The continuing ‘stealth wealth’ trend in the face of logo fatigue

‘Logos are dead.’

Well, that was a highly exaggerated statement to make. But there have been some reasonable grounds to suspect the very very unlikely. To say the least, they may lose a bit of significance.

While flashy 80’ graphic prints and golden studs only serve as a satirical nod, the stealth wealth trend remains evident. The idea is not just about the rich opting for a simple-looking luxury handbags in the wake of austerity and lingering post-2008 recessionary mentality. The recession in 2008 has made owning and flaunting a bag that shouts ‘I AM EXPENSIVE’ less cool, says Fflur Roberts, head of luxury goods at Euromonitor International.

Today, the concept of stealth wealth encompasses a broader definition than ‘luxury with discretion’. We’re seeing the hints of ‘stealth wealth’ not only in fashion but also in health and wellness market, indicating the shifting focus from ostentatious materials to experiences.

What’s the whole point of stealth wealth?

Newsweek back in April published an article pointing out the trend in the luxury handbag market. The post-financial crisis has led to the increased popularity of ‘versatile, functional and practical’ luxury handbags, instead of gaudy flashy ones. 

(It has been a rather good time for brands like Bottega Veneta. Image via Eva Rinaldi)

It may not sound logical for those affluent kids to spend thousands of pounds on a simple-looking practical handbag. Why not simply go for a look-alike by a high-street brand at a much cheaper price? But that is not quite the point. It is about how ‘others in the know will see it, and recognise it’.

Interestingly, the expert says that some luxury brands actually find it better to have their labels less visible. Because those who know, will notice anyway. It doesn’t matter as much if the labels are not noticeable for the rest of the people who don’t spot them.

Feeling good vs. Looking cool?

But stealth wealth has evolved beyond just ‘looking cool’ to ‘‘feeling good’. The rich shoppers nowadays often flaunt their healthy and luxury lifestyle choices on social media like Instagram. And that’s not just their choices of handbags. From premium sportswear to organic vegan juices, wellness is the new luxury symbol.

That could be Lululemon’s yoga pants, grocery shopping at Whole Foods or being a regular at a boutique fitness club. Oh don’t forget about the yearly extravagant vacations too.

‘’Eating right can give the privileged class a sense of moral superiority.’’

Belonging to an exclusive fitness club where an instructor may or may not have been Madonna’s private exercise partner makes the person feel like being a part of an elite group.

Shopping at the Whole Foods also gives that sense of superiority and elitism. Stealth wealth entails some kind of a moral appeal, making the experiences slightly more important than owning luxury materials.

A global shift?

Yes, blatant logos are here to stay, particularly in emerging markets like Russia or China. But during the last few years, we are also seeing subtle shifts in the consumer mindset. Thanks to the Chinese government’s  anti-corruption campaign, ‘we can now expect an emphasis on self-expression and individualism among Chinese luxury consumers, with several developments paving the way for a focus on shaping one’s personal taste, says the expert.

Bain & Company’s, in 2014, has already estimated the rising sales by double-digit rates among smaller high-end brands despite the overall slowdown of the luxury market. There has been a surge in smaller multi-brand boutiques in China, both online and offline. Perhaps we will see less flashy Weibo or Instagram accounts by the rich kids. Instead, more customers are to pursue individualism and self-expression in luxury.

Simple, but complex.

The shifting trend may have shaken the brands’ approach to engaging with affluent consumers. Products with superfluous appeals tend to be short-lived. Smart ones are adapting their signature products to fit into the stealth wealth mindset (like Chanel handbags with detachable logo charms, maybe?).

But it certainly hasn’t altered the price range of buying the ‘privileges’.

The bottom line is that people still brag about themselves, and they like to compare their lifestyles with those of others. And another bottom line here is that people will find it annoying if you overly brag about your lifestyle choices, whether it is about your fancy sportscar or your expensive spinning class.

It seems like when it comes to stealth wealth, there is an art behind it – let it be the art of subtlety or simplicity, it is quite a complicated thing to get it right.

Bonus images:

The photographs by Ma Hongjie documenting the belongings of Chinese families pretty much sums up the multilayered meanings of ‘wealth’ and ‘happiness’. 

What do you think?

Appnova is a digital agency specializing in web design, UX, e-commerce, branding, digital marketing and social media.

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