Quiet Luxury: the eternal comeback

Since last April, Quiet Luxury has been widely commented on as a new trend. Nevertheless, it has never stopped existing, reappearing after each global financial crisis.

Wraparound silhouettes in monochrome hues form the new Hermès fall-winter 2023 collection by Nadège Vanhée-Cybulski (Anthony Seklaoui - Hermès)

The term Quiet Luxury appeared in April during the trial opposing Gwyneth Paltrow to a man who accused her of injuring him during a ski accident in 2016. While some comments were made regarding the arguments of both parties, the outfits worn by the actress during the trial were much more discussed. The press analyzed them worldwide, even by the South China Morning Post, which marveled in its 18th April edition upon her simple creme-colored turtleneck sweater worth 1’500 euros, designed by The Row, a brand by sisters Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen.

The Parmigiani Tonda PF GMT Rattrapante watch is very sober in its aesthetic but complex in its execution (Parmigiani Fleurier)

This trend, which appeared on podiums over the last few years, according to the trade press, isn’t really a trend. It is a recurring movement that follows financial crises and major stock-exchange panic. Ostentatious luxury is then challenged, for a while, fearing public criticism. But it is first and foremost a simple habit among the ultra-wealthy, who have never dressed differently. This is how they recognize each other, going to the same tailors on Bond Street or in Milan, and when they wear prêt-à-porter, it must be discreet. For instance, the protagonists of the TV show Succession on HBO, in the Roy clan, are the typical example of Quiet Luxury clients.

When discussed with Guido Terreni, the CEO of the quietest luxury watchmaking brand of the moment, he answers that “this has always been present and it is interesting that the press is only discovering it now. George Brummell used to say that “true elegance means not being noticed.” The wealthy elite is interested in other topics than the price of things. It is one of the reasons why I joined Parmigiani. Two years ago, I already felt a return to these deep and eternal values, well before the trend emerged.”

2008: the financial crisis and the emergence of the “no logo” trend

Without going back to the dandy Beau Brummell (editor’s note: A pioneer of British dandyism from the beginning of the 19th Century), in 2008, after the crash of the American bank Lehman Brothers and the global financial crisis that followed, catwalks were already more discreet. The most desirable brand at the moment was Céline, which belonged to the LVMH group. It still had its elegant accent on the “e” and its collections were designed by Phoebe Philo, the well-known British stylist who is set to launch her own brand in September 2023. The prominent symbol of Quiet Luxury, Bottega Veneta, owned by the Kering group, ruled and still rules in this discreet luxury world, thanks to an active “no logo” policy.

The Italian brand Brunello Cucinelli is the essence of Quiet Luxury. Here is the latest eyewear collection (Brunello Cucinelli)

While a logo speaks loudly, true luxury whispers. Houses such as Bottega Veneta, Akris, Loro Piana, Brunello Cucinelli, Loewe, or even Hermès (except under the artistic direction of Jean-Paul Gaultier from 2004 to 2010) have always made discretion their bread and butter. What matters is the impeccable cut and materials: one always expects to find the most beautiful cashmere, impeccable cotton, precious wool, and the most sumptuous leathers on the racks.

In November 2022, the Gucci brand parted ways with its artistic director Alessandro Michele, who had created a very flamboyant fashion universe (Gucci)

Between the 2008 and 2023 crises, other brands have appeared, such as the Row, the Olsen sisters’ brand, much sought-after by silent luxury aficionados. To tone down Gucci in November 2022, the Kering group ended its contract with Alessandro Michele, the man who, during seven years, transformed the Italian brand with its dazzling and “luxury circus” fashion. But the times are no longer about the circus. Sabato de Sarno replaced the designer in January 2023. After Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, and Valentino, he is the one who must bring back discretion at Gucci. This is what Matthieu Blazy does at Bottega Veneta or Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski, in charge of women’s ready-to-wear at Hermès since 2014. In an interview given in 2016, she shared her vision for the brand. Terms that could be used today: “To me, work must be accomplished with soul and love. I thought to myself that at Hermès, I could find this type of commitment, this type of dedicated work, this integrity. I think it was the trigger: sharing values, the idea that an object is well crafted, not only because it was made with the best leather in the world but more importantly because there is a traditional way of crafting it, the expertise of a person who enjoys making it.”

