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.

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.

Chinese influencer, Liziqi | Photos by

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
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
, Luke Edward
and Alice
, 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

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

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.

Julius Roberts

Aesthete-farmer influencer, Julius Roberts |
Photos by @telltalefood

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.

Discover More
How (and Why) to Start Your Own Sustainable Micro Kitchen Garden