There are two camps of people –one that is obsessed with overt portrayals of wealth, and another that prefers to lay low.
If Emily in Paris reflects luxury in a society that has vastly democratised and made a spectacle of what it means to be and look “luxe”, the clothes of Succession sneer at that notion. Recent shifts in culture, like the rise of celebrity influencers and the advent of thrifted or rented designer goods, have changed the rules of the luxury market entirely, making it possible for more people to participate in the category than ever before. There are two camps of people: one that exalts in owning logo-filled fashion pieces or outwardly portraying their wealth with the number of sports cars and yachts they own; and the other, who prefers to go incognito while still enjoying a luxuriant lifestyle.
Characters in the award-winning show, Succession, fit neatly into the latter category. For those who have a penchant for conspicuous showing of wealth, the self-effacing nature of Succession fashion feels impenetrable and mysterious, if not also unsettling and indecipherable. For years, the show’s characters have garnered attention for their outfits, part of the fanfare being that the clothes worn by the uber-wealthy characters are understated and unbranded.
In the Succession season 4 premiere, Kendall Roy, one of the show’s protagonists, wears jeans, a t-shirt, a bomber jacket and a baseball jacket, a combination that at face value, could be from Uniqlo. After some sleuthing, it was determined that the outfit was a combination of pieces by Gucci and Loro Piana that cost a little under 10K. Society for a long time has been accustomed to overt display of wealth, yet Succession’s has camouflaged their on-screen billionaires in inconspicuous wealth. Where online aspirationationalism can often parade as a rotating cycle of expensive monogrammed handbags, Succession paints an image of luxury that ignores trends entirely.
Not everyone can afford that luxury. Season after season, we see supporting characters desperately struggling to dress the part in the Roy family’s world. From the show’s very first episode, when family patriarch Logan Roy all but sneers at the Patek Philippe gifted to him by his son-in-law, the audience is made to understand that to be a try-hard is a faux-pas, no matter the price tag. A season later, his son Kendall (who is admittedly the most try-hard of the Roy siblings) dresses the part of an art startup bro in a bid to invest in a company. Recognising himself as a poser, he interrupts the meeting to take off the Lanvin shoes that he bought for the occasion. Embarrassed, the richest guy in the room outs himself as an outsider and loses his shot. Not even his money could grant him insider status.
Today, in the age of “picture or it didn’t happen” luxury is arguably more about status than it is about money, comfort or experience. When Greg Hirsch, played by Nicholas Braun, shows up to Logan Roy’s birthday party with a date donning a $2,890 Burberry tote, it’s an immediate red flag for Succession’s elite, who immediately dismiss her bag as “ludicrously capacious”. “What’s even in there, huh? Flat shoes for the subway? Her lunch pail?” says Matthew Macfadyen’s character, Tom Wambsgans. “I mean, Greg, it’s monstrous. It’s gargantuan. You could take it camping. You could slide it across the floor after a bank job”.
The internet has since been littered with debates about the exchange as an obnoxious display of elitism, a judgement on fashion, and of course, the value of the bag itself. People on social media have been quick to label their own accessories as “ludicrously capacious”, and news outlets have quickly gotten in on the joke, advertising the best capacious bags of the season. Meanwhile, people are signalling the return of the “old money” aesthetic, dubbing the “quiet luxury” look a massive trend to watch for 2023. What’s fascinating about the moment’s influence isn’t its reach (any show with a massive following is expected to turn memeable in the blink of an eye), it’s how reactions to the bag are splintered, and what that splintering shows us about the fragmentation of luxury itself.
Culture is always fragmenting itself, the cracks getting deeper and more reflective with every passing year that we’re online. Back in the early days of Instagram, the rise of so-called “hipster” culture meant that everyone was trying really hard to be alternative. ‘Normcore’, an aesthetic built on the promise of plainness, and a rejection of individuality altogether, was born as a reaction to a culture obsessed with difference. One group found status by playing into the tide of pop culture, while the other did it by ignoring it aggressively, and self-awarely.
Today, when social media’s grasp on our lives has expanded beyond notions of cool, and into pretty much everything else, luxury finds itself in a similar situation. On one side sits Emily, making a name for herself on social media with her loud prints and love of the ludicrous (albeit not necessarily capacious). On the other are the Roy siblings, with their Loro Piana shoes, $500 baseball caps and a whole host of “investment normcore” pieces. Both sides are dressed to reveal different beliefs about luxury, but both sides play into luxury as a telltale sign of status all the same. Even, like when in Succession, luxury doesn’t need ostentation, it is a “flex” all the same. In a media climate that begs people to constantly express who they are, our decisions about how we do and do not choose to express luxury are about who we aspire to be. Where luxury was once about scarcity and exclusivity, the word has mutated it into something else entirely, with tentacles spreading in every direction. To be an Emily, or to be a Roy, it’s all a matter of decision, but in 2023, both are luxe.
This article was contributed by Gabriela Serpa Royo, Behavioural Analyst, Canvas8.
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