Switzerland, land of silent luxury?

The cut, the material, and the details must make the difference for Bruno Grande, the co-founder of the Swiss brand KA/NOA, produced in Italy by the best craftsmen in the country (KA/NOA)

Switzerland, which is not known for its baroque extravaganza, has a role to play in the discrete luxury field, with the brand Akris, sought-after by Princess Charlène of Monaco, or even the very recent KA/NOA, launched by Bruno Grande and his wife Valerie in September 2017. “I wanted to create beautiful clothes which are in tune with each other and span across seasons. They are sober but never go unnoticed: the cut, the material, the details make a difference,” explains the co-founder, who opted for 100% made in Italy. His clients feel like they belong to a club where one can start a conversation about the shape of a wrist or the collar of a shirt. One of them is the American actor Patrick Dempsey. Bruno Grande helped him out on the TV show Devils set in Rome. “He didn’t like the clothes chosen by the stylist, which he found too ordinary for an influent banker, the role he was playing. He asked me to come, I called the tailor, and we made him three bespoke suits in two days. He was delighted.” The actor knows that an influential man wears a particular style of clothes, and few brands know the proper codes.

The Loro Piana brand is uncompromising on the cut and materials (Loro Piana)

Ultra-wealthy individuals have never liked to show external signs of wealth through logos. They don’t want to be taken for influencers that showcase brands who feed them. The case of Bernard Arnault, now the wealthiest man alive, is paradoxical. With Louis Vuitton, which he has in his portfolio, he is the emperor of logos. However, when seen at fashion shows of the brands within the LVMH group, he is often dressed in a suit with a turtleneck sweater or a white shirt with a tie. Never has he been seen wearing colored clothes designed by Kim Jones for Dior Men, and there is little chance of seeing him one day wearing one of the pieces created by Pharrell Williams, artistic director of Louis Vuitton Men, since last February.

The Ivy League elegance

At Chanel, the shades are neutral; the ideal is to adopt the favorite colors of Gabrielle Chanel: black, white, and beige as the "wet sand of Deauville." Here is the Chanel Cruise 2023-24 collection (Chanel)

The quiet luxury style evokes a very Ivy League type of elegance. The basic rule? Less is more. No embroideries nor extravagant detail, no colors that pop, and foremost, no logo. A respected wardrobe must encompass sleek wool trousers in grey or navy, cashmere turtlenecks, shirts, and perfectly cut coats in quality fabrics, as well as boots that silently tell the tales of winters in Gstaad or Saint Moritz. The color gradings are neutral, ideally Gabrielle Chanel’s favorite colors: black, white, and beige like “wet sand of Deauville,” a nuance suggested by the painter Paul-Cesar Helleu. And, of course, navy blue.

The noble materials can be guessed at a glance. Here is the latest Hermès fall-winter 2023 collection (Gaspar Ruiz Lindberg - Hermès)

If one wants to recognize brands that matter, one should follow the Gstaad Guy, who is not short of one paradox. On his Instagram page, with 342,000 followers, he talks about quiet luxury and its codes while being the ambassador of brands he showcases in videos that are not to be taken seriously. Loro Piana signs all his wardrobes, including the Summer Walk moccasins in suede leather with white soles. He also mentions the On Running sneakers, a brand in which Roger Federer had invested in 2019. The tennis champion is an enthusiastic follower of discreet luxury, which was recently noticed during the Met Gala held in New York on the 1st of May. He wore a perfectly cut Dior Men tuxedo, and his wife Mirka wore a pink feathered dress signed by Valentino.

The followers of quiet luxury wear shoes with black or white soles and leave the red soles to others, all others. The ultra-high wealthy sometimes push the envelope of fashion extravaganza to the point of wearing gold and diamond-set crowns weighing about 2.5 kilos, which is very rare. Prince Charles will only do it this one time.

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