What if the fever of silent luxury was not just a trend, but a symptom of a global change in the fashion industry? | The USA Print

What if the fever of silent luxury was not just a trend, but a symptom of a global change in the fashion industry?

Let’s try a game this fall. Let’s go to the golden mile of any city and look at what passers-by are wearing. We may see a hooded sweatshirt, gray pleated pants, the occasional beige sweater and, perhaps, the most daring will wear a Nirvana t-shirt. A style that does not attract too much attention, and that, although it looks neat, does not scream “I cost a lot of money.” Mistake. All these clothes are anything but humble. The sweatshirt has a Miu Miu label and costs about 1,300 euros, the gray pants are from Fendi and sell for 850 euros, the cashmere sweater is signed by Brunello Cucinelli and does not go below 1,500 euros… and the Nirvana Incesticide t-shirt, in a tremendous script twist, it really is from Saint Laurent and its price is no less than 3,550 euros. Welcome to the time of If you know, you know (IYKYK in networks, and translated “if you know, you know”) of luxury, in which the ultra-rich dress up so that other rich people recognize all the gold they carry. And also brag about how much you understand fashion.

The truth is that it is not something new. Since always, the privileged classes have used incomprehensible codes for the uninitiated with the idea of ​​recognizing each other and preventing applicants without pedigree from entering. The difference today is that this superlative snobbery has become visible to the general public. The trigger was the series Succession, in which plutocrats offset their dark motives with wardrobes in endless shades of camel. But we do not only glimpse brushstrokes of this looks in fiction. In each public appearance of Marta Ortega, the challenge is to know if she is dressed in ‘Zara next season’ or in brands so exclusive that they are not known by ordinary mortals. Globally, the images of Gwyneth Paltrow at her ski accident trial were the top marketing campaign for her own brand G. Label by Goop. During those days Paltrow gave a master class on looks that the tiktokera Tinx calls “from a rich mother”. More or less the formula is made up of Goop pieces added to accessories preppy like Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses and a vintage Celine bag, with high-fashion touches from brands like The Row and Prada. These pop culture moments, combined with photos of Silicon Valley billionaires in their tight-fitting T-shirts, have made us, with a mixture of fascination and rage, obsessed with so-called silent luxury.

silent luxury

‘Total look’ by Loro Piana, mostly cashmere garments. Photo: Courtesy of the firm

“Fashion always maintains a dialogue with the cultural context, and at this moment we are aware that there are people who do not make ends meet, so it is not appropriate to show wealth excessively. However, fashion always finds ways to give meaning to a certain style,” explains Mira Kopolovic, director of cultural analysis at social media creative agency We Are Social. “In response to the cost of living crisis, we have identified a cultural trend that we call knowledge flex (bragging about knowledge), which is the way in which people give information about their status not only with what they own, but also with what they know.” Taking into account the different types of capital established by the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, dressing in expensive and boring clothes, in addition to granting cultural capital among the like, also incorporates other capitals: economic (purchasing power) and social (contacts). .

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“This is a very sophisticated type of luxury consumer who avoids logos and wears only those that are recognizable to those who play at the same level,” says James Collard, a luxury journalist. “I have noticed that many Italians with money have stopped wearing the most obvious brands and opted for others that are little known, such as Aspesi. And when for professional reasons I met a very rich guy, I thought that if we saw him in Starbucks we would have no idea how much fortune he amassed. He was not wearing obviously exclusive clothes, nor was he wearing an expensive watch.

Meanwhile, the best-known fashion brands have assembled their collections for the autumn-winter 2023-2024 season around this game of trompe l’oeil. It says a lot that for this autumn-winter season, Gucci has set aside maximalism to propose jeans with a white shirt and trench coats without decorations; and that Bottega Veneta has reached the culmination of the faux basic with jean-like pants that are actually made of the finest patterned leather.

