In November 2016, I wrote an essay introducing what I described as a seismic shift in interiors, one that was sweeping aside the previously dominant Scandanavian-inspired, white’n’wood aesthetic that had long tended to be shorthand for style. I called it ‘The New Modern’. It was a real action and reaction moment. But where did it come from? And how does a trend become a style, and ultimately, how does that style materialise as products on the high street, as the warm, wonderful style that it was, so clearly did by the Autumn of 2017?
This was the topic I discussed at my first #EDTrendslive event hosted by John Lewis on 28 September 2017.
In order to track a trend, you need to first understand where it’s come from. I believe that any strong aesthetic change is always representative of a wider societal shift. In other words, it is the result of an intuitive creative response to what’s going on around us — the cultural context in which all the designers are working — but it happens step by step, and I find it fascinating to join the dots, and thus chart the journey.
And so, this ‘New Modern’ journey starts at the 2016 International Milan Furniture Fair. Here every global brand worth their salt exhibits its latest collections — it’s like the London, Milan, Paris and New York fashion weeks compressed into one! Not everything shown here will make it to the shop floor, rather this is where brands test market reaction; and for the visitors, whether journalists or retailers, it presents an amazing collective snapshot of current creative thinking.
However, proper trend analysis is a lot more than just looking at stuff. Unfortunately trends don’t just sit there, neatly labelled and patiently waiting to be written up as ‘forecasts’. Rather it is a painstaking process of observing, contemplating, ordering and then contextualising. The best way I can describe my personal method is to say it’s like putting everything I see through a metaphorical spin cycle, and then shaking down what exists to see what makes it through the washer. Pursuing this analogy… it’s a way of effectively rinsing away the derivative, and the plain odd, followed by filtering through what’s left in order to place each style suggestion into its rightful position within the broader canon of design. I then log each potential placement in the file box in my head that contains everything of note I’ve seen before, and only then can I assess which bits really speak to me. I also consider what’s happening in art, literature, film, fashion or politics to seek supporting parallels in order to finalise, or challenge, my burgeoning conclusions. In short, the process has the rigour of scientific study combined with an acute intuition for the forces driving the world at large; as such, an equally left brain as right brain pursuit!
And we mustn’t forget what I call the outliers, those seemingly random one-off moments, usually the product of genius maverick minds, which appear to pop out from nowhere but are done with such conviction that they can often be the early signs of something big on the horizon. Crucially too though for me, is the dismissal of the ‘fads’ which are but throwaway fancies, fluttering in the wind; here today, blown away tomorrow. Happily, they exist less often in design, but they’re still out there, often the subject of over-heated press releases, ‘Purple Polka Dots are the New Stripes!”, sadly commonly adopted wholesale as ‘fact’ by many a harried newspaper journalist in need of an urgent soundbite.
Tracking the ‘New Modern’ trend…
April 2016: And so the journey to New Modern began in Milan, in April 2016, where I identified 5 core trends, and one outlier, that I felt merited consideration, as documented in my Milan 2016 Trend Report
- The style: Black and white
- The feel: Canework revival
- The colour: Forest green >>> Fir green rapidly becoming THE colour for sofas
- The finish: Multi-chromatic ‘iridescence’
- The material: Luxe fabrics/embroidered leathers
- The outlier: Out of Japan
The trends become a style…
October 2016: Six months on and several projects had emerged designed by the Milan-based Dimore Studio and the French designer, Joseph Dirand, that made it clear that at the forefront of design, the ‘components’ that made up the trends of Milan 2016 were beginning to be combined as a ‘style’, prompting the writing of my ‘New Modern’ essay (featured in the February 2017 ‘Spring/Summer Trends’ edition of ELLE Decoration).
As I wrote then, New Modern was “full of texture and devil-may-care opulence. Jewel colours (especially in velvets) reign supreme. It’s playful and fun, but also high-quality and designed to last. It revels in richly-patterned marbles and extravagantly-printed wallpapers. Far from playing it safe in a time of uncertainty, this reflects back that now is absolutely the moment to be bold, and showcase your individuality.”
But while this look may have been dominating the style headlines, it hadn’t by January 2017 found expression in the mainstream, albeit some moments of wonderfully saturated colour were starting to seep through. I remember suggesting at this time that Teal should be the 2017 Colour of the Year, rather than the ‘Denim Drift’ chosen by Dulux, or the frankly ridiculous ‘Greenery’ selected by Pantone. Why? Because “teal is a hue that connotes both depth and warmth; solace and calm mixed with authority.” Also, “it is solid, elegant, yet strong, embodying the qualities and characteristics we need to see this year from those in positions of power, our supposed leaders.” Sadly, we were not to see this evidenced, but as a colour, it came through very strongly in many a high street palette, so maybe better late than never? (Read more of my thoughts on Teal here.)
April 2017: Six months on again, and it was time to return to the annual design fest that is the International Furniture Fair in Milan. And immediately it was clear that what had started a year earlier, had both evolved and picked up pace. There was increasing evidence of an enthusiasm for colour, and a sense of an emerging joie de vivre as manufacturers demonstrated more confidence, albeit one that I felt was still underpinned by an aura of quiet caution.
