Quiet Luxury: Aesthetic trend or lasting cultural shift?

Quiet luxury, a recent trend in the recovering luxury market indicates a shift in consumer behaviour and motivation, but does it have lasting power for brands and businesses across the category? Lydia Davey and Hari-Blanch-Bennett share their take.​
16 June 2023
Quiet Luxury: Aesthetic trend or lasting cultural shift?​
Hari Blanch
Blanch Bennett

Associate Director

Lydia Davey

Senior Consultant

The post-pandemic luxury category bounce-back has seen leading luxury brands like Louis Vuitton driving value in category and even outpacing the growth of other sectors (Kantar BrandZ, 2022). But with market recovery comes inevitable market shifts. Transformed are the traditional luxury brands of years gone by, and in their place radical new brand positionings, players and trends that are re-framing luxury.  One such trend is Quiet Luxury, but what is it, what’s driving it, and is it a lasting trend or a passing fad? 

Wealth Whispers  

If there was one phrase to perfectly capture Quiet Luxury, it is “money talks, wealth whispers”.  

Here, ‘more’ is no longer more and displaying wealth ostentatiously is uncouth (think Jeff’s Bezos’s $500m Super Yacht or the ‘ludicrously capacious bag’ carried by Succession’s social climber character). Rather than telegraphing your wealth in an obvious way, it’s only important that those in your social circles recognise yourcues of wealth, placing Quiet Luxury at the polar opposite of “Luxury Logo Mania” from the 2010’s.    

The aesthetic is subtle. If we take the hugely important luxury handbag category as an example, we see logos made minimal or shrunken down and hidden in a discreet pattern (see Goyard's handbags), hardware used sparsely and a move away from named logos, towards emblems and symbols that only fellow luxurians would recognise (see Celine’s resurrection of the Triomphe icon). 

‘The Row’ for example overlooks the need for a bold logo, replacing this with distinctive cuts, materials and collections that rely on an overall collective vision to market itself. In Quiet Luxury, the traditional tenets of luxury such as craftmanship and quality of materials are more important than overt displays of status through recognizable and overt branding.  

In culture, recent examples of Quiet Luxury include the understated tailoring and muted colour palette of Shiv’s wardrobe in Succession; Victoria Beckham and Amal Clooney’s “Old Money Aesthetic” (also trending on TikTok);  and the success of low-key luxury label ‘The Row’  

 “The logo on quiet luxury is subtle, and only those with a trained eye will recognize the prestigious item” (Forbes, 2022) 

But what’s behind ‘Quiet Luxury’? 

Trends come and go, and since the proliferation of “–core” micro trends on TikTok it’s becoming harder to distinguish between true trends vs passing fads. We look at cultural drivers to help us predict shifts in consumer behaviours and to separate out fickle fads from true trends. 

Driver #1: Rising protests of inequality is driving wealth ‘underground’ 

Recent societal events such as the Covid-19 pandemic, rising inflation and the cost-of-living crisis have thrust existing social inequities into the spotlight. In fact, according to the IMF, US billionaires actually profited on the pandemic with their wealth increasing by 70.3%- over $2Trillion.  

As a result, civil protests against profits and wealth-hoarding are more widespread than ever. The recent LVMH Riots in France and UK protests on Oil/Gas profits are two prime examples or even the hit film ‘Parasite’ that displays a cultural nuance of an economically divided society in South Korea. “Eat the rich” (a political slogan associated with anti-capitalism) continues to gather momentum too, further stigmatizing displays of wealth and forcing the super-rich to visualize their wealth in more understated ways and only to those in the know.
LVMH Protest
LVMH Protest, Image Source: Forbes, 2023

As a result ‘Uneasy Affluence’ remains a key emotion and motivator in driving visible signals of wealth underground and many of the “10%” super-rich are less eager to show off wealth obviously for fear of rebuttal or seeming ‘out of touch’. 

Driver #2: Democratisation of luxury driven by social media & Influencer culture 

A huge part of the appeal of luxury is to signify the ability to afford something that others cannot. Rarity and exclusivity are well established attributes of luxury across categories, but social media is disrupting the industry by democratizing access and visibility to the market, shining a spotlight on influencer lifestyles. 

To echo the words of Pamela Danziger for the quiet luxury demographic “Social Media is not class, it’s mass” and in the eyes of the super-rich the volume of “showy” wealth posted online dilutes the brand equity. Experiences that were once only accessible to the wealthy, say helicopter transfers to the airport in NYC, now seem within reach to broader swathes of the population. But for the true luxury consumer when everyone has something, they want something else, and even more so if there are 250,000 images on Instagram with the hashtag. 

Brands and experiences such as Hermes & the Belmond Royal Scotsman effectively prevent the invasion of the masses to preserve their equity and true luxury status through channelling rarity & exclusivity. 

So, is it a fad or here to stay? 

For the wealthy few (and their chosen brand list), nailing Quiet Luxury is a new golden ticket to the super-rich. Its emergence is certainly influential on the category and indicative of a shift in consumer mindset, but genuine implications of the trend will vary greatly according to the brand, category & target consumer. 

For many luxury consumers now and in the future, such as entry-level luxe or logo-lovers, it’s unlikely that the muted elegance of quiet luxury will satisfy their desire for recognition and more overt luxury displays for status. 

Perhaps then the emergence of Quiet Luxury actually signals a growing fragmentation of the previously traditionalist set-up of the luxury market hinting toward a more dynamic future that will demand brands to keep up to stay relevant to their consumers. 

But what does this mean for your brand?  

1. Key implications to consider: The luxury consumer is not a monolith

For every Quiet Luxurian there are also people who want to engage with luxury through street-style, bold logos or elevated eccentricity. With the continued expansion of the luxury category and the consumers within it, brands must understand the different motivations and behaviours of their existing and new consumer base, creating a bespoke creative strategy with this in mind. 

Kantar specialises in deep consumer understanding and transforming this into strategic frameworks that allow brands to supercharge their growth.

2. Your brand equity is in constant evolution

For better or for worse, external factors affect your brand’s equity. Staying close to cultural shifts is particularly relevant for luxury brands as the market continues its dynamism. Understanding how these shifts influence your brand equity and consumer behaviour enables you to define the strategic moves needed to unlock growth while protecting your unique brand DNA.  

Understanding your brand’s earned equity through user generated content is a powerful way of unlocking insights that may not be surfaced through traditional research methodologies. At Kantar, we use semiotic expertise to analyse user generated images that illuminate a brand’s equity through consumer’s eyes. 

Interested in exploring what this means for your brand or business? Reach out to a member of the Kantar team.