The cuts of the clothes are impeccable, the materials are luxurious, the colors neutral and the style refined. No logo is visible, neither on the sweaters nor on the handbags. Welcome to the world of discreet luxury, or quiet luxury.
This term quiet luxury is not new, far from it, but it reappears in particular because of the characters of the American series Succession, whose monochrome look is very studied. Or with the success of brands like The Row, Brunello Cucinelli and Bottega Veneta. Their particularity: a minimalist and timeless design, luxurious materials, no visible logo and extremely high prices.
“Discreet luxury is one of the characteristics of the bourgeoisie who consider themselves the guardians of good taste and who distinguish themselves in this way from the new rich”, explains Jean-Noël Kapferer, professor at HEC Paris. “Big bourgeois believe they must differentiate themselves through discretion, and the subtle signals they send are reserved for those who know how to decipher them. The Bottega Veneta bag, you have to know how to decode it, otherwise it’s just a plain leather bag just like the clothes of Maison Margiela, which is a very subtle and very expensive brand. »
For Benoit Duguay, full professor at UQAM’s School of Management Sciences, discreet luxury is ultra-luxury. “It’s ultra-rich who want to distinguish themselves from the rich who buy Louis Vuitton, so they get even more expensive brands that only insiders recognize, which is very pretentious. It is especially billionaires who feel the need to stand out from others, for themselves, because wearing a luxury product is always to improve the image of oneself,” analyzes the author of Consumption and luxury.
Because luxury is by definition ostentatious. Jean-Noël Kapferer quotes the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau: “We only enjoy luxury by showing it. “Luxury is pleasure. We are in enjoyment, it is a fundamental notion of luxury. We are also in meritocracy: we work, we earn money, and we want to show this success. The Christian Dior, Chanel, Louis Vuitton logos are modern coats of arms. These are global signs of wealth, because we have the same benchmarks of success and wealth that are these globalized marks. Luxury is the dissemination of signs of globalized success,” explains the professor at HEC Paris, author of Luxury: new challenges, new challengers.
Stéphane Le Duc, spokesperson for LaSalle College, recalls that indeed, opulence has always been present in the collections of brands like Gucci and Versace, but since last September, he has noticed more sobriety. “There is a wind of change towards more wisdom, understated luxury takes the lead. The colors are more natural, we favor materials like cashmere, we simplify the garment. Maybe there is an awareness of the environment or there is a discomfort with consumption; so we continue to spend, but in sure values, far from the ephemeral and flashy. We value know-how. The Row, created by the Olsen sisters, is understated luxury at a staggering price. The brand achieved phenomenal success, as did Brunello Cucinelli and Jil Sander. It is the opposite of flamboyance and those who like to be noticed. »
“It’s not a desire for discretion, on the contrary, but to be even more ostentatious by wearing a garment without a logo. These clothes are beyond luxury, because they are even more expensive brands. If you really want to be discreet, you wear ordinary clothes,” thinks Professor Benoit Duguay.
Jean-Noël Kapferer recalls that luxury is above all an industry, a business, and that the luxury market is surfing on the rise of global wealth, particularly in Asia and the United States. “Every crisis raises questions about understated luxury. I just came back from South Korea; young Koreans like to spend money and are not there to hide it, just like the Chinese. They do not express themselves politically, but they express themselves through consumption. Consumption is a major area of expression for the rising classes who display their success and their glory, “analyzes the professor.
He believes that each luxury brand represents a type of taste. “It’s the fight of discreet luxury against visible luxury and the fact that it is easier to make money than to have taste. Discreet luxury is the height of ostentation, and the height of luxury is not needing a logo. For the ultra-rich, it is a declaration of superiority,” concludes Jean-Noël Kapferer.
A scene in the first episode of the latest season of Succession exemplifies the gulf between the “newly rich” and ultra-wealthy old families like the Roys. It comes down to one accessory: a Burberry bag. Bridget, the new girlfriend of the family’s cousin Greg, wears a Burberry tote bag with the British luxury house’s famous check pattern on the birthday of father, Logan Roy. However, Tom Wambsgans, one of the patriarch’s sons-in-law, remarked with contempt on this “ridiculously bulky monstrous bag where she could put her lunch and her flat shoes to take the subway”, far too ostentatious for her taste. According to him, flaunting this Burberry bag (which is worth almost $4,000) makes her a classless upstart, not part of the same world as him.