question of the week
What does the growth of quiet luxury say about consumer trends?
As a more muted, minimalistic trend takes over - inspired by Succession no less - we question what effect it's having on consumer behaviour
16 May 2023
As HBO's Succession draws to a close, many fans have been quick to adopt the show's style, embracing a quiet, minimalistic, logo-less fashion and in turn, birthing a 'quiet luxury' genre.
This desire to inconspicuously wear high-value items without garish slogans suggests a desire to blend in during more hard-up times, and this approach is slowly filtering down to FMCG and supermarket brands, which have begun to release premium products to appeal to upper income consumers.
What does this say about consumer appetite and where does that leave those who can't afford to shop in such indulgent fashion? We spoke to a number of industry insiders to find out what they thought of the rise of the quiet luxury trend.
Mara Dettmann, Digital Strategy & Content Lead, BBH London
The current fascination with quiet luxury (and, similarly, old money aesthetic and stealth wealth) brings together a few cultural undercurrents: a reappraisal of substance over form (people prioritising the quality of their goods over which designer made them) and fatigue with ostentatious displays of wealth (there’s a reason why the Kardashians are losing relevance).
Both very much reflect the economic uncertainty of the cost of living context: people want products that are a good investment (long lasting and fairly timeless) while unexamined privilege now seems glaringly unfair rather than aspirationally entertaining.
That being said, I don’t think quiet luxury is here to stay. A key code of luxury is rarity, but quiet luxury is fairly attainable: thousands of videos instruct people on how to embrace the aesthetic on a budget, and dupe culture is rampant. And we might soon get bored of the muted colour palettes and general sameness – Burberry already moved away from a clean minimalist logo favoured by many fashion brands to a more ownable ornate version reflecting the brand’s heritage.
So as the stealth wealth aesthetic becomes more prevalent, I wouldn’t be surprised if the luxury pendulum eventually swings back to the maximalism of 90s Versace.
Aaron Harridge, Strategy Director, Droga5 London
The definition of luxury is constantly evolving to maintain its exclusive relationship with the wealthy, while everyone else chases the codes and images of luxury without ever truly attaining it. The concept of quiet luxury states that despite calls to "eat the rich", there is still a widespread idolization of the 1 per cent and elitism and wearing the uniform of success. Say it quietly… but… the uniform of oppression?
In one sense, factions of the 99 per cent co-opting this aesthetic of power and wealth is radical and perhaps the perfect Trojan horse in galloping to change. In another sense, it's perplexing that in a world where there are calls to disrupt who gets a seat at the table, why then, dress the same as those who have always been sitting there?
There is, in fact, a quiet irony in a trend intended to reject the mass broadcast logo mania of "look how much I spent" to accept then, an aesthetic which also silently signifies "look how much I spent"... but only to a hyper-targeted few who get it. Whether you're head to toe in logos and slogans or dripping in The Row, the message is the same, and the appetite to express is as old as time… look how much I spent.
Luella Ben Aziza, Strategy Director, Dentsu
We’ve had years of hype culture, Kardashians and a recent rise in maximalism, so quiet luxury may be seen as a pendulum swing. But I think there’s a less expected factor that’s driving it: in a world where AI is making it hard to distinguish the real from the fake, quiet luxury is something that is unlike almost anything else: it’s hard to replicate. It is all about letting the attention to (expensive) detail do the work. A sumptuous fabric, stitching and structure – all the things you wouldn’t otherwise notice, really ‘make’ the quiet luxury feel. And it’s those details and nuances that can’t be replicated en mass – driving the demand.
Another driver is the continued shift in values throughout culture, people are putting experiences over status. I think it’s the experience of those things – i.e how those quiet luxury details feel and move, and the stories they tell, that rise in importance. In other words, how fashion is experienced – not just how it looks, in my opinion, is one of the key drivers for quiet luxury and near future trends.
Kathryn Jubrail, Managing Director, Mother Design
The notion of understated, ‘quiet’ style is not necessarily new in the Luxury category (think Steve Job’s Norm Core archetype; or Phoebe Philo’s Celine era in the 2010s), and one caution when thinking about it today is that it doesn’t become a trend that reinforces stereotypes of white wealth, excluding people both from a financial and cultural point of view.
I’d suggest that what quiet luxury should cue, more than ‘rich people blending in,’ is a shift towards a more sustainable attitude to consumption, focusing on quality, price-per-wear and confidence-boosting clothing. This prioritisation of slower consumption stands in contrast to status symbol shopping. It feels timely then that Philo announced the return of her own label in 2023, saying the label would focus on, ‘clothing and accessories rooted in exceptional quality and design.’
In that way, quiet luxury shouldn’t be defined by muted colours and cashmere that breaks the bank, but rather a mindset which forces us to take a slower, more conscious attitude to what we’re buying and ensuring what we do have makes us feel good in ourselves - and that is accessible to all, regardless of price point.
Chelsey Williams, Talent Manager, Gleam Futures (Dentsu Creative’s influencer marketing and talent management practice)
Quiet luxury is evidently the latest viral fashion trend being divulged by fashion consumers across social media. Whether you draw your inspiration from shows like Succession or your favourite nepo babies of the world (Sofia Richie being a prime example), it is undoubtably a desirable trend that portrays a confident, clean, wealthy persona of one’s self. That being said, it’s also a trend that can leave the majority of us feeling a little overwhelmed by the high price points we’re being influenced to invest in, especially when considering the financial climate.
