The Tyranny of Trends

Posted: September 19th, 2011

I’m often contacted by newspapers and radio stations keen for a quote on “the-latest-trends.” What do I think of polka dots? How do I feel about fur? Or the latest requests… what could I say about maps as the newest form of decoration (The Independent). They’re not. And red paint, hot right now, non? (BBC Radio4). No. Just because images of a load of dotty, furry, mappy things have been cobbled together by a picture desk, or a press release received that declares in breathless tones that poppy has surpassed magnolia in the paint stakes, does not make it universally so. But because those seeking soundbites seem so desolate when I say as much, I shall attempt to explain why I don’t play in the here-today-over-tomorrow fashion camp of fads, for that is what these are.

Trends, of the sort I’m intrigued by, are the visual manifestation of our current cultural climate. In other words, I believe that which provides the context for contemporary life – politics, the economy, ecological issues, international affairs – inevitably impacts the arbiters of style: art, fashion, design, cinema (the four key influencers I prefer to follow). These become the big picture ebbs and flows, and because they always trickle down to level where we’re all affected (what’ll be available to watch, wear or buy), these alone are my (and therefore ELLE Decoration’s) main arena of interest. Trends don’t occur in a vacuum. You should always be able to trace their roots. In short, no roots = no relevance.

So what is the “next-big-thing” then? Well, right now, stylistically speaking, we’re in the midst of a most unusual age. On the one hand we’ve been heading towards an anything goes vibe for a long time, which implies increases in both confidence and acceptance of individuality. But on the other, the rumbling background noise of recession and dissent is getting ever louder which dilutes the enthusiasm somewhat. But, it actually all plays out rather well as we attempt to ground ourselves, seeking firm foundations, while maintaining a sense of identity. Think improvement not movement. Back to bespoke basics anyone? Instead of ditching the now for an advertised better-deal tomorrow, people are taking another look at what they’ve got, and working out for themselves if it’s what they really need/want. Dare I suggest, rioting for the right to choose? Perhaps not as witnessed in London, which was more about selfishly-motivated greed, but arguably that’s what’s happening in Libya, Syria and Egypt.

Here in the UK this “bespoke basic” mood is seen in the rise of extensions and renovations rather than relocations — custom cut to fit the house you have, rather than swap it for another. And if people are moving, the tendency is to downsize as we increasingly admit that we prefer the snug den to the dual aspect, double-height (and therefore rather chilly) living room. Want more space? Current thinking encourages a re-evaluation of your closets rather than shipping your stuff elsewhere. After all, research suggests that women wear less than one third of the clothes they own, and no-one needs a yoghurt maker. Drop your overmatter at a local charity shop and you might find you have more space that you think (although it’s probably irresponsible to pass on the yoghurt-maker).

In fashion, the it-bag era that saw a seasonal stampede for over-priced arm candy has passed, and instead revenue at venerable fashion houses like Hermes reach record highs as sales of classics that’ll last for a lifetime soar. And finally films: check the spate of “Friends with Benefits” and “No Strings Attached” type storylines, depicting the happy transformation of responsibility-free shagging into grown-up relationships. Stop press! Current trends reflecting the maelstrom of modern life indicate long-term thinking and emotional evolution to be the way forward. It may not make for a super snappy soundbite, but it certainly bodes better for our future than crimson walls and polka dots.

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