From TikTok to fashion magazines, everyone is talking about quiet luxury. For some, an oasis of good taste after noisy years, for others the exaltation of a banal style with exaggerated prices. But perhaps different, even opposing attitudes and tendencies lie behind this definition.
Rich people looking poor?
The world of luxury often conjures up images of glitz, opulence and ostentation. However, there is an emerging trend in the industry that focuses on understated elegance, superior quality and understatement: the quiet luxury.
According to Guia Soncini, a style for rich people who spend mind-boggling amounts of money to look like paupers, according to others a reaction to years of vulgarity of shrieking logos and boorish styling, this trend has both remote and proximate origins. But let’s go in order.
Quiet luxury: a definition
Quiet luxury has taken on the meaning of discreet, unostentatious elegance, with no logos in sight, relying on the exclusive quality of the fabrics and the impeccable tailoring. Nothing that is too trendy, as if every garment is or wants to look like an inherited good, part of an almost immutable code.
The elegance of that old money world who doesn’t need to shout out the brands of what it wears, as if they were price tags still attached to clothing. It is often based on the concept of stealth wealth, so in the countryside you wear your jumper a little worn by time, but made of the finest cashmere, at the seaside you go barefoot, but with a silk caftan or white trousers.
Do you remember Jaqueline Kennedy in Capri? Here we go.
Minimalism, quality, style
An initial understanding of the concept of quiet luxury but, as we shall see, not the only one possible, has its roots in the ebbs and flows of minimal style. A style that has its references in modern art and architecture, which favours clean lines, the absence of excessive decoration, a restrained colour palette and the use of luxurious materials;
In fact, one is reminded of a not-so-distant era, say up to the early 1960s, when there was no garment, whether home-made with a sewing machine or produced by the finest tailor, that did not aim to be of the best quality one could afford, to last a long time, to endure the passage of time gracefully, to give dignity to the wearer. No one would have thought of getting a dress to wear just once, except for a wedding dress, or to impress any audience.
The quiet luxury in the sense that I am most convinced it recalls precisely this way of thinking, which is the opposite of the fast fashion and trends that chase each other ever more swirlingly: choosing clothes that represent us, that we love, that can last a long time, that deserve to be treated with care, mended, preserved, worn over and over again. They tend to be made of natural fibres, in colours that match each other, with lines that are flattering on our physique, suited to our lifestyle.
Not necessarily every garment has to be ‘luxury’, by which I mean that the cotton t-shirt does not necessarily have to be by Brunello Cucinelli, the bag in a nice leather does not necessarily have to be by The Row, and the cashmere does not necessarily have to be by Loro Piana.
Before the advent of the big fast fashion there were many mid-priced brands, of a workmanship that was not infrequently superior to that of today’s luxury brands, from which you would buy a skirt and wear it for ten years in a row. Today’s logics are very different: trends and micro-trends wear out in the space of a couple of seasons, sometimes even a few weeks, everything has to be replaced all the time, also because, objectively speaking, it very often holds few washes.
Welcome then the quiet luxury, if it gives us the luxury of developing our own personal style without being pressurised by trends. To evolve slowly over time, sedimenting a curated collection of garments that we love, care for, wear repeatedly.
Pandemic, ecology and sustainability
Needless to say, this meaning of quiet luxury has to do not only with customs of the past, but also with much more recent events. Firstly, the pandemic, which for many changed the way they live and work for good. But also a new ecological consciousness, which is beginning to take note of what the huge overproduction of fast fashion brands like Zara and H&M, or even worse ultra fast fashion, like Shein, means for the planet and its inhabitants.
Exploited populations, pollution at all stages of the production chain, from the dyeing and chemical treatment of fabrics to the distribution and disposal of tonnes of unsold, or used a couple of times, clothes, mostly made of polyester, i.e. oil, which end up poisoning the seas or huge swathes of land in Africa. And for what? For ugly clothes, which look bad on almost everyone and will be out of fashion in a couple of months. As awareness grows in this area, more and more the concepts of minimalism (understood here in the sense of owning few but good garments) and quiet luxury is seen as good practice that is good for the planet, as well as for elegance.
