Is Being Understated the Newest Fashion Trend?
The new status signalling is no status signalling at all.
by : Caitlin Agnew- Apr 14th, 2022
On the hit HBO series Succession, the Roys, a billionaire family that owns a global media empire, take a subdued approach to getting dressed, favouring the nondescript over the ostentatious. For people who could undoubtedly afford an endless parade of flashy fits, the loudest seen on the show was perhaps the embroidered Gucci jacket worn by Kendall to his 40th-birthday party—a piece with clout, to be sure, but hardly one that would stand out on the streets of New York. In an age of accessibility, when luxury goods are just a click and a few Afterpay payments away, fashion’s visual codes are becoming increasingly subtle and complex. Today, it’s sometimes what your clothes are not saying that comes across louder.
After years of favouring branding-forward designs, with splashy logos and bold monograms taking centre stage, some designers are now putting the emphasis on subtlety. It’s nothing new, says Ana Andjelic, who has worked as chief brand officer at Banana Republic and Rebecca Minkoff and is the author of The Business of Aspiration. “Whenever you have strong logomania, [it’s followed by] things going in a different direction—more inconspicuous and in the know and more hidden.”
While some consumers still covet obvious branding and logos, there are plenty of brands that have a following specifically for their more restrained approach. For spring, that looks like the roomy belted trench coats, crisp tailored shirts and layered silhouettes spotted at The Row, loose trousers and jackets at Lemaire and chic monochrome sets complete with matching accessories at Max Mara.
For Métier London founder and designer Melissa Morris, this understated elegance is key when creating handbags for her clientele, a list that includes Nicole Kidman and the Duchess of Cambridge. Known for her refined shapes and materials, Morris takes a traditionally luxurious approach to design, one that honours function without compromising on form or quality and with nary a logo in sight. “Métier is designed for people who have plenty to say and nothing to prove,” she told British Vogue. “They value the highest-quality craftsmanship and timeless design rather than large logos or seasonal trends.”
“Luxury brands have taken note that consumers want to be more mindful of what they wear and how they express themselves, especially as the pandemic has caused economic hardship for so many,” says Hannah Watkins, head of printsand graphics at trend-forecasting agency WGSN. She explains that many consumers are looking to live more sustainable lives, an aspect of which may be about buying less. “Opting for a more minimalist approach to branding will also enhance an item’s longevity and cost per wear,” she adds.
“While some consumers still covet obvious branding and logos, there are plenty of brands that have a following specifically for their more restrained approach. ”
A more minimalist approach, however, does not mean nondescript. In fact, it’s increasingly common for fashion companies to make a subtle nod to their brand that is only visible to those in the know. Take Acne Studios’ Lagom face motif, a doodle of a stereotypical Swede that has come to represent the brand’s authority on hipster Scandi-cool, or Vivienne Westwood’s orb pendant, a planetary design that’s become a surprise hit among style-conscious members of gen Z, or even a canvas tote bag acquired at a bookstore or a music festival overseas. Then there are the design details that communicate a brand, like the signature slinkiness of Jacquemus or the “intrecciato” weave of Bottega Veneta, which was playfully pushed in new brand-reviving directions under former creative director Daniel Lee. The Maison Margiela Tabi boot, which has a toe inspired by the Japanese split-toe sock, has the brand’s signature four white stitches, perhaps the most discreet label of all. “This direction feels exclusive and plays into the sentiment that you have to be in the know to know,” explains Watkins.
More people being in the know has led to increased diversification and nuance in the signifiers employed in fashion, which go well beyond simple logos like a swoosh or a stripe and include visual elements like material or shape. “Now that consumers are more educated because of social media, because of influencers and because of individual curation and connoisseurship, they can go deeper than just having the surface identifiers,” says Andjelic. “Now, identifiers are in those taste communities and curated communities.”
However fashion houses choose to display their brand identity— whether through a discreet weave or a bold logo—their power to communicate has never been stronger. “Fashion branding and logos are not just part of trends; they’re part of a particular safe community,” says Andjelic. And that has left some, whether they’re Roy-level rich or not, choosing to lay low as a way to stand out. “No status signalling is the new status signalling,” says Andjelic. “If everyone signals status, you can’t distinguish yourself anymore.”
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