For the everyday consumer of affordable fashion who relies on following current trends, one could argue that quiet luxury poses as a potential threat in encouraging purchases that result in negative financial impact for the individual e.g.; spending beyond their means within the luxury space, the overuse of a KLARNA account etc. With this in mind, it feels as poignant a time as ever to be exploring how people can shop more effectively and sustainably for their personal style.
I feel this is a trend that we can draw many positives from. Whether it’s a luxury or high street brand, the trend encourages consumers to take a more considered approach to their purchases to align with its minimalist, luxury values. If you are fortunate enough to be able to afford luxury brands, you are likely to think through your purchase either way to ensure it aligns with your personal style. If high street brands are encouraged by the trend to produce better quality garments as a result of popular demand, then it hopefully aids to inspire consumers to take a ‘quality over quantity’ approach to their purchases, opting for a few key pieces over bulk buying fast fashion.
We’ve seen brands such as Uniqlo recently utilise clever marketing within this space, targeting a younger demographic with hero products like the minimalist cross body bag that went viral across TikTok and Instagram with a Gen-Z audience, resulting in a mammoth increase in sales across the entire brand itself.
Pre-loved and vintage designer garments can also be sourced via avenues that won’t break the bank. Whether you’re Gen-Z, Millennial, Gen X or any other generation, platforms such as Vinted, eBay and Depop enable anyone to shop garments that will withstand longevity in your wardrobe.
Quiet luxury doesn’t have to be reserved for those in the higher tax bracket for you to feel expensive. In today’s climate I feel by taking a little time to be savvy in the way you shop, you can achieve an elevated aesthetic, with a look that holds a story, all the while having shopped sustainably.
Nina Mullen, Strategy Director at Wunderman Thompson UK
"Succession," the hit HBO show has invited us into a world of quiet, understated luxury. Alluring, but look deeper. Does quiet luxury contain its own quiet, but insidious suggestion that everyone could be a millionaire if they had the discipline not to be taken in by flashy brands, avocado toasts, or life's comforts.
Let's face it, quiet luxury is nothing new. Old money has always sought ways to distinguish itself from new money. Which should tell you all you need to know. This isn’t a conversation about money, it is all about class. Needing to be in the know, choose the right label, and ascribe to the right codes only reinforces class divides that are impossible to overcome with the sheer application of money - although the proliferation of tips and tricks to look #oldmoney on Instagram would tell you otherwise. But are these class codes relevant outside of the jockeying for position of the 1%? I'd argue no. Instead, what is much more relevant and interesting for brands looking to jump on the quiet luxury trend is what this says about how you should buy. Buy less, buy better, buy to last. Ideally, buy something you can pass down to your kids, #generationalwealth.
Dan Bennett, Partner & UK Lead, Behavioural Science at Ogilvy Consulting
Luxury products are a way to communicate, non-verbally, about who we are, our membership in social groups and our social status. The rise of “Quiet Luxury” is rooted in our desire to belong with some groups and dissociate from others. “Loud” luxury goods, with bold logos, visible brand names and distinctive features signal wealth and status “vertically” - they are instantly recognisable by anyone. For this reason, consumers with a high need for status may choose these products to signal their belonging to a wealthier group. However, as products with loud brand names and logos have become more widely accessible, their signalling value has been diluted and they have become associated with the “wannabe rich”.
Research finds that beyond a certain price point, luxury products have a more inconspicuous design, suggesting that those who can afford them prefer more discreet signals of luxury. In fact, wealthy consumers with a low need for status want to signal their wealth “horizontally” to associate with their peers and are willing to pay a premium for “quiet” products with subtle signals only they will recognise (if you know, you know). Consumer preference for quiet luxury is ever more relevant in times of economic hardship, as it allows consumers to signal their wealth to their peers while avoiding being seen as someone who uses luxury ostentatiously.
Dan Bennett, Partner & UK Lead, Behavioural Science at Ogilvy Consulting
Luxury products are a way to communicate, non-verbally, about who we are, our membership to social groups and our social status. The rise of “Quiet Luxury” is rooted in our desire to belong with some groups and dissociate from others. “Loud” luxury goods, with bold logos, visible brand names and distinctive features signal wealth and status “vertically” - they are instantly recognisable by anyone. For this reason, consumers with a high need for status may choose these products to signal their belonging to a wealthier group. However, as products with loud brand names and logos have become more widely accessible, their signalling value has been diluted and they have become associated with the “wannabe rich”. Research finds that beyond a certain price point, luxury products have a more inconspicuous design, suggesting that those who can afford them prefer more discreet signals of luxury. In fact, wealthy consumers with a low need for status want to signal their wealth “horizontally” to associate with their peers and are willing to pay a premium for “quiet” products with subtle signals only they will recognise (if you know, you know). Consumer preference for quiet luxury is ever more relevant in times of economic hardship, as it allows consumers to signal their wealth to their peers, while avoiding being seen as someone who uses luxury ostentatiously.