Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Being hip & trendy - not just hard, but maybe senseless?

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A myriad of sites online promises help in identifying trends and fads for everyone in need. Actually a topic I should write something about, too. More than ever people aim at being in the loop with the latest in style and trends. But as it seems it has never been harder to be right up there with the truly cool and avant garde style, thoughts and dos.

Trend research is an important part of a planners job. We mostly consider trends to be about long term (paradigm) shifts in culture influencing behavior, mind sets values. But in the rather fashion-oriented matter – what do know about the idea of hipness today?

Being „hip“ is a concept that is hard to grasp. Today more than ever . The codes keep changing. What was hip yesterday isn’t anymore today. The timeline of the “evolution of the hipster” just gives an impression of the last decade. And honestly: I wouldn’t know the 2005 from the 2009 edition of hip. To me they all seem to exist parallel.

In a global world of true individuals everyone actually is the same.

Fads and fashions drip down to the mainstream extremely fast today – making it harder to keep the edge in being individual and cool. Assisted by online blogs that communicate fashions from around the globe almost n real time and big chains like H&M grabbing up styles and commercialize them. H&M started out with more established designers as Karl Lagerfeld but is moving on to commercialize on younger hipster idols such as Matthew Williamson – a designer that a broad majority of their core customers might have never heard of if it wasn’t for H&M to push his styles to mainstream.

As Gill Linton, head of strategic consultancy The Joneses in NYC describes nicely in „Boycott Beige“ on PSFK how hard it is to be different in a world where everyone aims at being individual but still looking the same.

„Now that designer style has become so accessible, thanks to fast fashion knock offs, everyone looks the same. In his book Paris New York Shanghai, Dutch conceptual artist Hans Eijkelboom intricately proves that although people perceive themselves as being very independent, they actually look very much alike.......The influence of creative extremes is being watered down to lowest common denominator before it’s had a chance to challenge us, and it’s culturally stifling.“ Gill Linton, The Joneses

Being hip today is no counterculture issue anymore.

In other decades hipness was created by counter culture – starting significantly with the beat generation in the 60s. Today it seems there is very little counterculture that is not capitalized on immediately. A global loop of images is online immediately and marketed to those who think of themselves as creators of hip.

Adbusters identified the topic already in 2008 – making clear that hipsterdom today is not a product of real counterculture but clever marketing and communication.

„We’ve reached a point in our civilization where counterculture has mutated into a self-obsessed aesthetic vacuum. So while hipsterdom is the end product of all prior countercultures, it’s been stripped of its subversion and originality." Adbusters

The three year old „unofficial hipster guide“ is especially nice to look at with the 3-year-gap to it: looking at it now I have the impression of peeking at a 2008 H&M catalogue.

If hip becomes mainstream immediately, being truly hip becomes impossible.

Mercedes Bunz, London based German journalist and expert on a lot of things up and coming, worries about a new hipster uniform on her blog in November 2009 “When looking like a hipster became out” – what could possibly replace the well worn skinny jeans? But no answer in sight as it seems:

If everyone is hip, trendy is not hip anymore.

The book title „Stuff White People Like: A Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions“ – by Christian Lander captured my interest as I figured it might be about mainstream stuff – and more like the well-worn Jung von Matt „Everyones German Living Room“. As I was a bit shocked to find out it was about me. And a million other want-to-be trendy individuals out there:

„They love nothing better than sipping free-trade gourmet coffee, leafing through the Sunday New York Times, and listening to David Sedaris on NPR (ideally all at the same time). Apple products, indie music, food co-ops, and vintage T-shirts make them weak in the knees....They pretend to be unique, yet somehow they’re all exactly the same, talking abut how they “get” Sarah Silverman’s “subversive” comedy and Wes Anderson’s “droll” films. They are also down with diversity and up on all the best microbrews, breakfast spots, foreign cinema, and authentic sushi. They’re organic, ironic, and do not own TVs.“ Christian Lander

Find out more on the website or in the book in case you have just recognized yourself – always thinking being upfront with trends and hipster culture… I especially like the “Full list of stuff white people like” and #124 “hating people who wear Ed Hardy” – it might be an idea to re-interpret that brand right now. Or just accept the fact that it is impossible to be hip any longer.

Many concepts, not one trend. The helpless call: everything is in style.

The rules have changed. Everything seems to be trendy. You just have to know how to construct and decode right. A task that seems to be so hard that even style experts call the trend as being out, as the Wall Street Journal quoted a style analyst in looking at this years fashion week trends: "what is out? The trend."

„David Wolfe has been analyzing style trends for 41 years. But last week, Mr. Wolfe, creative director of the Doneger Group consultants, stood up in a room full of retail executives and told them: "There are no more trends. Everything is in style."“ WSJ

What is true for fashion is true for a broader range concerning style and the iconography of cool hipsterdom. So: what’s the solution for brands?

Be true to your core. Not to a concept of cool.

As the Millenialmarketing-Site puts it in their post on “the gen Y hipster”: It is rather about being authentic and true to yourself. This also making it understandable that the truly hip are the DOERS, people who actually do something and shift things than just aim at being hip. Not being judged by a specific style of T-Shirt, but real action.

Keep away from the cool stuff. Find your own way and language. Anything else will potentially be unmasked by the truly cool anyway. And will not set you apart. And will not create and build an authentic brand in the long term. Focus on who you are deep down. What you stand for. And what your products are about. Don’t go for wallpaper, look for values and personality.