Sorry Hygge, You’re Out: How Fugu Became The New High Luxury
Introducing fugu: the lifestyle buzzword you didn’t know you already knew about. As affluent farmers rise to the glitzy echelons of the Instagram elite and we become gripped by a global drive towards self-sufficiency, we explore the new optics of luxury in an evermore environmentally conscious world.
22 May, 2020
Sorry hygge, you're out. Lagom? Let's not even comment on wabi-sabi. You heard it here first: 2020 is all about fugu. Put simply, it's the year we hark back to a simpler time by reviving lost crafts and reconnecting with the Earth. It's the year that self-sufficiency becomes the new high luxury and that our pursuit of such a lifestyle plays out online through a stream of Instagram-enabled humblebraggery.
Fugu has been around for a while, used in China to describe a subculture of millennials who are reviving historical traditions. According to Professor Yang Chunmei at Qufu Normal University, Chinese millennials at the less extreme end of the fugu-metre are draping themselves in hanfu (oversized gowns which date back to 1600 BCE) and dabbling in osmanthus wine, while the most die-hard are absconding to far-flung provinces, trading in electric cars for mules and fast food for earthy fare yanked from the soil and prepared according to ancient tradition.
One of fugu's foremost proponents is Liziqi, an Instagram influencer like none other. Each new post in her grid is a diorama of mottled wildflowers and bowing blossom trees. At the centre of each tableau, there she is, swathed in organza, furs or silk - usually astride a horse and, almost always, sporting a wicker cornucopia basket spewing forth powder-pink blooms.
There couldn't be a better publicist for China's remote provinces. In fact, so faultlessly idyllic is the picture that Liziqi paints, some cynics have surmised she could be an agent of the Chinese government designed to lure the cities' digital natives out to the countryside where they might work, in far less 'grammable conditions, as farmhands.
But the trend isn't confined to China. In recent years, a new genre of affluent aesthete-farmer influencers such as Julius Roberts (pictured below) and Charlie McCormick have gained traction, feeding our appetite for a pre-industrial lifestyle by sharing snippets of their daily routines to wannabe countryphiles. Simple livelihoods that might have been perceived as boring only five years ago have become imbued with a certain glamour and we're replicating them at home, albeit on smaller scales, by planting micro-kitchen gardens and brewing bathtubs of elderflower champagne.
For a taste of British fugu, try following Arthur Parkinson, Luke Edward Hall and Alice Naylor-Leyland, for starters. The shambolic but charming landscapes? The endless troughs of hand-tilled veg? The dip-dyed sunsets? Like Constable paintings of the 19th century, these accounts present a pastoral vision of country life - one where the grass looks far greener on the other side, VSCO filters notwithstanding.
Art historian Dr Cadence Kinsey sees fugu as part of the cult of wholesomeness. "While there is obviously a very specific Chinese context that needs to be considered," she says, "reasons for why this phenomenon might be spreading in Europe and the US could be because it resonates with all sorts of pre-existing trends, from digital detox to clean eating.
"It's a kind of paradox," she continues, "where we see the representation of a desire to somehow 'switch off' and 'reconnect with nature' but one that is nevertheless mediated or delivered by technology."
The paradoxes of fugu are manifold. At its core, fugu is high luxury camouflaged by fraying seams and wibbly-wobbly upholstery. While it has the aesthetics of accessibility, to fugu-fy one's life can be incredibly costly - both in time and finances. It requires a flexible working schedule, plenty of rural land and an income sufficient enough to buy all of the tools and devices necessary to Do It Yourself.
With a climate crisis constantly on the boil, there's surely no better virtue signal than to present as self-sufficient. Where once we put aside money to buy branded goods, now we're diverting those funds to learn the ancient skills necessary to make our own and lusting after the perceived lifestyle associated with doing so.
Perhaps fugu is an attempt to extricate ourselves from the ecological issues of mass consumption, or a response to urban lifestyles now tarnished by The C Word. Perhaps the push to fugu-fy our lives is actually a completely bonkers but stealthy anti-pandemic strategy initiated by the WHO. If so, somebody ought to give their content strategist a medal.
For those who've spent lockdown churning out banana bread recipes and cultivating seedlings, it's too late to muse on exactly why and how fugu's taken hold. Rinse down those wellington boots, lint-roll your fleece and auto-adjust your filters. Sourdough starters at the ready, folks: 2020 is the year of fugu, whether you like it or not.