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Entrepreneur Nicole Steel is on a mission to fuse old-world craftsmanship with Web3 technology, in an effort to fight against counterfeiting and onboard more people to blockchain by speaking their language.
On Tuesday evening during Paris Haute Couture Week, she unveiled a collection of luxury connected cuffs for the Apple Watch—the latest product offering from La Maison Steel, the brand she founded in 2019.
Her “born on blockchain” SmrtKuffs—which start at $290—range from entry-level leathers from French tanneries through exotics, all the way to a limited edition, made-to-order high jewelry version crafted by a Paris-based atelier.
That rendition features over 400 VVS diamonds totaling 2.5 carats, set in white gold palladium and requiring some 136 hours of hand workmanship. The cuffs are designed so that Apple’s smartwatch can be worn under the wrist, so your messages don’t flash up for all to see.
Where exotic leathers are concerned—all International Crocodilians Farmers Association certified—the digital passports feature a product’s CITES certification, i.e. the additional permit necessary for trade with certain species, ensuring sustainability and traceability.
“I love old-world craftsmanship and luxury but I wanted to connect it with blockchain technology and the value that brings,” said Steel, the former real estate investment analyst, citing concerns about the global counterfeit market as the genesis of the idea.
“I really want to be a part of that solution,” she said. In fact, the area has always proved of interest—the subject of Steel’s senior thesis was international money laundering.
Steel’s Paris presentation also introduced the limited edition bag line where her blockchain native brand began. The bags start at just shy of $10,000 apiece. Like the SmrtKuffs, they are also NFC chip-enabled, and the most exclusive of the bags are sold with additional NFT digital twins.
Steel was motivated by a combination of aesthetics and pragmatism. While she’s “obsessed with data” and has always been a fan of wearable smart devices, Steel was “absolutely offended by the look of them,” she told Decrypt.
She was also conscious of the need to onboard more people—women in particular—to blockchain technology.
“I wanted to ease people in by speaking their language,” she said. “People shut down if it’s not on their terms, so I thought, why not just slide it in there? You scan the NFC chip just like you’d do a menu.”
This is why, in part, she’s targeting owners of the Apple Watch who already possess a certain degree of technical savvy. The other reason, of course, is Apple’s dominance of the smartwatch market with over 200 million sold to date, she notes.
The fact that the digital IDs are also Apple Wallet compatible means that it’s not such a leap for people already accustomed to holding credit cards or Web2 loyalty cards there.
La Maison Steel’s Paris Haute Couture Week launch event took place at Paris’ Le Bristol. Earlier last year, the Oetker Group boutique hotel dropped Le Bristol Unlocked, its own exclusive NFT collection.
Ownership unlocks money-can’t-buy experiences related to gastronomy and hospitality, along with benefits such as access to the hotel’s rooftop pool typically reserved for guests, plus secret menus by Michelin-starred chef Éric Fréchon. Le Bristol collaborated with French startup metav.rs to launch the project.
The choice of venue was actually a coincidence, said Steel, who was unaware of Le Bristol’s move on-chain. She puts it down to serendipity, but going forward plans to explore synergies with the team.