HBO’s “Succession” ends Sunday and if you’re like me, you’ll miss scouring the show for the details that give away the subtlest themes. One of the key methods used to showcase true emotions amid the Shakespearean epic of alliances and betrayals: the clothes.
For most of us, the immaculately tailored pantsuits worn by heiress and only daughter Siobhan “Shiv” Roy are completely unattainable. But her polished appearance belies an uncertain inner life. Shiv is constantly trying to put herself forward as a viable contender to run the family empire, without knowing exactly who she really is or what she really wants. Every time she tries to establish herself, she stammers. “Succession” costume designer Michelle Matland has said that Shiv uses her clothes to punch up, to feign confidence, but her style often projects her insecurities.
Since the series began, dissections of “Succession” characters’ outfits have cited the adage “money talks, wealth whispers,” but our understanding of their mode of dress solidified in the past year. The terms “Stealth Wealth” and “Quiet Luxury” became front and centre on social media and fashion houses like The Row, Saint Laurent and Ferragamo leaned into the esthetic on their fall/winter 2023 runways. But while it’s currently à la mode to emulate this style, it’s not really a trend at all. It’s just how the rich dress.
Often imitated, rarely duplicated, Stealth Wealth refers to the unreachably beautiful clothes worn by the exceptionally wealthy: T-shirts that ring in at the price of a mid-level suit; a ball cap that costs over $600. If you don’t have an endless family trust fund, chances are you’d rarely come across the labels worn by this socioeconomic class. These garments aren’t meant to stand out; they’re optimized to make the wearer look perfect. This is what we see on “Succession.” Its wealthiest characters, said to be inspired by the billionaire Murdoch family, don’t want you to know how much money they have by looking at their clothes.
If you were to dare to try to keep up, the one per cent can always change the rules to class you out. So you get some neutral-toned cashmere. Well, how many pairs of diamond earrings have you been willed? That Burberry bag you saved up $2,890 (U.S.) for? It’s “ludicrously capacious,” as Shiv’s husband Tom Wambsgans said. “What’s even in there, shoes for the subway?”
Quiet Luxury, on the other hand, is a minimal and thoughtful esthetic that looks expensive. It’s a somewhat attainable way of dressing, if you commit to investing in quality closet staples that never go out of style. Items like a well-tailored blazer and trousers and a black cashmere sweater, rotated consistently with lower cost items around them, make the wearer look polished and put together without breaking the bank.
Achieving the “Succession” look comes down to the quality of the textiles and the bespoke nature of the tailoring, according to Toronto fashion retail icon Lisa Corbo. But she believes anything can look expensive when you follow three rules: know your body, know your style and know how to accessorize. “It’s about understanding what you’re buying,” she says.
In the lead-up to the show’s finale, I go for a styling session with Corbo at George C., the discreetly luxe Yorkville boutique she runs with her husband, George Corbo, to test out some Shiv-inspired outfits.
To ensure I look the part, I start my day at Miss J Lash Lounge, where I get a set of “natural beauty” lash extensions that give me an “I’m so socio-economically relaxed my eyelashes grow freely and lusciously” kind of look. I get so into my own lie I fall asleep in the technician’s chair. Next, I head to Baz and Banks salon, where I’m given a well-to-do blowout by salon owner Desiree Catana. I ask Sky Normington, co-owner of Baz and Beauty Co., if she can work some makeup artistry magic to make me look expensive. In under an hour, she’s given me a soft glam daytime look with a classic red lip.
When I arrive at George C., which covers three floors of a historic brownstone on Hazelton Avenue, Corbo has already pulled looks for me, but she lets me look through the racks. Each item makes me want to weep with its beauty. The quality of the fabrics, consistency in design and playful touches are everything anyone who understands the power of clothing would want. Her secret is simple: “I’ve always just invested in designers and not brands.” Corbo says her clients want to look understated, womanly and sexy in an unexpected way.
First, Corbo and her assistant Max (who in a moment of delightful serendipity, happens to be my favourite Toronto drag queen, Gorgina) dress me in a Christopher Esber jacket and pants, with no shirt underneath. It’s brown, Shiv’s preferred palette, and she wears a no-shirt suit look in several episodes, though the revealing cut is more progressive Pierce (Waystar’s cable news competitor) than Republican Roy. It’s completely unbranded, which is just what Corbo’s clientele likes. Corbo adds jewelry from her own collection, Lisa Corbo Design. The pieces are timeless, elegant and well made with a touch of fun: a twist on hoop earrings and the Mae Ring, which gives art deco but goes with everything. I catch Gorgina sporting one on stage at the Drink later in the week.
Inspired by Shiv’s more casual, neutral-toned power suits and turtlenecks, Corbo dresses me in an all-white pantsuit and boxy bomber jacket by CO. “The simplicity is in the silhouette,” Corbo says, “and the silhouette is always tone on tone.”
This monochrome combination, as well as an LVIR trench coat look, is all about portraying a mood of effortless luxury, Corbo tells me. To the trench, she adds an Ermanno Scervino ball cap as a callback to the $625 Loro Piana hat worn by Kendall and a hat tip to Shiv on how to best her brothers.
Next, Corbo has me try on an orange pantsuit by Altuzarra. Its wool-blend fabric drapes on me like I wish everything I’ve ever owned would. I prance around the store in it and pretend to be Connor Roy’s bride Willa Ferreyra, if she were in Slovenia, wife to the new ambassador.
Finally, Corbo lets me live my Naomi Pierce fantasy in a Christopher Esber black cut-out dress. Pierce is Kendall’s ex, a competing media heiress, and wearer of fashion-forward black or white Proenza Schouler fits. The fabric is luxe and skims my six-foot frame just right. My stomach is exposed in a diamond from sternum to navel, constantly reminding me of the importance of core strength. On my walk home, I see a woman wearing a cotton version that offers more coverage, to just above the belly button. It’s still gorgeous, but an obvious knock-off — no judgment.
I take the dress out for a cinq-à-sept spin, paired with a creamy brown Tristan & Iseut leather jacket from the early 2000s that belonged to my mother, and a circa-1980s Fendi tote that was the first designer purchase made by my Bubbie (the Yiddish term for grandmother). As I walk through the lobby and up the stairs of Toronto’s Soho House with a fabulous friend of mine who is a member, I sense a notable difference in how people are looking at me. Heads turn and men crane their necks as we find a private corner to enjoy our Prosecco and frites. Yes, I’m showing skin, but I choose to believe it’s the luxe fabrication and impeccable design that invites their stares. My friend loves my new look and the entire concept of Quiet Luxury; she’s always been inspired by her grandmother’s classic style.
Growing up, it was my Bubbie who taught me how to really dress, as well. She subscribed to the Quiet Luxury ethos when she started her career as a teacher and continued when she became a globe-trotting businesswoman. She tells me she would wear a blazer from Irving Samuels, one of Canada’s best design houses of the era, whenever she took a business trip, paired with a white T-shirt and jeans from the Gap. The only difference between her and those in first class? “The truly wealthy would have had it in every colour,” she tells me, whereas she had one that she took good care of.
I look through old photos of my grandparents for more fashion examples and there she is, unloading her dishwasher in her former home near Bayview and Finch, wearing a white button-down shirt and bomber jacket. It’s exactly like the all-white outfit Corbo styled me in to evoke Shiv, except Bubbie’s jacket has a touch of floral embroidery. It’s subtle, but a clear sign of personality that tells me Bubbie’s fashion has always shown exactly who she is.
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