Image: Illustration; Manelisi Dabata

In case you have yet to come across it, “quiet luxury” is the trend du jour and everyone — from TikTok to Vogue — has been going on about it for months, with even fast-fashion retailers on cue to position themselves to benefit from what I can only describe as the new peacocking. It’s defined by the kind of pared-back styling championed by, among others, Khaite, Bottega Veneta, and Zegna, while Vogue has described it as “less austere than minimalism but more polished than normcore”.

The aesthetic prioritises investment pieces and logo-free, understated fashion that includes suiting, chunky rollnecks, hoodies, and cotton tees. It favours a neutral palette and demands high-quality wearability. But while the editors of some of the world’s most revered fashion magazines have embraced the trend, it does have its detractors. “It’s another form of elitism,” lamented The Evening Standard’s Martha Alexander. Over at The Cut, Tiana Randall concluded that it was “actually very loud”. The rise of this nonetheless inconspicuous aesthetic dovetails with the popularity of the HBO series Succession, which follows the ultra-wealthy Roy family.

It’s also been quite evident on runways, where restraint has seen many designers “going back to basics”, as it were, at a time when LVMH boss Bernard Arnault has surpassed Elon Musk to become the world’s richest man with a fortune of US$211-billion. Arnault commands the world’s most valuable luxury-goods conglomerate. His wealth is fuelled by his company’s US$500-billion market value and, as talk of his retirement ramps up and speculation about his successor goes into overdrive, many have dubbed him the real-life Logan Roy, the patriarch played by Brian Cox in Succession.

“Stealth wealth” is, of course, nothing new for the rich. You might recall a few years ago, when Meta founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg claimed that he wears the same plain tee every day. Many will also be familiar with late Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs’s uniform of a black rollneck and jeans. While the current trend is a little more lustrous, it is a reminder of inherent social hierarchies that are involuntarily evident in the way we dress.

Unlike those of us mere mortals who gravitate to logo-bearing Gucci shirts, caps, and loafers, for the super wealthy, drawing attention to themselves is not a priority. So, why are we so fascinated by the way they dress? I can make an educated guess, but before I do, let’s take a moment to look at said fascination.

In a recent study of Google trends, fashion brand Karen Millen found that searches for terms such as “quiet luxury”, “stealth wealth”, and “old-money style” had grown 373%, 334%, and 568%, respectively, over the past year. Business of Fashion reports that the Ermenegildo Zegna Group is currently seeing double-digit growth and remains bullish about outperforming a global luxury market that is widely expected to see a slowdown. The quiet-luxury boom can only pay off for the 111-year-old brand that recently underwent a rebrand.

Unlike those of us mere mortals who gravitate to logo-bearing Gucci shirts, caps, and loafers, for the super wealthy, drawing attention to themselves is not a priority

The neutral silhouettes at Zara, Mango, and others can also only bode well for these more affordable brands precisely because — as it appears — we all want in on the look. As I think about this trend and where it might go, I am reminded of something South African musician Zakes Bantwini said in a TikTok video, where he speculated about the reasons for most newly successful young Black South Africans’ fascination with loudly expensive fashion. I don’t remember his exact words but, as far as I can recall, Bantwini was defending those who acquire even a bit of wealth and begin to prioritise an aesthetic that the Roys, for example, might deem crass. What critics of “crass materialism” often choose to ignore is that these obvious displays of wealth grant the newly successful the social status they crave, and perhaps need, in a world where image can define future success.

Wearing your wealth on your sleeve becomes a way of commanding respect and, in a sea of rampant poverty, Succession dressing, as some refer to the quiet-luxury trend, will not do the job of distinguishing them from the less successful. Yet quiet luxury is catching on — firstly, because even fast-fashion retailer Shein now has a “quiet luxury” section and, secondly, because fashion is not merely about dressing up, it’s also about keeping up appearances.

At a time when sustainability and circularity have become important concepts in business, done right, quiet luxury is certainly a trend worth one’s attention, as it demands a more considered approach to dressing up and a focus on quality over quantity. By buying into it, you’re investing in understated elegance, careful craftsmanship, and attention to detail that have stood the test of time.

 From the June edition of Wanted, 2023.

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