If you know, you know
Another meaning of the term quiet luxury refers to an exclusive world, where well-trained eyes can recognise anonymous, fabulously priced garments, where covering oneself with logos from head to toe is synonymous with parvenue and the wink of the ‘if you know, you know” is the ultimate form of snobbery. The exclusive world of the sisters Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen, founders of The Row, for example, who said that they founded their successful brand because they could not find a perfect white t-shirt and felt like creating it themselves. Made from cotton. They sell it for 460 euros.
A world that many were able to spy on while watching the series Succession, in which a family of ultra-rich kin-serpent masters all the codes of the most exclusive unseen wealth. The risk, of course, is that quiet luxury will become the ultimate status symbol, aiming to make those who wear prosaic garments like a Louis Vuitton bag with a monogram, or a Gucci belt with a double G, feel like paupers who want to look rich!
Rich vs. poor?
But is that really the case? Quiet luxury is the dress code of the truly wealthy, or the old generation wealthy, while loud luxury is the preserve of the new wealthy, people who perhaps are rappers or influencers in life? I don’t think the distinction is so clear-cut, and I fear that the rich themselves are now on one side and now on the other side of the dichotomy, depending on historical ebbs and flows, personal taste, the type of activity they engage in, and even the time of their lives;
Whether the phenomenon boils down to buying very expensive clothes, to impress a vast audience of people who recognise the Hermès sandal or Prada bag, or choosing even more expensive clothes, to impress a smaller elite of connoisseurs, the difference is actually minimal. If, on the other hand, we are talking about the choice of unique pieces, made to last, which become part of an original personal style, then this can be done using various price ranges, minimalist or loudness, neutral or bright colours.
Quiet luxury brands
As for the clothing brands that are most associated with the idea of quiet luxury, we find at least three major price brackets: Brunello Cucinelli, Loro Piana, Agnona, The Row, Celine, Zegna, Khaite, Fear of God and Bottega Veneta are among the best examples of the high-end, for bags we find also Delvaux, Moynat, Valextra, Duclos…
Toteme, Joseph, Filippa K, The Curated, ME+EM and Max Mara, on the other hand, make up a segment of mid/high-priced brands, but not as exclusive as the previous ones, which offer excellent fabrics and good workmanship, clean lines, a style that is a little more in step with the trends, but not too much, and almost always invisible logos. Finally, brands such as COS, Massimo Dutti, A.P.C. fall into a more affordable bracket, although certainly still premium for a large proportion of consumers.
The aesthetics of quiet luxury
The great river of quiet luxury divides into many streams that differ in aesthetics, artistic and cultural references, and evoked lifestyles. Without claiming to be exhaustive, we will list some of them below.
Scandinavian minimalist style
Based on a particularly narrow and neutral palette, oversized lines, wide and very long coats, masculine shoes and trainers, it is a particularly strict style with many elements borrowed from the male wardrobe: white shirts, tailored but oversized trousers and jackets, warm loose jumpers.
The old money style
The ‘old money’ style refers to everything that is usually associated with the world of the English upper class or the most exclusive American colleges: cricket cable-knit jumpers, polo shirts, white or khaki cotton trousers, pleated skirts, silk blouses with bows, classic loafers. The designer who most identifies with this style is certainly Ralph Lauren. The colours are white, beige, red and blue.
The coastal grandmother style
Think of Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give and there you are. It is a style made up of light colours, comfortable but high-quality garments, and natural leather details.
But, in the end, is quiet luxury here to stay?
I think some elements are here to stay, for example the concepts of sustainability, capsule wardrobe, quality vs. quantity, durability, are making their way among the new generations and seem to go hand in hand with a new ecological sensitivity and the surge of the second hand market. What, on the other hand, will probably tend to seem increasingly outdated are the aesthetics defined by lifestyles of the past, which for the very young are a way of experimenting with rapidly changing styles, an ever-evolving game of disguises, and for the older segments of the population are a return to eras that have already been experienced first-hand and cannot really be repeated. Ideas and suggestions are taken, but then everything must be actualised, personalised, removed from all boxes and definitions, to become personal expression. And that is exactly where the fun begins.