In an over-saturated market where international fashion designers now create their own denim collections, and premium brands lead the way in an environment where individuals demand their own ‘unique’ denim identity, the one name making a comeback into the vocabulary of cool, is Levis.
Yes, the brand synonymous for its association as the ‘everyday’ workman’s uniform is experiencing a psychological shift since its former 90’s ubiquity, and has suddenly become the epitome of ‘cool,’ once more.
So who is responsible? Maybe it’s the class of Gen Y who assimilated 80’s style into their tech-savvy, go-getting lifestyles; harnessing history and reinventing it, and now, they are transitioning sequentially into the 90’s, embracing Beverly Hills 9021 white, middle-class culture. Or, perhaps it is something more?
Jeans are a garment that will forever be re-imagined and fit succinctly into consumer culture—we need not own multiple pairs, but trends dictate that we do. And so too, Apple have made themselves indispensable within the tech market. Other brands might suffice, but without a Mac or iphone we might very well be left behind; a whole new language and secrets into the future are contained within these devices. If you’re not synced into Apple, then are we living in same dimension?
My preamble is a response to the documentary Trend Beacons, which doesn’t discuss specific consumer products or brands per se, yet for me triggered questions about current trends and the evolving nature of what they are, and what they mean to us—if anything at all.
An Icelandic/ Netherlands production directed by Örn Marino Arnarson and Thorkell Hardarson, Trend Beacons takes us behind the scenes of those curators of the future: highly respected specialists in their field who are responsible for guiding businesses (of all manner) towards The Next Big Thing.
At the beginning of the film we are introduced to New York fashion journalist, Rosemary Feitelberg, who maintains that trend forecasters have everything to gain in an apparel industry that generates 284 billion dollars per year, in the U.S alone.
In the documentary we follow four characters; quirky business partners / visual artists Clemens Rameckers and Arnold van Geuns who run under the name ‘Ravage,’ Trend Specialist—Christine Boland, and David Shah—Trend Analyst and magazine publisher, all of whom impart their own perspectives on how trends operate, and the way in which they themselves communicate these new ideas, and project them into the future. The information dispensed by these modern day soothsayers can be the make or break for brands that need to get ahead in the market place. But the information doesn’t come cheap.
‘Ravage’ are a creative duo who believe their insight to be sacred. By no means do they espouse a vision that is driven by intellect. No. They admit to being slightly remiss in this area and their vision of the future derives from their artistic instincts. For them, the future can be found deep within the visual encyclopedias in their minds—or so they would have us believe.
Christine Boland believes that trend forecasting is all about seeing the pieces of a puzzle at an early stage, and then piecing it together to form a picture. She likens the process to a study of nature and ‘waves’ in the ocean:“Businesses have to decide when to join the wave, and ride it until the end,” she says, reinforcing that once a trend starts, it is impossible to stop it.
Boland’s method of forecasting comes via a collection of visual references. We watch as she travels between art galleries, exhibitions and museums taking snapshots of objects, artwork, textiles, even roaming local markets to see and ‘feel’ the culture that surrounds her. The photographs will later become reference points for which to collate into a futurist, inspiration bible of sorts for designers and businesses to get a sense of ‘possible’ future directions.
David Shah’s approach is matter of fact. He’s a ‘lay-it-on-the-table’ kind of guy, and says it like it is. Interestingly, he believes that trends (or at least this knowledge of the future) shouldn’t be exclusive. He speaks as quickly as trends come and go. “We don’t use the word trends anymore,” he says, referring to the term ‘directions’ as being much more applicable and relevant to today. And you can almost hear him wincing as he mentions the word ‘trend.’ Perhaps it’s a term that no longer has meaning, or has been far too overused, so much so that it’s irrevocably ‘untrendy.’
Shah began his career in the textile industry and his philosophy veers towards sharing knowledge, rather than creating exclusivity, and perhaps his participation in the documentary is evidence of that desire. He does however state at the beginning of the film, that the trend forecasting industry has become overly congested to the point of confusion.
These four individuals offer contrasting perspectives on the concept of ‘designing’ the future. They immerse themselves in the visual—not just art and culture—but everything in between.
The interesting and overarching message in the film is that these people do not, and cannot predict next season’s colour or which trends (of any multiple concurrent trends) will take off. Their job is to provide the visual research and back-story to ideas, concepts and history that will inform and inspire designers and brands.
This documentary does what it sets out to do. It allows us to get a glimpse inside a secret world, perhaps dispelling a few myths and posing some necessary questions about consumerism, and how the cycle of consumption really works. These people aren’t necessarily great minds, but they are sensitive to what is around them, and have inadvertently created their own wave—starting from an early stage, seeing a gap in the consumer market—and now they’re riding the lucrative tidal wave all the way to the bank.
This is an intriguing documentary that certainly gets one thinking about consumer culture, and the way in which we ourselves can potentially influence the future through technology, social media, art and culture. Boland touches on environmental and political factors that affect the consumers desire for transparency, all of which inevitably become factors in future trends and how they evolve.
So, if we have a hand in designing the future, what does it look like and how can we steer its direction to benefit our communities at a local level, and society as a whole?
This is a thought-provoking documentary that offers interesting perspectives on consumer culture. For me, Trend Beacons scores 7 out of 10 and is a must see for anyone interested in market research, technology, branding, advertising, art, culture, fashion and design.
You can check out this film via Documentary Edge Festival.
A thought-provoking documentary that offers interesting perspectives on consumer culture.