Last Friday, on my commute out of the office and into the embrace of a particularly strong Martinez, I managed to run afoul of several teenagers who – like seemingly half of Sydney this time of year – were out to partake in Vivid. (Translation: paying $40 a head to marvel at the wonders of electricity.)
I didn’t think much of this interaction at the time, but in hindsight, distinctly remember one of them – let’s call him “NPC #2” – offering a snickering remark about my overly “capacious” tote bag. And I wasn’t even carrying flat shoes for the subway.
It was around this moment that the relentless and inexorable popularity of Succession fell upon me. Like pretty much everybody else in the Western world, I had been vaguely swept up over the past few years in the sumptuous locations; acid-tinged dialogue (i.e. Shakespeare by way of Glengarry Glen Ross); helipad drama; and riveting soundtrack of HBO’s latest prestige TV series.
Now, here I was, about to start my weekend, being mocked by a gaggle of Gen Z’s finest – who are evidently also big Succession fans.
For this particular demo, the topic of fashion is tightly interwoven with a minute-to-minute dissection of the show. Along with his writers and costumers, creator Jesse Armstrong has used clothing and worn objects over the course of four seasons to drive character arcs; and flesh out the world inhabited by media titan Logan Roy and his preternaturally un-serious progeny.
The last time I personally remember a prestige TV show inciting such fervent scrutiny – for clothes, booze, furniture, and every square inch of production design – was at the tail-end of the 2010s – as Mad Men, AMC’s poignant and endlessly rewatchable period drama, was coming to a close. In that era, beleaguered fashion writers also made grand proclamations about a new “Golden Age” for preppy suits, Brooks Brothers and what they termed the Don Draper effect.
But, crucially, that was before TikTok – and our observations have only gotten more reductive since.
Now, the relentless pace at which ByteDance’s social media platform encourages a young, largely Zoomer-led audience to consume and compartmentalise has given us Succession‘s answer to the Mad Men-era suit boom – the “quiet luxury” trend.
‘Quiet Luxury’: A Rose By Any Other Name
Near as I can tell, the term “quiet luxury” has been used en masse in 2023 to describe a category of “premium, minimal clothing with particular thought to cut, design, and quality.” On Google, the 3rd most popular related search served up by the algorithm (at the time of writing) is “quiet luxury trend” – and that, therein, speaks volumes about a premise many fashion professionals will tell you is inherently flawed.
Of these, the most egregious is probably the notion that we could even classify quiet luxury as a “trend.” A rebadging of ideas that have been in the fashion journalism lexicon for over a decade (e.g. “stealth wealth,” “old money style”) it’s a little rich of brands to manufacture a false sense of novelty out of the desire to wear expensive, extremely well-made yet aesthetically unremarkable clothing that you won’t get rid of after a year.
And yet, TikTok is awash in instructional videos that teach audiences how to “dress rich” or “get the Succession look,” oftentimes on a fast fashion budget – spectacularly missing all the tangible selling points that made “stealth wealth” (notwithstanding its implications as to class and race) so attractive in the first place.
Take Loro Piana as an example: a brand heavily rotated by real and imaginary plutocrats alike (Kendall, eldest of the three Roy siblings – the dark emotional heart of Succession – is clearly a fan) the Italian luxury house is frequently trodden out as shorthand for the show’s fashion clout – described as a “chic” or “anti-logomania” addition to the wardrobes of the actors who wear it.
That, to borrow from Armstrong’s own in-show dialogue, is an “utterly fanciful” suggestion.
The reason why the uber-rich have traditionally worn Loro Piana’s cashmere sweaters or $2,000 Open Walks (a Moccasin-style slip-on shoe, now made infamous by comedy influencers like The Gstaad Guy) is that those clothes made sense for their gilded, PJ-heavy lifestyle. Indeed, as veteran journalists in the consumer luxury racket well know, only in the last 10 years has demand for Loro Piana’s own ready-to-wear clothing begun to intensify – with the real quarry being in the production and development of textiles (chiefly cashmere).
“I fell in love with [the brand] because its clothes reflected the style of the effortlessly suave Sergio Loro Piana…a one-man testbed for the garments he found comfortable,” says Nicholas Foulkes, the British historian, columnist and author of Patek Philippe: The Authorised Biography.
“Loro Piana did not need a creative director: everything came from the life led by Sergio and his brother.”
“You’re too online. You’ve lost context.”
Foulkes’ observation about Loro Piana – equally relevant to many of the other designer labels (e.g. Tom Ford, Brunello Cucinelli, Zegna) that appear throughout Succession – also brings to mind the issue of authenticity (assuming, for the sake of argument, that we characterise quiet luxury’s recent spike in popularity as a ‘trend’).
Ripped from their native context – après–ski or a day at the Concorso d’Eleganza – most ‘quiet luxury’ garments look an awful lot like what you’d find any given Sunday at your local branch of Uniqlo (a brand most clotheshorses love, incidentally). And while proponents of all things covertly bougie will tell you this is by design, I remain doubtful that a $12,800 coat would have gone viral had Mark Mylod chosen not to film it being worn on and off an endless procession of Gulfsteams.
And therein lies the rub: for most of us, it’s the unfathomable universe of privilege represented by the fashion of Succession, not the clothing itself, that has proved so fascinating all these years. The $600 dad cap; watches that cost as much as a house deposit; the Armani suit that “doesn’t make you look like a prick” – remove these from the universe of a critically acclaimed dramedy and gradually, their lustre begins to dim.
As for the one-percenters themselves? Those economic colossi who pubescent cosplayers would have you believe stroll around to a “too much money, no style” type beat? They’re probably wearing Zara hoodies. Or sequined Celine jackets. Or a shirt that’s also an NFT.
The reality is that “quiet luxury” doesn’t really matter – but boy is it diabolical how Succession tricked us into thinking it should.