These days, it seems, we no longer get a kick from mere champagne. Now it has to come in a limited-edition designer bottle.
A HONG KONG BANKER recently received a hand-delivered gift from a client, a bottle of champagne by a prestigious French house. Far from being delighted with this generous gesture, the jaded recipient shot back a sarcastic thank-you note. 'I gave it to my secretary,' it read. 'Next time, send Cristal.'
Rude? Definitely. Surprising? Not really. In the past champagne was reserved for grand celebrations and special occasions, but now it has become the standard drink at parties and for consumers who are conditioned to expect the very best, it just doesn't have the sparkle any more. For that reason, presentation counts more than ever these days, and we're not talking about those cute fabric wine bags.
Enter collector's bottles and novelties dreamed up by luxury-brand designers for the champagne houses. In 2005, designer Karl Lagerfeld was invited to restyle a limited-edition series of Dom Perignon Vintage 1998. He adorned each bottle with golden studs (intended to represent bubbles), encased it in a signed, individually numbered, semi-opaque jewel case, and dubbed it A Bottle Named Desire. All that for HK$20,000 (sold exclusively in Hong Kong at Lane Crawford).
Moet & Chandon chose a more affordable approach. The Star of the Night Brut Imperial bottle twinkles with a constellation of crystals by Swarovski. It first appeared as a designer's limited edition for Colette, a trendy Paris boutique, and is now available in various sizes at City'super, Oliver's, and Watson's Wine Cellar (HK$450 to HK$1,150). The same retailers sell the Veuve Clicquot City Traveller (HK$498), which allows you to carry a chilled half bottle (375ml) and two champagne flutes with you wherever you go. Its advertisement is styled as a fashion campaign, positioning the yellow neoprene champagne cooler as an 'it' bag carried by gorgeous models through the streets of Paris. The fashion connection is not entirely new. In 1932, Louis Vuitton conceived the Noe shoulder bag to transport champagne bottles long before it became the fashion classic it is today.
It's not just fashion designers who are being employed by the champagne houses. This year, Veuve Clicquot collaborated with French interior architect and designer, Andree Putman to design a Grande Dame gift box (available in Hong Kong this month), while Dom Perignon veered towards an industrial look with the uber-cool designer Marc Newson. Its novelty luxury is a 70cm-tall rendition of the traditional bottle in Newson's signature neon green. 'I wanted to create something very, very bold and at the same time functional,' explains Newson, who has collaborated with everyone from Samsonite to Qantas. Lift the lid, and it functions as an insulated champagne bucket. Leave it closed, and you have a sculptural piece for the home. That's what one couple did. As a wedding present, the bride-to-be presented it to her fiance, a long-time Newson fan. After the celebrations concluded, they placed the signed, 'very-limited edition' vessel in the living room with their art collection.
At HK$10,000, it is one of the lower-priced collectibles in the Dom Perignon range. Others include a luxury case containing a Methuselah (equal to eight bottles) for HK$90,000 and the world's most expensive Jeroboam (equal to four bottles) filled with Dom Perignon Vintage 1995 and encased in white gold for HK$120,000. Only one of each is available.
Krug thought bigger. For the second year running it has collaborated with bespoke trunk-maker Pinel & Pinel to create a series of handmade, limited-edition cases for the most discerning bon vivants. Each extravagant Escape Artist Collection trunk (HK$150,000, sold exclusively in Hong Kong at Lane Crawford) is covered and lined with fine leather and contains two bottles of Krug, four Baccarat crystal glasses, a stopper, a champagne cooler and a secret drawer. This year, they have also produced the Ultimate Maverick Champagne Carrier: Krug Grand Cuvee & Gambling Set; The Ultimate Epicurean Champagne Carrier: Krug Vintage 1995 & Cigars; and The Ultimate True Aesthete Champagne Carrier: Krug Rose & Samsung MP3. Only 10 of each exist. If that doesn't satisfy the modern day dandy, nothing will.