The Month in Brand Innovation

Chanel Fall 2017

1. Space is the New Black

Throughout the Fifties and Sixties, the promise of a new space age was a major factor in consumer product design and demand. For a society scarred by war and displacement, a better future could not arrive soon enough: space impacted on everything from cars to kitchen appliances.

But as the novelty wore off, the mood of escapist hope was eclipsed by full-blown geek culture…today, agencies like NASA and ESA can only dream of capturing a fraction of the attention that Star Wars commands.

But space is making a comeback – in minds and in markets. Perhaps the triggering moment was the bombastic impact of the new Star Wars movies at the box office and at retail throughout 2016. More likely is that many of the concepts dreamed of in science fiction are rapidly looming as realities: civilian space travel, the colonisation of Mars, artificial intelligence, the search for alien life, reality TV stars as presidents…

Space is seeping into fashion and popular culture at a quickening rate. This time around, designers have to cater to more nuanced tastes, but have a broader thematic palette to select from. Concepts range from militaristic and utilitarian (like Nike) to cartoonish and self-mocking (like Chanel).

NASA licenses have been in hot demand this year, with brands like Coach, Alpha Industries and Fred Mello using them, also to respond to the popularity of mock-military styling and garment patches. Even KFC was seen selling NASA-styled mission patches to play up the rocket-strength flavour of its Zinger burger, itself a recent traveller to space.

NASA graphics have also found their way onto adult styles by Springfield and Rica Lewis, and photography from the International Space Archives is being marketed as an alternate source of authentic material.

Technology and materials fit for space travel are another resurgent theme, as seen in recent efforts around Reebok’s Floatride foam technology, and in watchmaking from brands like Werenbach, MB&F and, as always, Omega. Meanwhile the imaginative designs of Star Wars brand partners continue to help test consumer propensity for extravagant, out-of-this-world ideas.

For the time being, the methods being deployed are relatively obvious. But as a theme, space has plenty of potential to evolve and expand. Going forward, designers in fashion and beyond are sure to look further afield for cultural references and new modes of expression to incorporate into their work.


Coco Capitan x Gucci

2. Deface, Distort, Destroy

The luxury industry’s apparent love affair with skateboarding and street culture has been the subject of more than a few editorial pieces lately. When Dior makes skateboards, everybody’s ego is briefly offended, not least those in the skater community.

Brand Jam founder, Paolo Lucci, dismissed the polemic best in our recent show reportage: “The two worlds may have nothing in common: fashionistas and skaters can remain two opposite communities, without a common touch-point. Meanwhile the aesthetic of skate – not its culture – is a strong inspiration. That’s it.”

It turns out that skateboarding’s hardcore attitude is more than just a plaything of the fashion elite. Recent political events have shattered the allusions of order and efficiency promoted over the last decade by minimalist design and immaculate Instagram pages. With anger and paranoia at both ends of the political spectrum, designers can be increasingly confident of syncing with mainstream moods when they deliberately reject the pursuit of beauty.

Young consumers are an obvious target of the new destructive aesthetic, but the time is ripe for similar styling to seep into the mainstream. Contemporary shoppers don’t necessarily demand to be shocked, but their attention spans are certainly receptive to controversial and dissonant ideas. A recent article in the Guardian on the baffling popularity of post-Soviet aesthetics put it this way: “in a world where people consume content at a gluttonous rate, you need to do more than simply satisfy someone – you need to confuse, bewilder and leave a puff of smoke.”

The urge to deface, distort and destroy is becoming more prevalent in product and media design across the board. An evolution of the hybridisation trend highlighted in my January report is to vandalise logos themselves – posing brand managers and owners of licensed properties with uncomfortable choices going forward.

Fortunately it’s a dilemma that the collaboration business model solves elegantly: enabling a brand to raise its hands in innocence and point to the collaborator as the destructive force. Meanwhile, intellectual property lawyers will need to be vigilant towards their logos and artworks being used as creative collateral without permission: the offenders won’t always be as easy to spot as the Jenner sisters…

About Gavin Brown

Founder of brand innovation agency, Crescendo Brands...providing research, insights, creativity and leads to brands in need of remarkable products.