Craft beers, artisan foodstuffs and naked light bulbs, beards and vintage infused fashion — in difficult times we look to the purity of the past. As Gucci and other fashion houses ditch slick looks for nostalgia with a twist, brands are realising that storytelling is crucial.
When I called to place my annual order a few weeks ago with a lovely British company called The Artisan Smokehouse, I was rather surprised to hear that they could not fulfil my order as they were sold out.
I could have been miffed, but I thought how wonderful to know there is growth in the smaller British companies providing a genuinely great product. Here was yet another signal of this quiet turning point in retail: we consumers are seeking out the real deal.
During Clerkenwell Design Week last October in the Farmiloe Building — the same location I found those smokey geniuses — the strongest statement was lighting. Alongside the usual dizzying array of gorgeous lamps, there was a rather unexpected trend in naked light bulbs.
By naked we mean the old-fashioned, almost vintage, valve-like clear bulbs with the filaments visible. ‘The filament,’ writes Edwin Heathcote, ‘becomes like a bird displayed in an ornate cage, a relic of an old technology that we like. … Instead of existing as self-effacing products designed to illuminate space — they have become decorative hanging objects.’
‘These newly oversized light bulbs, these hypertrophied bell-jars containing fluorescent tumescent filaments are ironically products of the legislation enacted to end them.’ Indeed just as they disappeared off our shelves all over Europe and the US (to be replaced by charmless energy-efficient bulbs), we now rediscover them but this time as ‘classic design’.
The trend has already made it to the high street. Stores are filled with bare element bulbs reminiscent of Thomas Edison’s first prototypes complete with metalwork stands and rustic cords signalling, says Heathcote, our ‘inability to connect with the blandness of the modern interior — our loss of faith in modernity’.
Is it, therefore, a coincidence that there’s an upsurge in the interest in vintage designer clothing and that many fashion houses have been plundering their archives trying to reconnect with the past?
Gucci and Valentino have successfully captured the essence of bygone eras — reinventing the new aesthetic as vintage mashes up. These last few seasons harks unapologetically back to the 60s and 70s. These two design houses have led the way and hit the trend squarely between the eyes. Others have tried to emulate but there is a subtlety to the geek chic trend that can’t just be churned out thoughtlessly.
But, as with every trend, we ask if this one will be long-lasting. Certainly, Valentino’s creative duo Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli have been making great strides pushing with confidence behind their new aesthetic. In fact so light is their touch and so adept are they at the mixture of old and new, they have created a new brand authenticity — a task almost impossible for designers to achieve at such a historic house.
Left Gucci Mens A/W 2016 Right Valentino A/W 2015
Spot the difference- Left Valentino — Right Gucci
As for Gucci, new creative director Alessandro Michele has boldly embraced the new vintage vibe and his collections have taken the fashion world by storm. However, his vision is huge departure from the slick, polished Tom Ford (followed by Frida Giannini) handwriting we all grew to know — and certainly a look that addresses a very different woman. Bloomberg’s article reported recently: “Fashionistas Love the New Gucci. Investors, Not So Much” adding that “Paris-based Kering needs the revamp to work, yet the timing couldn’t be more challenging”
Vintage Vibes Gucci
As the main lines now get more focused creative attention there also seems to be a move to drop diffusion lines. This consolidation and reappraisal of the brand back story is also a sign of the uncertain economic climate. Shortly after the Paris attacks, Jo Ellison covered the Chanel Show and noted:
“Recent events have found the fashion industry like many others more fearful and cautious especially in Paris, the crucible of the luxury business. … A senior representative of LVMH said their executives were re-examining their plans for 2016 in the light of what’s now appropriate. Appropriate behaviour has become an industry obsession. So has authenticity.”
As the retail landscape shifts once more towards e-commerce, all brands this coming year will be studying their core messages, locking down their brand identity, streamlining their structure and trying harder to compete for our attention in a world where the consumer holds all the power.
The search for the ‘genuine’ looks set to continue…
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Joanne Yulan Jong a Creative Director, Fashion Writer, and Author of the bestselling book THE FASHION SWITCH ‘The new rules if the fashion business’. She has been invited to be a regular columnist for WWD magazine.