Our Take on Quiet Luxury: Siren Song or White Noise?

Category: Strategy & Insights
30 Jan 2024
Read time: 3 MIN
When your SEO partner directs you to write a piece on quiet luxury, you write it. But rather than an ode to understated sartorial elegance, we question whether quiet luxury is worthy of the noise.
Written By
MOF Team
MOF Team

We’ve homogenised our design codes. Design, in both concept and practice, has been turned inwards, far more concerned with the story, engineering and people who sit behind a brand than it is with outward status symbols. Bold branding has been muted, resulting in ‘blanding’: where iconic logos are simplified and emblems forgone in favour of sleeker aesthetics.

The idea of a brand as a logo has shifted to a set of beliefs and ideals – Dr. Martens is rebellion and self-expression, Whoop is betterment, Patagonia is activism, Carhartt is dedication. 

Though each is visually recognisable, the visibility of the inner brand has become far more important than overt labels with value placed on durability, quality, purpose and so on. As we’ve collectively crept away from noughties logomania and the Y2K obsession towards The Purpose Era, high-ticket products and their mother brands have leaned into subtler cues that became dominant in 2022/2023 thanks to pop culture reinforcements. 

Typically termed ‘quiet luxury’, though adjacent iterations include ‘stealth wealth’ and ‘anti-ostentation’, the concept is indebted – at least in part – to HBO’s satirical drama Succession. Premiering in 2018, the series was the first in a veritable landslide of productions heaping on thick contempt for the wealthy – a contemporary eat-the-rich, anti-consumerism subgenre now filled with cult shows sharp cinematic critiques including fellow HBO drama The White Lotus, Rian Johnson’s Knives Out and sequel Glass Onion, Mark Mylod’s The Menu, Palme d’Or winner Triangle of Sadness and Emerald Fennell’s recent entry Saltburn

Despite the clear criticism built into these cultural touchstones – especially how Succession highlights the Roy family’s many flaws through sartorial selection – quiet luxury has become a widely revered style and not just in high fashion circles. 

Because we now exist in a ‘treat yourself’ culture (undeterred by a cost of living crisis), luxury spending isn’t unique to society’s upper echelons – even our coffee orders can be considered luxury today. Alongside that current, we’ve seen simultaneous fetishisations of wealth and poverty in equal measure. Just as widespread ‘old money’ aesthetics exalt the rigid class systems of yesterday, we’re seeing controversial waves being made by the likes of Balenciaga whose destroyed high-tops and literal trash bags are considered ‘poor cosplay’. And the backlash was anything but quiet.

At first glance, ‘quiet luxury’ might be considered an antithesis to excess and overconsumption. Sadly, it’s not. Quiet luxury is merely another form of conspicuous consumption – an excess we’re against despite – or rather, because of – our work with timeless brands. It’s not revolutionary, it’s not irreverent. It’s conspicuous consumption in an ineffective disguise. It’s stuffy status signalling through a veil of anonymity. 

Consumerism & Quiet Luxury

A Guardian long-read published in November 2023 asks if we can solve our addiction to consumerism. After a nauseating trip to tour a landfill site in Denver, Colwell – the author – and his family embarked on an experiment to restrain their household’s consumption, without crippling their happiness. Instead of a ‘no-buy year’, they decided on a ‘slow-buy’ approach where, besides necessities, each of them can purchase five things a year. 

There are a few variations of this kind of existence; ‘slow living’, a ‘zero-waste lifestyle’, ‘minimalism’. Some people choose to give up all plastics, others abandon fast-fashion or single-use products. Circular models are on the rise in industry and Gen Z, reluctant to spend on overstated brands and expensive products, are willing to invest in things that matter to them beyond the instant gratification that comes with clicking ‘buy now’. 

All of us are aware of the moral arguments for consumption reduction, we must all do our bit. At the same time, we love stuff. Having items that bring us joy is a vice that, if quashed, could be detrimental to our mood. Perhaps people are taking on the mantle of ‘quiet luxurians’ to convince themselves that their part in saving the planet is done. Or is it merely camouflage? 

Cynical? Maybe – but not nearly as cynical as Chelsea Fagan’s 2021 essay “Minimalism Is Just Another Boring Product Wealthy People Can Buy”. Equal parts amusing and scathing, Fagan points to a cultish phenomenon of performing a simple, stripped-back life but makes clear that ultimately, minimalist aesthetics are “a way of aping the connotations of simplicity and even, to a degree, asceticism, without actually having to give up those sweet, sweet class signifiers.” Some parts of the social media sphere agree: in 2023, parts of TikTok revolted against minimalist homes – what creators coined ‘sad beige’. 

To be clear, minimalism and quiet luxury aren’t necessarily the same thing. They’re arguably synonyms but the latter doesn’t even make the dictionary as of 2024. Even if it did, treating dictionary definitions as fixed, unbiased facts is a mistake. Word meanings and cultural beliefs go hand in hand and they change all the time. One person’s quiet luxury could reasonably be the exclusive pursuit of durable products through occasional purchases; their buying decisions indifferent to label or pattern. Unfortunately, dominant notions of quiet luxury are tied up in high price points, plush fabrics and tailored fits – anything connoting status and wealth that isn’t a logo or monogram. 

Why Quiet Luxury Matters

Despite making headlines through a few trend cycles, there’s little evidence to suggest that quiet luxury is the new vogue. Even if we limit ourselves to the fashion world instead of the wider luxury market, it’s clear that apparel stamped with a logo is yet to be banished entirely. Much of luxury purchasing is made by the increasingly mobile consumer, not necessarily the long-standing ultra-high net worth. 

Perhaps quiet luxury is a symptom of this affluent divide. A thread along the Great Gatsby Curve where new money rises in ranks and threatens the old guard. A fear of a flattening hierarchy propelled a push for old values, an additional division of luxury easier to gatekeep. 

It’s a shame really. Because (most of) the tenets of quiet luxury – understated, high-quality, measured – are exactly what we believe modern luxury is. Or at least should be. Less conspicuous, more discerning. Thoughtfully indulgent. Investing in craftsmanship and perceived value over loud labels and shouty signals. Though, to that end, there’s no need to cut off your labels, just reimagine them.

This isn’t a battle between old money and new, it’s a charge for responsible consumerism. For brands, that means being the torchbearers of a conscious age, without the performative fanfare. Remaining still and grounded as the trend cycles churn, staying rooted in craft and founding spirit. 


Wanting to revisit and refine your positioning, spirit, product or experience? Get in touch with one of our consultants via hello@matterofform.com and outline what’s next. 

MOF Team

Published by MOF Team

We are a London-based Brand & Experience Design Agency delivering second-to-none experiences for forward-thinking luxury brands with something to say.

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