While in Paris and the French countryside during August I spent time observing the locals and tourists, the advertising, tv and media, food culture, retail and the stuff in the shops. I was struck by five themes – or trends – that kept surfacing:
irony – whimsical contrasts, humor, unconventional combinations, such as Piaget’s +$15,000 precious ring collection inspired by cocktail drinks (see image).
nostalgia – affection for the sentimental, traditional, and nod to trade-routes, exploration, heritage and history, as exemplified in the aviator/explorer fashion trends in stores (and now on the runways of NYC Fashion Week).
icons – homage to famous people (politicians, scientists, movie stars, musicians) and characters, religious figures, symbols, pop-culture and iconic brands. Brigitte Bardot and Barbie images were ubiquitous.
treats – luxuries and indulgences for all wallets, from pink rock-crystal sea salt that one grates like parmesan cheese to uber-expensive designer handbags… by the way, the “Recession” is not evident in France. Money is flowing.
honesty – transparent, authentic, worldly, earthy, natural, organic, wholesome, sustainable, fair, ethnic, indigenous stuff form a lifestyle/mindset category of their own, counter to the trends above.
what might this say about society?
I think these five reoccurring themes in French lifestyle and culture simply scream: VULNERABILITY. We seek the familiar when we’re lost. We seek comfort and humor when we’re distressed. We seek truth and simplicity when life is opaque and difficult to navigate. The antidote to vulnerability is safety, so are we seeing a cultural swing towards neo-traditionalism?
“NEO-TRADITIONALISM” was what the advertising industry called the wave of products, brands and ad campaigns in the late 80s/early 90s right after the stockmarket crash of 1987. During this period I was on the team that relaunched Miss Clairol haircolor with the seminal neo-traditionalist ad campaign “Does She or Doesn’t She? Only Her Hairdresser Knows for Sure” (an update on the brand’s ads in the 1940s-50s). Perhaps the time is ripe for another bout of neo-traditionalism in marketing, branding and even innovation?
Anyway, above are five broad-stroke macro-trends; yet within these macro-trends are numerous more complex and unusual micro-trends. While too many to list, here’s three that paint a richer picture of French culture at the moment.
micro-trend 1: juxtaposed digital & analog
(macro-trend links: Irony, Nostalgia, Treats) Those weary of technology leapfrogging can find familiar comfort in products that combine digital hardware and software with the human, or hand, touch.
Imagine a hybrid of a pocket watch and sleek cell phone? Mobiado has imbedded what looks like antique pocket-watches (with the inner clock mechanism behind a crystal) into a hi-tech state-of-the-art cell phone. It’s a surprising device befitting a time-traveller.
similarly, IONZ has combined a traditional DJ record turntable with an i-pod station and a computer, so that vinyl records with all their wonderful flaws and the DJ’s hand-scratching can be combined with electronic sampled sounds and captured digitally.
Another take on humanizing cell phones is Boucheron’s cell-stones. Jewelry befitting the Duchess of Windsor can be “worn” on Vertu cell phones, transforming the cool, sleek instrument into something more familiar and organic.
Finally, the steamer trunk (also enjoying renewed interest from converging trends of escapist wanderlust and miniaturization) has been catapulted into the 21st century by Pinel & Pinel. They’ve combined the romance of steamer trunk lifestyle with top technology (B&O sound and plasma screens, Mac computers) for compact mobile workstations and entertainment centers. What’s old is new again.
To be continued.