Christmas has long had an indescribable mystique surrounding it. The presents that seem to magically appear around the tree that morning instill feelings of some supernatural power. Inside that sealed box is so much hope and so much mystery. Just before opening, there’s a palpable feeling of desire for what might be inside. And after the wrapping has been torn away, such notions are replaced by a rush of curiosity about the contents and an eagerness to put it to use.
Those holiday-like feelings come four times each year for members of Svbscription, one of the newest subscription-box services attempting to make a splash in a market already saturated by the likes of Birchbox and Shoedazzle. But if footwear or toiletries are your desire, you’re bound to be disappointed: there is no guarantee that you’ll crack open a Svbscription box and find the contents of Aisle 5 from your local drugstore.
Svbscription revolves around a quarterly theme, a premise claimed by markedly few within the subscription box world (Not Another Bill and The Thing are two others who offer similar ideas and ideals) and even fewer are intended for such a discerning clientele. Svbscription’s value is reflected in its price: $330 per box—Birchbox, for instance, goes for one-tenth of that price. In fact, the makers don’t even call it a box—it’s a parcel, and it’s filled with highly curated oddities, rarities and other heirlooms carefully selected by the Svbscription team.
They would know, too. The company is helmed by three guys with backgrounds in artistic opulence: CEO Andrew Apostola founded Portable, a creative agency that fuses technology with the art and fashion world; Sam Wheeler worked as a consultant for Hermes and Barney’s; Marc Goldenfein was formerly an editor for Australian alt-culture publication TheVine. They’re a crew of modern gentlemen, well-schooled in the Internet age, seeking to return and retune men to the spirit of a calmer and classier time, decades, even centuries past.
Each quarterly box begins editorially, with a mood board that hearkens to a theme. And it’s one of seasonal appropriateness. The first iteration of the quarterly service, launched in July, revolved around the summery ideal of travel. And just last month, the team released version two, based around the theme of “Study,” preparing men for a season cooped up working inside, taking refuge from the cold. Inside the darkwashed wooden box were four items that best embodied the idea, including a customized suede document case made by Loden Dager, a personalized, engraved cologne bottle from New York-based perfumery Le Labo, and a Kaweco ceramic fountain pen—with a real inkwell that is bound to make a sophisticated mess of your hands.
It’s a perfect hearkening back to the time of the Gilded Age: it’s hardly far-fetched to envision a Rockefeller or a Carnegie, saddled up to a handcrafted wooden desk at a posh New York manse, inking a deal worth millions. Even the styling of their name “Svbscription” invokes images of an Enlightenment thinker scrawling with a quill pen on parchment paper, an era so long past that even the alphabet featured fewer letters.
And if a box filled with such products makes your eyes roll, Apostola is very candid about Svbscription’s take-it-or-leave-it policy. He makes no apologies for each box’s highly curated contents, realizing that not every product will resonate with every man. “We provide things that are culturally relevant,” Apostola says. “It’s a journey that we’re guiding you through, and you’re not always going to get stuff that you like.” But getting one or two that make a lasting impression? Then they’ve done their job.
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It’s an aspirational service, but it’s not about the latest and greatest products. Indeed, Apostola says the most important word in their planning lexicon is timeless. “Why do you like that thing that your dad used to have on his desk? Why do you want that bequeathed to you?” he waxes. While they certainly seek to include useful items, he explains: “It’s not about the utility of a thing, but about the feeling or identity behind it.”
But the man Svbscription caters to doesn’t enjoy or doesn’t have time to browse the boutiques of Ginza or Bond Street to find items they connect with. “Guys like that idea of surprise—receiving something at the door,” Apostola says. In fact, they’ve found their ideal recipient is “more likely to crave an emotional connection with a brand by experiencing and holding the product.” And that can help build one’s bond with the company, not just the object itself, in the style of other subscription services. “We’re using the newfound confidence that consumers are having in using the Internet particularly to experiment with products,” Apostola says.
Critics have dubbed subscription services “lazy boxes” for encouraging people to let someone else choose their toiletries and have it all dropped on the doorstep by the postman. Questions have been raised about the sustainability of such subscription businesses—critics have cried that the companies aren’t actually selling anything except the fleeting notion of curation, and investors fear they could be plagued by the same woes as daily deal sites. But Svbscription remains optimistic about their staying power as they shun the simple aggregation process of nabbing things off a store shelf and instead scouring for previously unknown items, unearthing them like modern-day archaeologists.
Such digging doesn’t come cheap, with the $330-per-parcel cost bound to inspire some into simply shopping for themselves. But the timeless experience the curators invoke might make shelling out well worth it. That’s because this isn’t simply a cardboard box, or even a pretty package tied up with a bow — Christmas provides enough boxes wrapped in overly shiny, flowered paper. Svbscription parcels are packed in solid wooden boxes, making even the packaging feel part of the parcel, something to be saved and reused following the savoring of its contents. And the guys are cutting no corners. Svbscription V1 in July was preceded by a small curiosity sent in the mail: a mini crowbar, sent out a few weeks before the premier shipment, meant as a palate-teaser but asking the holder to guard it carefully. And upon receipt of the parcel two weeks later, its use was clear: the box, nailed shut, required manual labor to pry open.
As with any fledgling startup, the Svbscription folks are undergoing the standard growing pains. The second version took on a different look, less beachwood and more rich mahogany. It’s a seasonal shift, for sure, but also one of preference. “People preferred less rather than more,” Apostola says, so they included four products instead of five in the second iteration. “They wanted more bigger pieces, and they’re substantial items.”
And now the crew is gearing up for their third version, offering a limited edition this time of 300 parcels. The theme of “Leisure” launches in December, and subscriptions—pardon us, svbscriptions—are available on their website. It’s the swanky style of SoHo with the sophistication of Savile Row. Suit up and enjoy the journey back in time.