Quiet luxury is growing in Canada as consumers are on the hunt for high-quality products they can resonate with, without being overly flashy. Michael Warwick, Partner of B Hemmings & Co.; Ian Rosen, President and Chief Operating Officer at Harry Rosen; and Craig Patterson, Publisher and Owner of Retail Insider discuss the growing trend, challenges and the future of quiet luxury in Canada.
Escape the noise, embrace the elegance
Rosen describes quiet luxury as focusing on materials and silhouettes rather than showing off logos. “It is obviously luxurious, but very understated in terms of branding. It is a refined way of the luxury market evolving where the store is more about how the product is made rather than what is on the product,” says Rosen.
Quiet luxury is the essence of luxury without being gaudy and appeals to individuals who prefer a more sophisticated look. Loud luxury receives attention, is bold, is made to impress, is showy and can be a status symbol. Spotting loud luxury is easy as it often shows logos or a brand symbol; quiet luxury is silent on the streets while still creating an impact.
“In many cases, consumers say they have been stopped on the street from people asking what type of bag they have because people are curious. Quiet luxury is focused on craftsmanship, quality and beauty rather than being centred around marketing – embracing the quiet,” says Warwick. “For a lot of our customers, they want something truly exclusive and they have a keen eye recognizing exquisite detail and artisanship. They are looking for something unpretentious, understood and sophisticated: wanting all the benefits of loud luxury, without the logos and markings.”
The rise of quiet luxury: Unveiling the reasons behind the growing trend
Searching for uniqueness and not needing to project social status are two reasons Warwick says why the trend of quiet luxury is growing within Canada.
“People are looking for something special, can customise or even something one of a kind. People are interested in the stories of how things are crafted with quality and beauty without being overly flashy – something rare and exclusive,” says Warwick.
At B Hemmings & Co., Warwick says one benefit is consumers can customise a bag using its monogramming services and each product is made with craftsmanship and attention to detail. Each bag is also made by hand and often has a deep history and story behind it. Products include briefcases, luggage, wallets, bags and accessories – most of them falling under quiet luxury.
Warwick says loud luxury can sometimes mean lack of quality and some brands often sell products out of its speciality.
For example, a luxury store selling bags and purses when its specialty is clothing. The craftsmanship of those bags can be poor, even though they are coming from a luxury brand. A quiet luxury brand tends to focus less on expanding into things it does not specialize in and focuses on being great at what they are already making, such as the luggage at B Hemmings & Co.
For instance, when a luxury brand primarily specialises in clothing starts selling bags and purses, the quality of these accessories might suffer. In contrast, a luxury brand like B Hemmings & Co. prioritises excellence in what they already specialise in, its luggage.
“Given the logo mania we have seen happening with some luxury brands, some consumers have now decided they want to move to brands like Brunello Cucinelli and Loro Piana which are really quiet luxury brands for the most part,” says Warwick.
Patterson says people leaning towards quiet luxury generally want to avoid showing off how much money they have, want to remain safe on the streets and are looking to stay away from identifiable logos. This trend goes beyond clothing as Patterson is noticing an increase of luxury brands providing logoless bags, providing an extra step to give consumers, who want to keep their wealth status a secret, additional comfort.
“In the past, and particularly during recessions, we have seen some high-end retailers in Toronto give out non-branded shopping bags to consumers instead of recognizable bags from brands like Hermes or Louis Vuitton. These bags are usually in plain paper bags, so no one would know the consumer went shopping at a luxury store,” says Patterson.
Quiet luxury has been around for decades Patterson says. From the early 1900s into the 1950s, households would spend 12 to 14 per cent of their gross annual income on clothing. Today, Patterson says the average household spends just three per cent of their annual income, and we have about five times the amount of clothing in our closets. Fast fashion is one of the reasons.
“Our closets are bigger. We are spending less – but we have more,” says Patterson. “Back then, they had less clothing and it was of high quality, meant to last. Today we have fast fashion, inexpensive brands and also discounters. So the quiet luxury movement is, at least to a degree, taking things back to where they would have been in the past.”
Who is buying?
“We live in an age where we want to show our social status, believe it or not, but I think some customers are very comfortable in their own skin – they are truly buying something for themselves,” says Warwick. “They are self-assured and want something rare and exclusive. Consumers are again buying for themselves and not for others, and would rather whisper more than they want to scream.”
Rosen says luxury is typically targeting a more exclusive audience of higher net worth individuals. With quiet luxury, Rosen agrees consumers are looking to shop more for themselves than for others and it allows the person to invest in themselves. They want to present themselves professionally, without the flashiness you see in ‘loud luxury’.
“At Harry Rosen, for a lot of men they desire to feel confident in clothing and feel expressive with the quality, but not necessarily be extremely loud with print, colour or a big label which speaks to a relatively sophisticated man. As for me, I think it is definitely something we are going to continue to see catch on, but time will tell,” says Rosen.
Patterson says quiet luxury tends to attract consumers who are looking to increase sustainability as quiet luxury products last longer.
“Quiet luxury is being bought by consumers who want to be more sustainable and don’t want to show off how much money they have. They may be looking for high quality items that will last a long time and don’t have visible logos. This is in contrast to loud luxury, which is more focused on the name and not quality and may break down after a couple of years,” says Patterson.
Although anyone can find quiet luxury, loud luxury or a mix of both to their taste, Patterson says there are differences.
“Some of it is because of old money versus new money. Some people with newer money want to show off. People with older money who have had it for a long time may still be somewhat flashy and showy – it really depends on how crass they are,” says Patterson. “There is also a difference between people who think they know luxury compared to people who do – some people may lack taste.”
“Others who come from ‘old money’ may choose brands of high quality but are not identifiable in terms of logos. This is what some refer to as ‘stealth wealth’, a topic many are discussing with the popularity of the HBC hit series ‘Succession’,” says Patterson.
For some emerging populations such as people from China or India who are wealthy or upwardly mobile, Patterson says they may buy loud luxury to show off their status, such as wearing a Gucci belt or something else noticeably expensive. Patterson is also noticing Asian demographics in Canada leaning more into the loud luxury as they tend to focus more on logos.
“They are going to be a bit more focused on logos than other demographics. With certain demographics and shopping groups, as they evolve and become more sophisticated – they will start to move away from logo brands to find something a bit more subtle. They start to look for quality and not just to show off,” says Patterson. The trend is already taking place in China, he notes.
Future of quiet luxury in Canada
Warwick, Rosen and Patterson agree quiet luxury will remain in Canada, but are unable to predict what will happen in the future to the growing trend. Warwick hopes consumers in Canada will start to recognize the beauty, artisanship and craftsmanship of quiet luxury products.
“We hope more people will gather interest in quiet luxury. When we think about artisanship, if it is not embraced – it will be lost and then we will only have loud luxury. People are curious about our brands because certainly with a lot of the loud luxury brands, they are ubiquitous – anything branded is not really going to turn heads. I think people are looking for something more real and down to earth,” says Warwick.