NEW YORK, NY (AP) - They are the largest of brands. They're the biggest of brands, but without logos. That's what the point is.
You can call it quiet luxury or stealth wealth. Logo-free fashion and outsized price tags are a big hit with the wealthy and aspirants, at least those who have the money to spend despite rising inflation and an unstable economy.
The trend is a fad that comes and goes, but its roots can be traced back to the American industrialists in the Gilded Age of the nineteenth century, as well as France in the 17th century. Retailers are also taking notice, and more designers are looking to attract not just the wealthy but their wannabes as well.
Gwyneth, the multi-millionaire Goop actress and Hollywood nepotism baby is dressed in head-to toe Prada, cashmere sweaters of luxurious quality and Celine boots. She spent a week in court in Utah in a dispute involving a skiing accident.
She was dressed in neutral designer clothes, and those with a sense of luxury could easily identify the brands that were behind her bland, logoless wardrobe.
Robert Burke, luxury retail consultant, says, "When you know you know." The people who matter to them, those in their bedrooms, are aware of what they wear. They're the only people who matter.
The story of the ultra-rich and cutthroat Roys, led by Logan, the snarly patriarch who is now dead, is told in HBO's hit show "Succession."
Michelle Matland, costume designer for the show, has designed stealthy but expensive wardrobes that are unique to each character. Her fans have been following her fashion breadcrumbs ever since the 2018 premiere.
She says, "It shouldn't be bling-quality." You'll always have your Kardashians, you know -- the people who like to draw attention. The two people may be the same income, but they have different goals.
Shiv, the only female Roy sister, wears neutral power pieces and perfectly round rimmed baseball caps.
The Roys, with their jet-set, don't have logos. But one of their most important members had to learn the hard way about the secret wealth.
It's very accurate. "Every time you look at this, it will tell you how rich you are," says Tom Wambsgans to Logan about the Patek Philippe that he gives the billionaire in the early scenes of 'Succession."
Logan, with a trademark mumble, and no sign of gratitude, rejects the birthday present emblazoned the name of a company whose watches sell for more than $300,000. He then gives it away.
The latest season has brought us to another Logan birthday party. Tom, the same groveler, but now a much more shrewd man, is the one who makes fun of Bridget for her extravagant display: a $2,890 Burberry bag in a familiar plaid, without the logo.
Greg, his subordinate, is snarled at by Tom. What's in that bag, huh? You could even take it camping. You could take it camping.
SPLASHY TO CLASSIC
Paltrow has always favored a minimalist, sleek style. Her recent trial wardrobe, however, was broadcast on television at a moment when many brands are using understated tones and shapes (but still expensive) on the runways and on shelves.
Some do it, while still staying true to their customers' spending out loud, with flashy, recognizable fabrics, silhouettes, logos, and bling.
Jodi Kohn, vice president for luxury fashion at Neiman-Marcus, says that the stealth wealth trend was evident in the season's purchases. Usually splashier brands like Loewe and Saint Laurent chose to go with a more classic aesthetic.
These designers have joined the companies who have done this for years, such as The Row, Brunello, Cucinelli, and Loro Piana.
Burke believes that the current situation can be explained in part by the pandemic. This was when young, aspirational consumers with savings and stimulus money went for big brands making big statements.
He says that there is an element of fatigue in the air, accompanied by uncertainty about the future. People are not showing off their wealth.
Fashion cycles are known to have counter-moments.
From toothpaste manufacturers to discounters, more high-end products like toothpastes priced at $10 and creams priced at $90 are being placed on supermarket shelves. Some companies are trying to boost sales and profits through premium products despite a general sales slump.
Martin Pedraza is the CEO of The Luxury Institute. The Luxury Institute provides research, consulting and employee training. He says that stealth wealth has been a code for the ultra-rich. With a recession in the white collar sector, "all those who are laid off" want to appear pristine.
Can they afford the $1,390 Tom Ford Hoodie that Kendall, another Roy, wore? They may not be able to afford it, but they can buy more affordable cashmere from brands like J.Crew and Banana Republic. The difference is between $400 and upwards to $2,000.
Matland states that it's all in the fabric and texture. You can buy a J.Crew cashmere sweater, but you'll see the difference in a more expensive brand.
THE EVOLUTION OF QUIET
Analysts say that people show off during times of prosperity, and not when they are nervous about their financial future. Pedraza explains: the rich imitate the masses, while those at the top and middle of the mass try to mimic the minimalist rich.
He mentions other stealth fashion eras. The 1990s minimalist aesthetic, when Donna Karan, Miuccia, and Donna Karan made practical clothing fashionable, was followed by a display of stealth wealth during the 2008-09 recession.
Patricia Mears is the deputy director of Fashion Institute of Technology Museum at FIT. She goes even further back.
She says that 'people with real power and money have always done it, at least in America'. We have a WASP culture and a Protestant culture that is anti-maximalism.
Mears says that's just part of the larger story.
You have to look back at the end of 18th century. The fall of the French Monarchy was followed by the dual rise in industrialization and urbanization. The men then step into the 'Great Renunciation.
The trend is away from powdered-wigs, floral-brocaded suit covered in lace.
All of this court-life is gone, and the industrialists are now the true power base. Mears says that they come in and build wealth and power in the dark suit. Scholars have stated that the dark suit is the perfect uniform for those who want to appear powerful but also understated.
Is it possible to mimic stealth wealth? It is better to invest in quality staples for long-lasting wear, and reduce waste. However, trying to fool the rich by using cheaper alternatives could be problematic. After all, once you know, then you know.
But minimalism doesn't mean everything. Logos are here to stay, as well as signature prints, edgier shapes and recognizable signatures.
There will always be those who want logos. Pedraza believes Chanel would be hard-pressed to give up its logo. There will always be brands who cave in to the current situation.