“Luxury brands like The Row and Bottega Veneta, who have always emphasized craftsmanship and timelessness in their collections, are jumping on this trend, as are Valentino, Miu Miu and even Balenciaga. These latest brands, which in previous collections sought to generate virality with publicity tricks, today are showing their products in discreet and elegant environments, which convey the quality and durability of their pieces,” says trend analyst Agustina Panzoni (The algorythm, on TikTok). “This season’s fashion collections could usher in a shift in the industry away from the fever for viral products. Instead of creating pieces that are destined to make noise on social media and disappear quickly, designers could be opting for designs that stay relevant for multiple seasons.”

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It is common to find the arguments that identify the rise of this style with changes that are emerging in the industry that have to do with the end of the crazy cycle of trends. This would imply that the phenomenon is not just a trend. “Many brands are clearly anticipating that their customers will adopt this style of clothing for the long term,” says Libby Page, director of purchasing for Net-A-Porter. “For me, that looks materializes in slingback heels from The Row, straight leg jeans from Khaite, T-shirts from ATM Anthony Thomas Melillo, finished off with a cashmere cap from Loro Piana”.

The cap, the one that Kendall Roy did not take off in Succession while dealing with his multiple torments, is the maximum exponent of this aesthetic. With a price of around 420 euros, it is one of the most popular products in the second quarter of 2023, according to The Lyst Index. Its online success has boosted the popularity of a previously strictly minority brand, with searches on fashion shopping platform Lyst for Loro Piana up 35% from May to June. According to Google Trends, during the summer there was a notable increase in searches for terms related to this aesthetic: a 300% rise in global searches for stealth wealth (stealthy fortune), and 80% for old money style, that is, the money that comes from old, the opposite of a nouveau riche.

silent luxury

Marta Ortega, in her official photo as president of Inditex.

If we pay any attention to this data, it might seem that the average fashion consumer has decided to dress like a terribly boring potentate, banishing any kind of pleasant off-color. But now comes the uncomfortable question for the industry. What happens when what you seek to hide goes viral? An elitist style survives in relative anonymity, as soon as it leaks into the mass market it loses its appeal and utility for those who lead it. When even some mid-priced brands are advertising their products on Instagram under the label of silent luxury (what an irony), the natural thing is that the prestige of certain styles declines.

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But taking a tour of social networks we realize that the youngest are going further, and in addition to massifying what was previously a coded style, they are subverting the codes to snatch its more classy connotations. “The signs of class in the old money core they are democratized online in such a way that they become a symbolism that anyone can inhabit”, argues Kopolovic. “Young people have learned to alter power dynamics, and they are making this style lose its symbolic power. Something similar happened when British working-class youth appropriated the iconic Burberry print. Also, just because these labels are popular on the internet, it does not mean that generation Z wants to dress in a minimalist style. The cores (or aesthetics that are born online) are the lenses through which the youngest process culture. They tell us about their values ​​and how they relate to economic realities in general”, concludes Kopolovic.

When luxury takes over the concept of quality and durability, it is the turn of consumers to claim conscious fashion without spending a fortune. It is possible to buy from independent designers with social responsibility without having to take a mortgage; garments can be made to last by taking care of them and repairing them. There are small brands that avoid unnecessary expenses by producing collections on demand, without having to create artificial exclusivity. In support networks and communities, clothes are donated or loaned to extend the life of the garments. In short, one should not dress as joylessly as Shiv Roy in order not to fall into unbridled consumption.

The concept of timelessness could also be put between question marks. Because the apparently basic clothing silhouettes we wear on a daily basis are actually more subject to the whims of trends than we think. Despite the ‘classics’ label, your cut or silhouette is likely to become outdated much sooner than they promise.

And perhaps, to go against what is prevailing, it is possible that eccentric delights will last longer in the long run.
Some golden platforms, a green dress to the feet, earrings with colored gems… these pieces may be with us for a longer time and bring us more pleasure in our lives than a blissful and extremely expensive beige sweater.

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