Purpose – There has been considerable research into the global phenomenon of luxury brand consumption, but relatively few studies have empirically explored key relationships influencing purchase intention. This research aims to consider the respective roles of social context, individual perception, and vanity, and to set these relationships within a broader theoretical context of the literature on possession and consumer identity. Design/methodology/approach – The empirical study consisted of a large-scale survey conducted among Chinese luxury brand consumers in Taiwan. The data were analyzed using exploratory factor analysis and multiple regression. Findings – The findings support the influence of the social context on purchase intention for luxury brands. There was weaker support for the role of perception. The experiential and functional aspects of luxury brand purchase were positively correlated with purchase intention, but symbolic value was not. Physical and achievement vanity had a positive impact on purchase intention while only achievement vanity had a moderating effect on perception. Practical implications – This study offers new empirical support for the proposition that vanity has a role in luxury brand purchase intention and thereby shades both theoretical and managerial understanding of luxury brand consumption. It also suggests that symbolic value, which is highly influential in western conceptualizations of luxury brand meaning, needs to be re-evaluated in the context of Chinese consumers. Originality/value – This study offers new empirical findings which contribute to a re-conceptualization of the antecedents of purchase intention in the area of luxury brand consumption. In particular, the study provides evidence of the roles of social context, perception and vanity in a Chinese consumption context to inform the primarily western models of luxury brand purchase intention.