The article is written by Greg Taylor, Director of Brand Provocation at Elmwood, London
It’s a familiar tale. The ancient Greek King Midas wished that everything he touched would turn to gold. Full of desire and pride in his newfound ability, he ordered a magnificent feast.
At that feast, he realised that his gift was not all it was cracked up to be, as everything he tried to eat or drink, hardened into gold. Was greedy old Midas just giving in to a very human craving for easy wealth? If you look at how our world economies and societies follow a rise and fall cycle, never seeming to learn from the past, you begin to suspect there’s inevitability to it all. Our sense of the aesthetic often mirrors this rhythm, which could give forward-thinking brands a clue as to what people will want next.
Hubris, nemesis, catharsis
These famous Greek words can be used to describe the phases a society often moves through. With success comes hubris, or extreme arrogance and pride. The trappings of success are a necessary part of this stage of the cycle. Bling is king! Beijing, currently in this phase, is home to 179,000 millionaires. According to the Hurun report, this money is burning a hole in their pockets. No wonder brands like Bugatti are helping them spend it!
Pride comes before a fall. The next stage in the cycle is nemesis, when we’ve fallen from grace and have to pay our dues. This is when austerity rules. Witness the recession-battered West’s immediate return to a rough and raw artistic style. More and more brands focus on ‘the work’ or the blood, sweat and tears that have gone into manufacturing.
One of the latest adverts from denim brand Levi’s exemplifies this trend. It focuses on a dying steel town. The soundtrack is a reading of Walt Whitman’s poem ‘America’ and the tagline is ‘We are all workers’.
Photo. Levi’s ‘We are all workers’ campaign
It’s a call to action, reminding America that what made it great was good, old-fashioned graft. Even luxury brands like Lanvin have responded. Their new space at Comme des Garçon’s Dover Street Market is shabby and basic, without a sparkle of bling in sight. Instead, there’s a mix of unglamorous mannequins, dark furniture and a simple style of clothing rail with a cold backdrop of metallic gloss.
Photo. Lanvin store at Comme des Garçon’s Dover Street Market
What’s next after all this industry, this work ethic chic? Catharsis, characterised by the need to get away from the hustle and bustle, seeking peace and quiet. We look for meaning in the conflict. Surely, there has to be more to life than work? In a world that is always on, how can we turn off? More and more brands are helping us with our growing need for privacy, recognising the importance of quiet for thought and innovation. One of the greatest innovators of the modern age, Thomas Edison, practised a form of meditation that accessed the alpha theta wavelength or what he called the ‘twilight zone’ between dreaming and waking. It obviously worked as he had 1,093 successful U.S. patent applications.
Traditional industries like the Danish textile designers Kvadrat are cottoning on to how they can help us tune into the power of alpha theta. They commissioned Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec to install a Textile Field for the Victoria and Albert Museum. An expansive, coloured foam and textile ‘lounge’ with gentle inclinations produced a sensual, comfortable and dynamic environment for visitors. They were invited to sit, stand or lie on the textile installation and take time to consider the gallery surroundings.
Photo. Textile Field installation in the Victoria and Albert Museum
But hang on, what’s that flashing in the distance? Are we beginning to tire of all that is austere or sublime? The optimism of youth is never dampened for long. Pillaging the 80s, today’s leading edge technocrats are re-discovering the joys of the GIF! They may be crude but they’re fun and they certainly reintroduce some sparkle to your life. Check out Blingee.com where the future is definitely bright.
Photo. Snapshot from Blinge.com
Fashion brands have been quick to follow the buzz. Burberry used GIFs to share its runway looks via Twitter at its autumn/winter 2012 show in February. And more recently at London Fashion Week, there were signs of hubris with opulent visions of luxury for its spring/summer 2013 collection. Burberry’s latest reworking of its iconic trenchcoat looks as if it’s made from Quality Sweet wrappers with metallic shades of raspberry, fuchsia and gold. Bold and blingin’ fantastic!
Photo. Burberry’s spring/summer 2013 collection at London Fashion Week
If Christopher Bailey had been around in Midas’ day, hubris might not have had such dire consequences. All those brands in hair shirts take note, as perhaps we’re beginning to yearn for a touch of bling.
About the Author
Greg Taylor became founding partner in global brand design consultancy Elmwood in 1989. Now Director of Brand Provocation, Greg is the creator and facilitator of Step Change™, Elmwood’s strategic tool for moving ideas forward. Clients include ASDA, Wal-Mart, Arla Foods, BBC, COI (Defra and DfT), Cable&Wireless, Comic Relief, Debbie & Andrew’s, Durex, Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, McCain, and the Met Office.