Williams says. “And what’s more physical than the ability to create fire?” Or more romantic. I don’t smoke (except outside Bossa), but I always carry one in case someone hot asks for a light. Even if they’re a dud, at least the serpent holder makes it a lot harder for them to pocket your BIC.
Some other niche accessories we’ve written about
The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.