THERE was a time, not that long ago, that guests at Nobu would be eager to show that they were raking it in. Expensive bottles of sake would be ordered and placed on the table for all to see. But in these straitened times even the wealthy are less inclined to be seen to spend and while there is no decline in the number of people buying the priciest booze, they are accompanying their order with an additional request: please pour it into a plain bottle. Impressing clients is still the name of the game, but subtly.
The trend for “stealth wealth” has been going on for years. Fashion house Louis Vuitton’s logo is one of the most recognisable in the world and the company is not afraid to splash it all over its wares. But some of its most expensive bags come without obvious branding. The hoi-polloi might not recognise your accessories, but those who you want to impress will.
Stores such as Hermes are also accustomed to dropping their wares into unmarked bags, for those who want to keep their purchases secret. Last year Katherine Fuld, wife of the then-CEO of Lehman Brothers, requested just this when she bought $10,000 of gifts from the Madison Avenue store. The Royal Exchange outlet also provides the same service.
Discerning consumers don’t want to let a small thing like a recession prevent them from buying quality goods, but they don’t want to advertise the fact to everybody. Bling is out, and subtle demonstrations of taste are in.
So just how do you impress the right people without attracting attention from the wrong ones? Well, there are subtle ways of flashing your cash. Lisa Bathurst, a clothing consultant who works with high net worth individuals and lots of City folk, agrees that “brash and flash are definitely no longer cool”. It is all about the small touches, she says, not logos. “Details worn more discreetly, such as furs on the inside of clothes or diamonds on the underside of rings” are de rigeur.
TASTE AND ELEGANCE
She says that the really classy way to signal your taste and elegance (and wealth) is in your shoes. A connoisseur will be able to spot a handmade Florentine shoe, or a pair made by a brand like Bottega Veneta. As for suiting, the key is to make sure that the buttons on the sleeves are real (it is not unknown for a fellow to leave one undone to prove it), while wearing a suit by a designer such as Ozwald Boateng, whose work will be known to the cognoscenti, also sends a message.
For ladies, jewellery can be the ultimate statement. Diamonds might be obvious choice, and Ben Stevenson, store manager at the Burlington Arcade branch of jeweller Hirsh, says that he is still seeing an interest in diamonds (they are just about the best investment around at the moment) and unusual yellow and pink ones are in particular demand. Rather than setting them in a ring, though, customers are asking for them to be broken up and incorporated into a bracelet so that the sheer amount of stone on display is disguised. “We are also seeing people looking at rubies or sapphires from Burma. Other people won’t necessarily know, but these are very rare and cost more than a diamond,” he says.
Watches are another ostentatious way to flash the cash, but rather than go for a large, diamond-encrusted effort that might look good on a footballer, the classy gent will go for something less noticeable, such as a vintage Patek Philippe or IWC. Those who know their timepieces will recognise your sophistication, and will avoid the interest of those whose interest is best avoided.
One of the best ways to empty your bank account, of course, is to splurge it on a car. But rather than spend it on a brand new Ferrari or Lamborghini, it is far more classy to go to auction and go for something vintage. You might have seen that one punter spent €9m on a 1957 Ferrari Testarossa this week, but there’s no need to go for such an obvious show of buying power. CityAM’s motoring writer Victoria Macmillan Bell suggests an old Mercedes SL, an E-Type Jaguar or an Alfa Romeo Spyder, which give you “lots of cool points and bags of style”. If you have any money left over, stick some personalised plates on it and “spend the change on a good personal mechanic to keep the thing on the road,” she says. It’s no good having a cool car in the garage.
Recession chic is all about keeping it quiet. But that doesn’t mean you’ve got to keep it cheap.