Does ‘And Just Like That …’ Signal the End of Stealth Wealth?June 28, 2023
And just like that, stealth wealth, the aesthetic made viral by “Succession,” with its toxic billionaires in their Loro Piana baseball caps and Tom Ford hoodies locked in a C-suite cage match to the death, has been swept off screen.
In its place: logomania, branding that can be seen from whole city blocks away and accessories that jangle and gleam with the blinding light of bragging rights.
The outfits, that is to say, of Carrie and Co. in Season 2 of “And Just Like That …,” the “Sex and the City” reboot come recently to Max — the streamer that, as it happens, also gave us the Roys in their greige cashmere. Both shows are set in New York City, the home of strivers and entrepreneurs, of “Washington Square” and Wharton, of constantly evolving social castes highly, and literally, invested in their own identifiable camouflage.
If watching “Succession” was in part like engaging in a detective game to suss out what character was wearing what brand, so insider were the fashion politics, watching “And Just Like That …” is like attending brandapalooza: the double Cs and Fs and Gs practically whacking you on the head with their presence. (Warning: Spoilers are coming.) All the over-the-top fashionista-ing is back. The room-size closets!
It’s the yin to the “Succession” yang: a veritable celebration of the comforting aspirational dreams of self-realization (or self-escapism) embedded in stuff that may actually be the most striking part of an increasingly stale series. Certainly, the clothes, which often serve as their own plot points, are more memorable than any dialogue.
Well … except maybe for that instantly classic line in Episode 1, uttered by Lisa Todd Wexley (Nicole Ari Parker) on her way to the Met Gala in reference to her gown and feather hat: “It’s not crazy — it’s Valentino.” But that’s the exception that proves the rule.
There is Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), with her multiple Manolos and Fendis, self-medicating with shopping, returning home one day with six Bergdorf Goodman bags. Charlotte (Kristin Davis) toting her Burberry doggy poop bag (also possessed of a Burberry apron and Burberry ear muffs) and bemoaning the fact that her teenage daughter hocked her Chanel dress to fund her musical aspirations.
Lisa Todd Wexley dropping her kids off for camp in a bright green Louis Vuitton jacket and scarf. And Seema (Sarita Choudhury), the character that passes for a restrained dresser thanks to her penchant for neutrals (and the occasional animal print), loudly lamenting the theft of her caramel-colored Hermès Birkin — one of her totems of self, ripped directly from her hands.
There is Loewe and Pierre Cardin; Altuzarra and Dries Van Noten. There is also an effort to repurpose clothes, like Carrie’s wedding dress, in order to promote the virtues of rewearing, but it’s pretty much lost in all the rest of the muchness. There is a dedicated Instagram account on which the costume designers Molly Rogers and Danny Santiago share their finds, with 277,000 followers. @Successionfashion, by contrast, has 184,000.
All of which means what, exactly? Is the era of quiet luxury, so recently embraced by TikTok, already at an end? Have our attention spans, so famously abbreviated, moved on? Has the physics of fashion exerted its force and produced an equal and opposite reaction to an earlier action?
As if. In many ways, the fashion in “And Just Like That …” seems to protest too much. In part that’s because it seems like a regurgitation of the fun that came before, which was itself a reaction to the minimalism of the early 1990s, which itself was born in that decade’s recession.
The fact is, no matter how much lip service has been paid to quiet luxury or stealth wealth or whatever you want to call it, and how it is 2023’s “hottest new fashion trend,” it was never a recent invention. It has been around since way back when it was referred to as “shabby chic” or “connoisseurship” or “old money,” all synonyms for the kind of product that didn’t look overtly expensive but was a sign of aesthetic genealogy — the difference between new money and inherited money that fashion co-opted and regurgitated to its own ends. Just as more obviously coded consumption has been around since Louis Vuitton plunked his initials on some leather back in 1896 or since Jay Gatsby started tossing his shirts.
We’ve been declaring the “end of logos” and, alternately, the “rise of stealth wealth” for decades now. There are cycles when one is more ubiquitous than the other (usually having to do with economic downturns when flaunting disposable income is not a great look), but they exist in tandem. They help define each other.
Consider that during the current economic uncertainty, exactly the kind of environment that tends to fast-forward the appeal of low-key high-cost items, the most successful global brands have remained the most highly identifiable: Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Hermès. Or that in his recent debut for Louis Vuitton, Pharrell Williams introduced a bag called Millionaire that costs — yup — $1 million. (It’s a yellow croc Speedy with gold and diamond hardware.)
What is more interesting is, as Carrie and the gang continue on their merry wardrobed way, how clichéd both styles now seem, how performative. Once they have trickled up to television, it’s impossible not to recognize the costume. Or the fact that whichever look you buy into, they are simply different ways of expressing wealth, in all its decorative strata. And wealth itself never goes out of fashion.
Vanessa Friedman has been the fashion director and chief fashion critic for The Times since 2014. In this role she covers global fashion for both The New York Times and International New York Times. @VVFriedman
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