The Truman Capote era, when the wealthiest were separated from the merely rich by the quality of vegetables they served, now seems charmingly antique. However, in today’s world, markers and art of stealth wealth have transformed. They’re no longer overtly conspicuous. Instead, they now revolve around the stealthy, tasteful, and sometimes peculiarly expensive details that give a sneak peek into an individual’s affluence.
Wealth and the Subtle Indications
A shift in the paradigm of wealth representation has made the discernment of true affluence a subtler art. The affluent have swapped blatant displays of wealth with intricate details that symbolize their refined tastes. Among the items that have become a part of this stealthy display of wealth are the $15,000 computer-operated Danish Top Brewer coffee systems, the Hallstein water imported from Austria, and even the $700 hand-embroidered monogrammed towel sets ordered from the cult Florentine linen shop, Loretta Caponi.
A surprising new addition to this list is a $220 light switch manufactured by the English company Forbes & Lomax. These exquisite 1930s-style switches, made of nickel, bronze, and brass, have become a coveted accessory amongst the gentrified brownstone owners in Brooklyn. I like to call them “house jewelry”. Such items, while extraordinarily pricey, are so understated that they would only be recognized by those already privy to their value. It’s the epitome of “stealth wealth”.
The Heiress Bunny Mellon and the Idea of “Quiet Luxury”
In the echelons of wealth, “Nothing should be noticed” is a dictum often attributed to the heiress Bunny Mellon. In reality, it was through her ostentatiously modest habit of indulging in quiet luxury that her wealth was indirectly showcased. Whether it was ordering haute couture garden aprons from Givenchy or hanging her best Braque in a basket room, Mellon laid the foundation for what would eventually be marketed as “quiet luxury.” Old Money, like Mellon’s, indeed found value in discretion, and the concept of “quiet luxury” started gaining momentum.
The art of Stealth Wealth: The Code of the New Old Money
Stealth wealth isn’t just about discretion; it’s about signalling status without overtly doing so. For those in the class of New Old Money, the wealth display is noticeable, but only to those who know what they’re looking for. In an era where social media turns everyone into de facto voyeurs, this trend suits perfectly.
We are spending more time observing what the rich and famous are doing, while the wealthy subtly flaunt their assets. And, as with any form of adult entertainment, it’s freely accessible online. The rise of ‘wealth porn’ is reflective of our collective fascination with affluence.
Stealth Wealth: A Mark of Space
In the art of stealth wealth, privacy, discretion, and to a large extent, anonymity, are paramount. The truly wealthy mark their status by the “economic space” they occupy. This group of ultra-high-net-worth individuals (UHNWI) comprises a third of the global UHNWI population and is slowly redefining the world order at the highest income levels.
With UHNWI, wealth representation becomes less about showy brands and more about subtle choices that reflect one’s taste and refinement. It’s about owning pieces from brands that are chic but anonymous, such as Khaite, the Row, or Prada. Jewellery choices veer towards the understated, like the much-coveted Harmony bangle made by the storied Munich jeweller Hemmerle.
Reevaluating the Status Symbols
Wealth is about more than ostentatious displays; it’s about the quiet assertion of power and influence. The ultimate flex, according to some, is not posting, not sharing, but knowing where to go first, what to buy first, and not following the crowd.
This shift in values reflects a move away from conspicuous consumption to a more nuanced display of affluence, referred to as “quiet luxury.” This is not to say that it’s indeed ‘quiet’. Instead, it urges us to adjust our perceptions and understanding of wealth and its representation. As I often mention, in the era of New Old Money, discretion is truly the ultimate flex.
A New Sightline for Luxury
As the definition of wealth evolves, so does the fashion catering to it. High-end fashion brands have started creating “uniforms for the wealthy” that fit into the narrative of stealth wealth. They subtly yet definitively mark the distinction between the rich and the super-rich, reminding us that wealth is not just about how much you have, but how elegantly and subtly you can present it. The world of wealth is ever-evolving, with new markers of affluence appearing on the horizon, quietly signalling a new era of subtle luxury.