And most interestingly, the outlier of Milan 2016, a year later, was the dominant voice as Japonisme was unmistakenly the stand-out theme, (discussed in detail in my ‘The Big Trend’ essay in the August 2017 ‘A/W Trends’ edition of ELLE Decoration). I believe it came to prominence at this time because it epitomised both ends of the confidence with caution style spectrum. How? Japanese design is intrinsically based upon centuries of ritual and cultural heritage (techniques of charring wood like Shou Sugi Ban and philosophies such as Wabi Sabi that glories in imperfection are in its DNA) and yet the best Japanese designers have always excelled at taking this legacy, and building on it while also skillfully subverting it. It enables the necessarily irreverent evolution of contemporary design while benefiting from the security of being underpinned by solid foundations. As such, although some brands in Milan only mined the rather more obvious aspects of traditional Japanese style, adorning their stands with tatami mats and cherry blossom, others showed pieces crafted using traditionally charred wood, and with forms redolent with Japanese influences. The boldest brands employed the talents of native Japanese designers — Tokujin Yoshioko at Louis Vuitton, and Oki Sato, founder of Nendo at Alias.
There were also five key supporting acts, and in turn a new outlier, hinting at what might be to come… As I wrote in my Milan 2017 Trends report, This was a confident fair with clearly defined new directions, each of which rather wonderfully related to, and intertwined with, the other. It made for a very coherent picture and yet there was also suprise and delight. The big brands experimented enough to offer new stories, but stayed away from obviously ‘fun’ moves. And I took the prevalence of the Japanese influence to be very heartening as it reflected to me another side of confidence, one that is more about strength in simplicity, and the power of pure materials. The below is a summary of the steps from 2016 to 2017…
- The look: Black and white >>> New Modern Black
- The feel: Canework >>> New Natural
- The colour: Forest green >>> 50s Colours
- The materials: Iridescence >>> New Pretty
- The finish: Luxe >>> Super Luxe Finishes
- The outlier: Mixed Materials
Those Trends in detail…
New Modern Black: one step on from the monochrome of the previous year, now it was all about solid black, or skinny forms highlighted in black as a sort of design in shadow. However the interest in textures was intensified, albeit less about matt vs gloss as richly patinated charred wood (cross-referencing the influence of Japan), lustrous glazes and matt metallics to tiles with detailed embossing. No surface was left plain. It was also a look that leapt straight into style-forward homes as ELLE Decoration published several homes heavy on the black decor throughout this period.
New Natural was the evolution of the canework seen before. But now, all natural finishes were being exploited, from rattan, sisal, cork and plywood to hemp. Whereas some of these materials would previously have been deemed too ‘poor’ now they were being eagerly reassessed for their textural potential. It was also evidenced in a ‘warming-up’ of the seemingly previously rejected Scandi look with many homes generally starting to embrace a much more fulsome and adventurous use of texture.
50s Colours. The sedate beauty of forest green segued into a tempered explosion of colour as the palette of the 50s came through as a dominant inspiration. Think rich burgandys, mustard yellows, olive greens, slate grey/blues and peachy putty pinks. These are proud, particular colours and the overall effect was often heightened by their use as bold geometric prints and zany patterns. Nevertheless they are colours notable for being ‘dampened’ by grey exemplifying the notion of confidence mixed with caution.
New Pretty: however the previously nascent desire for some painterly joy took a firm stride forwards as designers and homeowners alike became increasingly confident to use exotic prints, florals and blousey patterns with abandon. And these were often prints that inspired close-up inspection, as many looked as if the artist had literally just lain down their brushes. Although the originators of this look still revelled in hand-painting their designs, it is testament to the power, and accessibility, of digital printing that the consumer could now get all the look of the hand-done, instantly by the metre. I dubbed this 21st Century Craft.
Super Luxe finishes: Marble has always been a favoured material of many designers, in Milan 2017 though it seemed as if a competition was on to find the most lustrous or unusual new stone. From inky black granites traced through with veins of amber and gold to delicious burgandy red marbles, even amber and terracotta variants, every colour imaginable was on display. But the stand out stone? Pink onyz. Managing to look both demure and arresting in one, this was a stone to instantly fall in love with. Mosaics that combined multi-coloured marbles with brass inlays were also increasingly to be found, making this look accessible, even if not yet particularly affordable.
Mixed Materials I placed this as the 2017 outlier, because although Japonisme could be said to have combined many aspects of the above (harnessing nature, revelling in texture and finish and a meticulous attention to detail), Mixed Materials also combined the core trends, but without the restraint that is emblematic of Japonisme.
Instead, this was a gloriously celebratory vision that unashamedly mixed colour, pattern, finish and deliberately contrasting materials with cheerful abandon. Wood was worked alongside metal; ceramic with marble, prints with plains. This spoke to me of an overtly capricious attitude that reflected the 50s colours, in that it was a supremely confident stance, but this came from a different perspective: that of an unshackled and deep pleasure in the material and decorative possibilities of design. It was a demonstration of the fun that could be had with our homes; think spaces where every wall could be perceived as a canvas, and no surface could be left untouched or uncoloured. It was demonstrated in 2017 to best effect in an installation designed by the Italian duo StudioPepe.
What comes next? Click here for Part Two, my predictions for Spring/Summer 2018…