Matthew Keegan
Jul 26, 2023

Loud is out: how brands can tap into the trend of quiet luxury

Luxury has got a new look: it’s low-key, minimalist, and tries to fly under the radar. Campaign explores how brands can tap into the 'stealth wealth' trend that has been propelled into the spotlight by TV shows like Succession.

The King of 'stealth wealth': Jeremy Strong as Kendall Roy in HBO's Succession. Photo: Macall Polay/HBO
The King of 'stealth wealth': Jeremy Strong as Kendall Roy in HBO's Succession. Photo: Macall Polay/HBO

How do the rich handle a cost-of-living crisis? Apparently by going quiet – quiet luxury or 'stealth wealth', as it's also referred to, is a discreet, less logo-laden, more low-key way of embracing luxury.

Good to know that while those of us who didn't win the birth lottery are increasingly having to choose between heating and eating, the rich are being sensitive to these challenging times in their own way, by not being quite as ostentatious as they might have otherwise been.

But aside from being somewhat of a response by the rich to the current economic climate and increasing wealth inequality, the 'quiet luxury' trend is mostly credited to popular culture, namely the success of TV shows like Succession, where Kendall, one of the show's central characters, was often seen wearing items of clothing that look inconspicuous, but actually aren’t: Like a USD $500 Loro Piana baseball cap. The trend then crossed over to social media and before you know it, 'quiet' luxury is not so quiet anymore, it's mainstream.

Kendall Roy and his $500 Loro Piana hat Photo: David Russell/HBO

"Two macro factors have crossed over to propel quiet luxury into the spotlight," says Kiri Sinclair, founder & CEO, Sinclair. "The current economic situation and a conscious movement towards sustainability. Quiet luxury is basically the opposite of fast fashion. It focuses on craftsmanship, quality materials and a subtle design elegance. Logos and brash boldness are put aside for an understated, timeless, low-key style."

And yes, with the current economic situation putting the pressure on, those in the upper echelons of wealth are more conscious of not flaunting it so openly.

"During the financial crisis in 2008, many wealthy individuals started buying the more discreet, less logo, more timeless lines from brands," says Sonja Prokopec, Professor at ESSEC's Department of Marketing in Singapore. "The idea was to hide the wealth and not be too ostentatious in their display of wealth. A very similar trend is taking place now with quiet luxury as we emerge from the Covid crisis."

Low-key luxe reaches far beyond just fashion

While fashion is the most visible form of quiet luxury, all aspects of lifestyle have a ‘quiet luxury’ application.

"It’s in the concept; subtle, focused on quality and craft, bespoke in experience," says Sinclair. "When it comes to fashion, think of brands like Loro Piana, Brunello Cucinelli, Brioni, Isaia, it is also displayed in furnishings ('It’s an original Le Corbusier I picked up at Les Puces'), cars (Cadillac, Maybach), travel (private is preferred) and even real estate (Mustique, not St. Barth’s) – and extends in the modern day into tech, wearables and home appliances."

"The appeal of all of these is the exclusivity, so the marketing must reflect that," adds Sinclair. "Brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and others are undoubtedly luxurious, but they are luxury for the masses and are marketed as such."

But there are some anomalies to this 'exclusivity' rule. Such has the popularity of quiet luxury soared in recent times, that even mainstream fast fashion brands like Shein has launched a Quiet Luxury section, but it's safe to say that it's unlikely that Kendall from Succession will be sporting any items from that collection anytime soon.

The Shein gimmick aside, not all brands are necessarily going to follow on this trend.

"The trend appeals to a type of consumer who has a higher level of cultural capital and is not as concerned with displaying status," says Prokopec. "For some brands, they just don’t appeal to this type of the client in the first place."

How can brands tap into this ‘quiet luxury’ trend?

Aliya Gilmore, strategist at Culture Group, says that quiet luxury is less of a trend and more of a mindset.

"In order to take advantage of its presence, brands will have to see whether or not they can authentically align themselves with the tenets of the aesthetic – lowkey, in-the-know, and heritage."

Gilmore cites brands such as Creed, the perfume brand, and Loro Piana, the cult wool designer, as examples of brands that have seen a huge boost thanks to quiet luxury, as well as ‘elevated basics’ brand COS.

"These brands have stuck to their guns at one thing," says Gilmore. "And made sure they offer the best service in that vertical, which holds considerable appeal for the stealth wealth crowd."

Another way some brands have developed a rapport with the quiet luxury demographic is by tapping influencers endemic to the space, who live luxurious lifestyles and show off their vlog content to their followers as aspirational goals. Gilmore recommends London socialite and entrepreneur @maybetamsin on TikTok, the heir of an old money American dynasty @kiki_astor, and the ‘those who know, just know’ parody account @gstaadguy. More recently, socialite Sofia Richie Grainge has also been added to this list, with her muted Chanel-esque 'old money' style sweeping social media by storm following her nuptials to music executive, Elliott Grainge.

Sofia Richie Grainge Photo: Instagram/SofiaRichie

But in general, it's safe to say that the marketing of quiet luxury brands is extremely targeted and relies heavily on word-of-mouth within the intended rarified circles of its consumers. Jewelry brands such as Vendura and JAR are perfect examples of this.

"These brands are renowned amongst collectors and immediately recognisable to those in-the-know, so seeing it worn on the right person in the right room is all the marketing that is required to motivate the next purchase," says Sinclair. "Marketing that is subtle, amplifies the concept within its niche audiences and depends deeply on word of mouth by the right people."

Local relevance can also be key for brands looking to tap into the quiet luxury space, as Chloé Reuter, founding partner of Gusto Collective has observed in mainland China.

"For brands it’s key to think about how to be locally relevant," says Reuter. "I believe that cultural sophistication is a new luxury in China too. We’re seeing great examples of brands tapping into consumers’ desires for knowledge and experiences. For example, if you look at the travel industry in China, the most sophisticated travellers are choosing off-the-beaten-track destinations, and opting out of the traditional big destinations. They are also moving away from large brand name hotels to small, niche experiential brands."

Here to stay?

Shows like Succession that brought the quiet luxury trend to the fore have broadcast their final seasons, and as more and more people globally are feeling the pinch financially, can 'quiet luxury' or indeed anything luxury really sustain itself?

"Quiet luxury has always been popular and will always be popular amongst its intended audience, regardless of any mass market trends that may be prevailing on a wider scale," says Sinclair. "Exquisite craftsmanship and materials never go out of style and are always sought after by those with the means to acquire them, and there will always be those that understand the power of subtlety to maintain the quiet luxury marketplace."

And Gilmore at Culture Group reckons that while quiet luxury might not have a ‘moment’ on social media quite like this one again, it's here to stay.

"The foundation of quiet luxury are clothes that will never go out of style – a wardrobe of handmade tailored trousers, blazers, and loafers," says Gilmore. "Quiet luxury is here to stay simply because these clothes are the basic components of a staple wardrobe. At our most cynical, we could argue that quiet luxury is just a repackage of the 80s Sloane Ranger, the 90s Prep, the 00s Model-off-duty, and the 10s Scandi-clean. These things come and go, but wardrobe essentials are just that – essential."

Campaign Asia

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