Fashion’s Great Battle: Stealth Wealth Or Loud Luxury?
Illustration by Mr Timba Smits
The concept of quiet luxury has become quite a loud presence in the culture right now. Thanks to certain television series about super-wealthy media moguls and incessant real-life media coverage of a certain actor-cum-wellness mogul’s ski-accident trial, cream cashmeres and brown quarter-zips are the de-facto uniform of millionaires and billionaires. It’s aspirational in its very sleepiness. Chic in its nothing-to-see-here-iness.
But some of us yearn for style that shouts. Fashion with flair. Bright colours and logos and tie dye and sequins. We asked two writers to duke it out, each making a case for their preferred mode of dressing. Which side will you take?
01. The virtues of quiet luxury
Mr Dal Chodha, writer and lecturer
In our digital paradise of algorithmically organised chaos, “quiet” clothes are conspicuous in their absence. Type “quiet luxury” into Google and you will find an organic candle for the anxious, a kidney shaped stone-grey sofa, a wall-mounted toilet with brushed gold lid and, bizarrely, only a soupçon of well-cut, extremely expensive wardrobe staples.
Despite never having watched an episode of HBO’s beloved Succession, this is not the first time that I have been asked for my thoughts on a style of dressing that speaks softly. The modest look of the Roys has galvanised thousands of articles, Instagram and TikTok posts, all transfixed by the power of a good monochromatic ensemble.
Dressing in this way requires a lot more nerve than does donning a head-to-toe Gucci monogram tracksuit. Favouring sombre, block colours, soft natural fibres and unfussy fastenings is camouflage from an ornate, high-definition world.
I am academic in my approach to style. There are two ways to get dressed – either you develop a uniform of sorts, which can evolve as your waistline does, or you handle each day like a bacchanalian orgy, throwing on all sorts of new things in lots of new ways and hoping for the best. There is no wrong way of doing it. I have signed up to approach number one: a utilitarian style that means I get dressed quickly and with little fuss.
“Quiet luxury captures a certain complexity of character”
I wear some things from The Row and have a lot of cashmere sweaters and soft leather shoes that I pair with army surplus coveralls, but I am not wearing them in the way they are intended. For me, dressing quietly is not about fiscal stature – my clothes do not grace the seats of private jets or carpeted hotel suites. I’m pounding the concrete streets and scuffing my shoes on the steps of one of Mr Thomas Heatherwick’s hideous double-decker buses.
For many, the quiet-luxury moniker is shorthand for “minimalism”, which I think is very different. Minimalism implies a rejection of personality, whereas quiet luxury captures a certain complexity of character. It feels like a response to the financial and political fitfulness of life today. In her 1974 essay “Recession Dressing” penned in response to an economic downturn in the US, Ms Kennedy Fraser opined that, “The old interest in the cautious principle of spending more on fewer clothes of better quality is back”.
As a passing trend, wearing good-quality, unobtrusive clothes can only last if you have the lifestyle to back it up – not one glittering with Centurion Cards, weird vials of green juice and multiple watches, but loaded with inquisitiveness, culture and curiosity. Wear something simple, but soft to the touch and you’ll quickly learn what you are made of.
02. Wild praise for loud luxury
Mr Stephen Doig, men’s style editor at The Daily Telegraph
As I write this, I’m wearing a psychedelic print shirt in pink and lime swirls from Dries Van Noten (it’s better than it sounds, I promise) with a pair of apricot-hued velvet slippers. Widow Twankey, but make it fashion. They form part of a wardrobe that includes pink sequin trousers (also from Mr Van Noten, a master of excess-all-areas richness), Dolce & Gabbana botanical print shirts and Fendace gold silks. So, you could say that the notion of “quiet luxury” means very little to me.
It’s not that it isn’t a delectable prospect. The language alone is so evocative and inviting – vicuñas, caramel shades, waffle-knits biscuit tones. It’s a veritable smorgasbord of muted elegance, and any man in a soft-shouldered charcoal coat from The Row is going to make as much of a statement as the one in the obviously OTT, in his own way. But as shows such as Succession and Beef celebrate all that is stealth wealth and tastefully neutral, it does make one long for a short, sharp shock of fashion maximalism as an antidote. The opposite of a palette cleanser, if you will.
Coming of age in the late 1990s, perhaps I’m more hardwired than Gen Z to accept logomania without question. It was the era of Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger lettering across boxers, T-shirts, sweaters, running vertically up your leg on joggers or dashed across your baseball cap. But there’s more to loud luxury than just shouty brand names (and even Balenciaga have quelled the maelstrom of overt logomania in that front).
Perhaps it’s the fact that a show of outright peacockery has been a long time coming. We spent two years hermetically sealed indoors and without the chance to dress up and shake our sartorial tailfeathers. So, it’s not surprising that a surplus of splashy prints, vivid colour, richly detailed eveningwear have graced the catwalks of Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Casablanca and Versace. Of course, such theatrics are very much in the wheelhouse of such brands – see Versace’s iconic silk shirts, of which I have two – but even labels known for their softly-softly approach have been getting in on the act. Emporio Armani’s recent foray into showman sequins, for example.
“It’s a way to really relish dressing up and having fun with what you wear”
Yes, loud luxury is brash and in-your-face. It’s the champagne popping footballer at the party – and that party is most likely at a beach club in Mykonos. It’s labelled as nouveau riche, although even the smallest understanding of societal shifts throughout the 20th century would alight on the fact that times of hardship are traditionally followed by periods of glorious excess in how we present ourselves. The glitz of the 1920s, the bohemia of the 1970s.
In an era of sustainability-centric dressing and concerns about cost-of-living crises, overt signs of showiness can seem crass. But it’s also a way to really relish dressing up and having fun with what you wear. Loud luxury doesn’t take itself too seriously, it doesn’t pretend to have a higher purpose and it doesn’t do closed-door snobbery. Where one camp favours discretion and whisper-it-in-the-know nuance (God how tiresome), the other is celebrating what makes it distinctive – whether a signature print, a retina-searing shade – and shouting it from the rooftops.
And while we’re mentioning “camps”, it’s worth mentioning that there’s an “I Am What I Am” honesty to loud luxury that’s seduced generations of gay men over the years – see those Versace shirts, so prevalent in the 1990s and reinvigorated for today’s audience by the unwaveringly ostentatious Donatella. Go on, give ’em the old razzle dazzle.