insider goods

What to Buy to Look Like: A Crazy Rich Asian

Hong Kong heiress Eleanor Lam

Status can be a funny thing. Of course its most obvious iteration comes with shiny hardware and easily recognizable logos, but it gets far more interesting as you narrow it down to the more opaque signals — when the way you tuck your shirt, or what you eat for breakfast, or your particular brand of notebook can mark you as in or out. And of course, what counts as a status item varies wildly across human tribes. In our series, Insider Goods, we’re talking to tribe members (some with their real names, some anonymously) to find out the status items among art-gallery assistants, or Broadway actors, or architects. This time, Kevin Kwan, the author of the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy, schools us on the status objects of the Crazy Rich Asians (or CRAs).

“When it comes to luggage, old-money CRAs love Globe-Trotter, though preferably handed down from their grandparents rather than something brand new. For new-money CRAs, it’s all about a customized Goyard or Hermès weekend bag hand-painted by Heart Evangelista, who’s a Filipino actress and accomplished painter. Then, of course, they’ll post about all the fabulous places they’re going on their Instagram, which should have at least 100,000 followers.”

“Many old-money CRA women will buy cheap underwear from local chain shops like Marks & Spencer because it represents something of a bargain. To write, they won’t use a Montblanc pen but something free they took from a doctor’s office or hotel room. They’ll take pride in flying economy and talk derisively of people who fly business and would rather stay in a Holiday Inn or Best Western than the Four Seasons George V — then brag about how they got a great deal on a hotel room. The less money they spent, the bigger the bragging rights. That’s its own status.”

“Old-money CRAs love anything sensible and orthopedic. For everyday use, you’ll see them in simple shoes like Clarks or Arche. But for dressier special occasions, they’ll wear Roger Vivier or Ferragamo shoes, but the older, the better: ‘I bought these Viviers the first time I went to Paris in 1974.’”

“I think the markers are really subtle for CRAs and not really things that you can see. When you have a billion dollars, it’s not that big a deal anymore to have things. It’s more about having a family foundation — some philanthropy arm that gives money away — or owning your own private museum or having your son go to Harvard. When it comes to things, though, a Birkin means nothing — rarity is the commodity. For old and new money, the world of vintage watches has blown up. CRAs want the Rolex Daytona Panda Paul Newman or a rare ’50s or ’40s Patek Philippe. It’s about pedigree. It’s not enough to have the brand. You need to have the essence of the brand. So you can be able to say, “There are only 35 watches of this 1954 reference chronograph and I have one of them.”

This item is no longer available, but if you still want to spend several thousand dollars on a vintage watch here is another option.

“Wine collecting and having your own wine cave and wine stashes are still a status symbol. You have to have the best French wine in the world. Romanée-Conti is the label everyone wants. I’m not a wine guy, but the Conti is only available in a tiny region of Burgundy and there are only six vineyards or something left making it. Again, the value is in its rarity.”

“For women, a ball gown by Giambattista Valli is probably the ultimate designer dress, though of course it’s not really about just going to the department store and buying one but having an appointment with Giamba himself, who’ll design something just for you for the occasion.”

“As far as handbags, Chanel is still the number-one brand for CRA women in China. Funnily enough, Chanel actually upped its prices by 25 percent last year in Asia and sales actually increased because it was seen as even more exclusive and high status. That’s what separated it from Gucci and Dior and what have you.”

“For men, the custom bespoke suit from a Savile Row tailor like Gieves & Hawkes or Huntsman or Anderson & Sheppard are the status symbols because when you go to London to have your fittings, it’s not just a one and done. You have to have three or four fittings throughout a year because the shoulder needs to be adjusted. So to have the luxury of time and availability to continuously travel back for your custom suit is a real signifier.”

“If you’re after an Italian cut suit, the go-to label is Cesare Attolini, but for the less-well-heeled crazy rich Asians, there’s a brand called Stefano Ricci, which wasn’t really well known until it blew up in Asia. It’s super-blingy menswear that the mainland China CRAs are crazy 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 women’s jeans, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, ultra-flattering pants, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

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What to Buy to Look Like: A Crazy Rich Asian