Forget labels. The fashion elite turn to 'stealth wealth.'


    The case of the missing logo

    Forget labels. The fashion elite turn to 'stealth wealth.'

    (Illustration/Jason Unger Photo) By Kate M. Jackson, Globe Correspondent | October 12, 2006
    For as long as she can remember, Jessica Lennon coveted a Louis Vuitton "Speedy" handbag. When she was finally able to get her hands on one, she wanted to shout it from the rooftops. However, instead of buying the brand's most distinctive monogram-splashed bag, she opted for a less obvious one with an almost invisible logo.
    "I feel more unique than every other fashionista carrying bags with the `LV' logos all over them," said Lennon, a 22-year-old ``alpha shopper" from New York. "But at the same time, when I'm walking down the street, everyone still knows my bag is a real Louis Vuitton."
    Everyone "in the know," that is.
    Today the cachet of owning a luxury brand no longer comes from signature logos but by being able to identify signature designer details -- whether it's the precious metal on a handbag, the lush fabric of a dress, or the sole color of a shoe, fashion insiders say. The premise here, they say, is that if you're truly among the fashion elite you don't need labels or logos to showcase your style and wealth. The new mantra is: If you've got it -- don't flaunt it.
    "Wearing designer logos has always been less about personal style than it is about letting other people know that you belong to an elite group," said Ravi Dhar, a professor of marketing at Yale University.
    Since luxury brands -- and counterfeit versions of them -- have become more accessible to the masses, fashion-forward folks are sporting their designer looks more stealthily to distinguish themselves from the logo-besotted mainstream, he said.
    But just because these styles aren't ``in-your-face" does not mean the drive for luxury or status has lessened, Dhar said. ``It's the same thing at play here. It's `stealth wealth.' It's showing off by not showing off," he said.
    Dhar said trendsetters with means are turning to uber-premium designers like Bottega Veneta and Hermes whose styles are not as readily identifiable, or as easily counterfeited, as popular designers such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, or Burberry. Other fashionistas, regardless of income, are opting for the more understated styles offered by their favorite designers. Often, these stealthier styles are only detectable to those who religiously follow fashion. And that's the whole point.
    The perception here is that logo-splashed apparel and accessories have become so ubiquitous that they've created an environment where if everyone has them you are no longer considered part of the elite.
    For instance, Burberry's high-end customers in the United Kingdom began shunning the brand's signature plaid last year after it became popular with a subculture of society -- British soccer thugs nicknamed ``the Chavs." Burberry's more traditional customers didn't want to be associated with them, so the company began downplaying its trademark plaid and offering subtler stylesThis countertrend of ``stealth wealth" was born of a similar sentiment, said Dhar. In a luxury-saturated world where anyone can buy counterfeit purses at neighborhood ``purse parties" or same-season copies of designs from Marc Jacobs and Chloe on eBay, it's become so easy to ``dress the part" that dressing the part no longer sets you apart.
    ``Living in a college town I see so many coeds sporting Prada bags, it certainly makes me wonder how many of them are real," said Lisa Johnson, 39, of Brookline. ``I won't buy a Prada bag for exactly that reason."
    Johnson, a confirmed fashion zealot, said she's always practiced ``stealth wealth" up to a point as she's never been into the ``It" bags or ``It" shoes of the moment.
    She said she takes pride in her Elie Tahari jacket and prefers logo-free handbags from Alexis Hudson or Michael Kors. ``They all have subtle labeling but are so well made and classic that I'll have them for years.
    ``Besides, anyone who truly knows fashion -- regardless of their income -- doesn't need a label or logo to spot a real classic -- whether it's an Hermes Birkin bag or the red sole of a Christian Louboutin heel," Johnson said.
    More people are tuned into fashion these days because of a celebrity-obsessed culture that takes its wardrobe cues from award shows and entertainment rags, said Radley Cramer, the director of the fashion program at Marist College in New York.
    ``If you go back 200 years in history, the royals would set the fashion standard and it would take about 10 years for the trends to trickle down to the masses," he said. ``Today, celebrities are the new royalty and the trends take 10 minutes to trickle down. Therefore, the trendsetters out there are constantly reinventing themselves."
    Cramer notes how the Emmy Awards in August were short on bling and big on understatement and that the mainstream is likely to follow suit. ``This year, the only obvious show of wealth on the red carpet came in the form of massive cocktail rings -- which are probably being mass-produced in warehouses all over the world as we speak," he said.
    But by the time that trend arrives, the celebrities and fashion mavens will have moved up to something else that most people can't afford, he said.
  2. Very interesting article! Thanks for posting! :smile:
  3. and around and around we go :P

    just buy what you like.
  4. great points made, it's a concept that's been known for a while.
  5. :yes: Soon the fakers will be making more
    stealth Wealth" type bags & the trendsetters will be buying logos again.
  6. Thanks for posting, sonya, you always choose provocative and interesting articles.

