Halfway through the second season of HBO’s Succession, Kendall Roy—the middle son of media titan Logan, as played by Jeremy Strong—wears a pair of hiking-inspired Lanvin sneakers on stage during a panel at the Sun Valley-esque conference called Argestes. Compared to everyone else on stage (a moderator and two of his siblings), he seems to be the only one even remotely dressed to be on the side of a mountain. His brother Roman wears a blue blazer and nondescript black leather sneakers, while his sister Siobhan sports her typical turtleneck with pants and heels. Which is, of course, part of the joke: no one needs to dress outdoorsy for a largely staged conference. And yet Kendall does.
This wasn’t Kendall’s first rodeo with the French fashion label. In season one, he wore a different pair of the label’s kicks to impress the founders of an art start-up he wanted to invest in. The plan backfired, ending with him taking the shoes off in a last-ditch attempt to seem relatable. The problem was never the sneakers, though, so much as the reason he wore them: not because they were cool, but because they were a power play, as everything on Succession is.
Style isn’t something you can buy your way into having, no matter how many blindingly profitable predatory cruise lines you operate. But while the first season went to great lengths to show how, in the hands of the ultra-wealthy, fancy clothing becomes another tool for domination, the second season has gone deeper on the middle Roy boy. This year, Kendall Roy has spent nine episodes attempting to climb out of the deep hole of guilt that came with killing a waiter at his sister’s wedding—and his clothing has served as an indication of where he’s at in his journey to find some piece of himself again.
I’m not here to indict the way Kendall dresses. In the grand scheme of things, he looks…fine. When not in a regular business suit, he wears the kind of haute-businessman threads that are bland yet clearly expensive. His clothes let him play the role he was literally born to play: uber-wealthy businessman. If he wears Brunello Cucunelli, it’s not to flex in a tweed double-breasted suit. It’s because that’s just…what he has. Labels like Cucinelli, Armani, and Loro Piana are merely part of his starting lineup, the brands that he turns to when he needs a new v-neck sweater, or maybe a padded blazer-vest combo meant to look professional while also keeping him warm on the back of his (chauffeured) motorcycle. His clothes are indeed price-prohibitive, but not the kind of expensive that usually equates with a bundle of Instagram likes. In a fashion universe where it’s often assumed that anyone with means ought to want hyped-up, hard-to-get gear, Kendall is a reminder that in some particularly rich circles, the highest kind of taste is invisible.
At times when he wishes to escape, this tendency to dress more or less invisibly serves Kendall. When he unexpectedly meets the family of the man he accidentally killed in season one, he practically hides from them in their kitchen—and, in an earth-toned blazer and thin down vest underneath—from everyone else, too. But Succession has something even more poignant to say about the way clothing functions in this world. In the next episode, Kendall wanders away from his nondescript luxury roots, and it’s there he gets himself into some fashion trouble. While he usually stands out from his khakis-and-Allbirds-wearing peers, his attempts to make real style statements—for instance, a brown tuxedo at a gala—telegraph where he’s at in his arc. How many people do you know, to start, who own brown tuxes? This is clearly the guy’s third-string formalwear, maybe tossed on in an attempt to stand out. But it inevitably falls short, failing as usual to impress his father—and taking a backseat to the baseball jersey he tosses on to deliver a now-infamous rap. (Jeremy Strong, who plays Kendall, evidently liked the tuxedo so much he decided to wear it to the Emmys and—spoiler alert—it didn’t really work for him, either.)