    I have to say I think half of this one is ridiculous. If an Hermes Birkin bag (which is possibly the most highly publicized bag in magazines, ever) is an article of "stealth wealth" I clearly have no idea what the term means. There's nothing more flashy than carrying a $10K bag. I don't believe anyone has to be "in the fashion know" to recognize a Birkin.

    I'm not a logo maniac and the only purses I do own with logos on them are Chanel bags. When a logo is simply for the sake of a logo and not part of a design aesthetic, that's when it seems problematic. This is why I have a gorgeous pair of cap-toe slingbacks with the Chanel CC on the toe that I never wear.

    That being said, the real draw of "stealth wealth" which I think they gleaned over in this article is that truly subtle and luxurious clothing items are made from sumptuous materials: double-faced cashmere, heavy satin linings, shearling, etc. I don't think it's necessarily about wearing obscure labels only "religious fashion followers" would recognize, as the article surmises. The Yale professor who said that it's still showing off, just in a different way to a different crowd is only half-way on the money, in my opinion... luxury, especially when it lacks a logo, is often for its own sake rather than an attempt to garnish admiration from others.
  7. Interesting article, thanks.
  8. yes, very interesting. Thanks for that

  9. ITA. :yes:
  10. Perhaps in your world, but not in my neck of the woods. The only "designers" that people readily recognize here are "doooneyburke" and "Aggnur" (Dooney & Burke/Aigner for those not versed in Redneck). This is why I can walk around any where in this county with my Stam or (no logo)Prada bags and no one has a clue what they are.

    Sort of like being the only member of a secret club. I like that. :supacool:
  11. ITA. :yes: Most people where I live probably don't what Chanel is. Nevermind something as rare as a Birkin.

    I agree with this article in part. There some people who buy things just be different from everyone else. On the other hand, buying a logo(s) doesn't mean you really want to stick out, either. I think it's a good idea, but just use your opinions and tastes and get what you like.
  12. Regardless of whether or not anybody recognizes a Birkin, the mere cost renders it as a flashy object. This is not a good or bad thing, in my book, and altogether not that different from carrying any other bag, give or take the additional $9K. I'm not passing judgment on this: I carry expensive bags, too, and I don't see it as too different from owning a well-documented Francis Picabia or driving an expensive car.

    I guess the satisfaction some can get out of owning a handbag equals that which might come with belonging to a secret club... whatever makes you feel elite. Personally, I couldn't liken owning a handbag to belonging to the Skulls. I carry bags because I admire the design, not because of any sense of privilege or exclusivity. Just my opinion, of course, no offense intended.
  13. The basic design of a Birkin is an angled box with a handle on it. Looking at through a window and not knowing the price/status, most people would walk right past it.

    I don't need material possessions to feel special. The "club" comment was tongue in cheek...

    Oh, I've got to call you to task on that one! I do not believe for one second that if you happened to wander into KMart, Target or J.C. Penney and saw a bag that was really cute design, that you'd give it a second thought, much less buy it, much less carry it.

    Be honest: when all things are equal it's the status of carrying high end bags that is appealing. I'm certainly honest enough to admit that to myself.
  14. I love LV, but I only own the small accessories. I have yet to own a bag. I think it's because I hesitant to carry something that seems too obvious. My favorite bag is by Donna Karan. No one would ever recognize the bag as being designer unless they were familiar with Donna Karan's designs. That suits me just fine. I like the fact that nobody around here as far as I know has the same bag as I do whereas there are tons of folks walking around with fake LVs. I don't buy designer bag to impress other people. I do it, because I love quality craftsmanship.
  15. [quote/] Oh, I've got to call you to task on that one! I do not believe for one second that if you happened to wander into KMart, Target or J.C. Penney and saw a bag that was really cute design, that you'd give it a second thought, much less buy it, much less carry it.

    Be honest: when all things are equal it's the status of carrying high end bags that is appealing. I'm certainly honest enough to admit that to myself.[/quote]

    hi there!
    i don't agree with you for one reason: the k-mart bag coould be very cute and I would consider buying it, but it wouldn't have the great craftmanship and fine leathers and special details that give pricier bags their style. So i would say that it isn't about the status, it is about being able to buy the best quality i can afford, and this does also makes me very honest!:smile: