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The Brief
Published: 21 Jan 2019

Weekly Thought-Starter #009: Enlightened Masculinity

Date:Monday, January 21, 2019
Author:Charlie Gilbert

Men are breaking out of the ‘Man Box’ of traditional values – think self-sufficiency, toughness and aggression – and embracing a more enlightened concept of manhood.

And this new concept is taking many forms. From non-rugged role models to new approaches to mental health, men are reframing their identities away from stereotypically masculine ideals.

In doing so, many are realising that a) masculinity is something to be worked at and earned, and b) there’s a need to ‘detoxify’ the negative aspects of traditional masculinity.

Brands are wising up to this, too. Some, like Axe, have done so collaboratively and inclusively; others (yes, Gillette, we’re looking at you) have taken a more top-down approach.

We explore this shift, from a consumer perspective, in Enlightened Masculinity – our latest Consumer Attitudes report. In it, we reveal who the new male role models are, and uncover the new apps, campaigns and services providing safe spaces for struggling men.

We also explore how parents and educational organisations are ensuring that future generations grow up without the restrictions of stereotypical masculinity. What happens when boys are encouraged to embrace a broader definition of masculinity?

There is, evidently, some way to go. We’ll end with a quote from Gary Barker, president and CEO at gender justice organisation Promundo. He says that, while there is “support for more equitable ideas about manhood” among urban young men, “in other parts of the world – and sometimes in the same parts – we see a lot of confused young and adult men pushing back to an older, tough guy, always in charge, even misogynist view of manhood.”

Could brands step in (and step up) here? Quite possibly – provided they follow Axe’s lead in terms of using research from real people.

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Published: 18 Jan 2019

Future Fabrics Expo: Sustainable Solutions

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Future Fabrics Expo

British non-profit organisation The Sustainable Angle will showcase the latest material innovations at the Future Fabrics Expo in London this month (January 24-25). The exhibition continues the fashion industry’s drive to find sustainable solutions for an increasingly ethical consumer landscape.

Alongside the thousands of commercially available eco-friendly fabrications on display, the two-day showcase will also offer brands and retailers forward-thinking sustainability seminars on everything from supply chains to material sourcing.

The extensive programme features panel discussions and presentations from key thought leaders and industry insiders, including co-founder of global sustainability movement Fashion Revolution’s Orsola de Castro, American model and campaigner Arizona Muse, and Stella McCartney’s global director of sustainability and innovation, Claire Bergkamp.

Since 2011, the Future Fabrics Expo has solidified its standing as the largest showcase of sustainable material solutions, and its popularity is surging. With the fashion industry increasingly recognising the urgency of this matter, such events shouldn’t be the preserve of niche ethical labels, but a blueprint for all brands. 

For the latest industry insights, see Sustainable Fashion Round-Up: November/December 2018, Instagangs: Sustainable Heroes and A Sustainable Journey.

Published: 18 Jan 2019

Adidas Recycles Trainers into Rugs in Designer Collaboration

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Adidas x Simone Post

Brand leaders are exploring pioneering initiatives to curb problematic waste streams and publically strengthen their sustainability agendas. Front-runner Adidas has collaborated with Dutch designer Simone Post on a creative test case for transforming worn-out athletic footwear into rugs.

The designer created the strong and pliable prototypes using rubber pellets – a raw material made from ground-down unwearable Adidas shoes, produced by Germany-based international solutions provider I:CO.

The granulates were sorted into black and white hues and compressed into bold stripe designs, reminiscent of Adidas’ three distinctive stripes. Up close, the two tones are made up of complex shades, showcasing the variety of colours from the original footwear. 

I:CO collects used clothing, shoes and other textiles from its partners around the world, working to sort, reuse or recycle materials to achieve maximum reutilisation. It uses a pioneering system that enables all shoe types to be disassembled into components and then broken down into usable secondary raw materials, such as rubber, leather or foam.

As consumers become increasingly concerned with environmental harm caused by mass-production across industries, visible sustainability efforts from brands are vital. Working and innovating with recycling plants is a shrewd and resourceful way to address abundant waste streams. Another example is Dutch start-up Ecobirdy, which recycles plastic toys into children’s furniture. Read more here.

For more on recycling initiatives in the fashion industry, see A Sustainable Journey.

We also profiled a number of brands’ sustainability initiatives (including Adidas) in Plastic Pledge: How Big Brands Are Addressing Sustainability.

Published: 18 Jan 2019

Julia Errens on Her 2018 Pop Culture Review: Part 2

Date:Friday, January 18, 2019
Author:Charlie Gilbert

How is horror becoming more high-brow? Is the narrative around fatness changing? Why is Into the Spider-Verse so damn watchable?

These are the questions Julia Errens, our Media & Marketing editor, answers in part two of our interview on her 2018 Pop Culture Review – a report that reveals how your business can become part of the conversations on everybody’s lips.

Julia, in your review you explain that horror is becoming more “high-brow”. How so?

“High-empathy stories – think This Is Us – were really hip two years ago, when it was all about crying for, and with, people. So I think we’re just closing in on another dimension of high emotional engagement: fear, and with it, the horror genre.

“Studios want new genres to invest in, and horror is an obvious one. Films like Hereditary and The Babadook make horror a metaphor for everyday fears more obvious. In The Babadook it’s all about your anxieties around motherhood, and what happens if you don’t love your child.

“Hereditary is a horror film about demonic possession, but it also explores what it means to have severe mental illness in your family, and how this illness is handed down. Is it a curse, or is the curse literally just severe depression, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder?

“Traditionally, cinema horror is a mid-to-low-budget genre because its mainstream perception has been shaped by blunt trauma and cheap shocks. Gory and grindhouse remain valid mediums, it’s just that storytellers are daring themselves to be more high-brow.

“They’re discovering the mechanics of horror, and how this can drive home ideas that used to be safely packaged in drama. In the report I used a quote from Hereditary creator Ari Aster, who said that ‘If you make film where everything doesn’t turn out to be alright as a drama, then good luck finding financing.’

“What was a deterrent to an audience in one genre suddenly becomes a virtue in another. In Hereditary, it heightens a family story by placing it into a horror setting, which becomes an axis point to exploring the real-life dimensions of family trauma.

“Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House demonstrates that if you’re trying to process the death of your mother, then maybe a 10-part story about horrible gory ghosts and bent-necked ladies is just as valid as a three-hour monologue on a theatre stage somewhere.”

A huge amount of research went into the 2018 Pop Culture Review. How did you go about it?

“The beauty of our Content team is that we’re already experts in our chosen fields. Each of us, naturally, has a sustained level of interest in the fields we’re writing about, and this is very much true in my case for entertainment, gaming and, well, the entire distraction sector.

“The process usually culminates in a thorough two-week research and re-research period, where aside from looking back at what’s happened over the year I look at TV and cinema scheduling for the next 12 months. From this, I map the various growth trajectories they throw up.

“It’s a bit like in A Beautiful Mind, when John Nash starts seeing patterns in the numbers he’s staring at.”

Has the report given you a sense of the cultural values that may emerge in 2019?

“One thing that’s already started emerging is body inclusivity, specifically fat positivity. We need to change the narrative around fatness and remove the moral judgements surrounding it, because fat phobia and fat shaming are still the last socially accepted forms of oppression.

“Mostly through the work of existing activists, and the tireless interviewing and self-representation – mostly through Instagram – we’re beginning to see the humanity of fat people. And literally only just beginning.

“We need to change our perspective on the reality of fatness, we need to see fat people’s humanity, and we need to start telling their stories – including stories that don’t centre on them being fat.

“I’m really tired of the only time I see fat people on screen is when it’s about the fat girl finding love after all, or how the fat man slimmed down and became a human. Now, I think we’re finally starting out on an interesting trajectory.”

How do Stylus members use the 2018 Pop Culture Review?

“It’s all about communication, and communication is about connecting. If you want to connect with someone you need to understand what drives them, and culture obviously plays a massive part in that.

“That’s why we started doing the pop culture round-ups to begin with, as little bullet-point briefs for our members to stay abreast of what online communities are concerned with, and what the cultural drivers behind popular TV shows, films and games actually are.

“What do these drivers say about the wider consciousness of different audiences, when they start latching onto particular stories? There’s a lot to be learned about what moves a person if you look at the stories that move them.”

What was your personal pop culture highlight of 2018?

“One real highlight was Into the Spider-Verse. On top of engaging and thoughtfully sketched characters, the film translates the visual language of comics into feature animation, and the result is a real leap ahead for the craft. Admittedly not the hottest of takes, seeing as it just won the Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature.”

If you’re a Stylus member, you can read Julia’s 2018 Pop Culture Review now. If you’re not, discover the benefits of joining. And, in case you missed it, don’t miss part one of the interview.

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Published: 17 Jan 2019

A/W 19/20 Menswear Influencer Show: Undercover

Jun Takahashi’s influences for his A/W 19/20 menswear showing in Paris encompass the macabre and the menacing. Inspiration comes from the tales of Edgar Allan Poe and Stanley Kubrick’s 1972 dystopian movie A Clockwork Orange – but there is nothing frightening about this highly covetable collection, worked in a panoply of rich colour.

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Silhouettes are street-savvy and oversized, but carry subtle historical reference points, as seen in the louche bathrobe coats given a youthful twist in rainbow-coloured fleece, tethered with silken cords. Or note the easy fleece tracksuits emblazoned with Beethoven logos – a reference to Alex’s aversion therapy tapes in A Clockwork Orange – and the low-key ruffled necklines peeping out from chunky striped sweaters.

Takahashi collaborated with Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli on several of the graphics which were synchronised to run through both the Undercover and Valentino collections. Monogrammed insignia, references to flying saucers and photo-real imagery of Malcolm McDowell as Alex in Kubrick’s iconic movie all feature – a timely influence, given the April opening of the Kubrick exhibition at London’s Design Museum.

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Logos and prints aside, it’s the painterly blends of colour which helped give this show its edge, with lime, emerald, ultramarine and bottle green contrasting against warm burgundy, chestnut and rust, pumpkin, lilac and chrome yellow. Fabrics also add to the playful mix – with everything from snuggly fleeces and checked washed tweeds to brushed mohairs and soft cords adding a fashion twist to update core items like the duffle coat, the trucker jacket, or shrunken single-breasted tailoring.

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Cocooning duvet coats and jackets provide the canvas for engineered logos and border prints, topping slouchy sweatshirt onesies and oversized knits or sweats. And to complete the look, knitted berets and Aran cuffed mittens, Clockwork Orange-styled bowler hats and printed shearling gauntlets, trinket-hung kilt pins, and playfully coloured duck boots.

Published: 17 Jan 2019

Arla’s New Formula Targets Gut Health In Infants

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Arla

As the importance of good gut health continues to be a key focus for consumers, parents are becoming more aware of the impact a healthy gut can have on their children's wellbeing. With this in mind, Danish dairy giant Arla has developed a whey protein-based formula that supports digestive comfort in babies.

According to the brand, infant formula has higher levels of protein than breast milk, making it harder for babies to digest and potentially leading to higher levels of obesity in children.

To combat this, its new formula – called Lacprodan Alpha-10 – contains whey protein hydrolysates, or proteins that have already been pre-digested by enzymes. The formula also contains both a protein called alpha-lactalbumin, which is prevalent in human breast milk, and 25% essential amino acids, which are important for growth and development.

During clinical trials, it was found that the new formulation reduces feeding-related abdominal pain, constipation, vomiting and regurgitation. Lacprodan Alpha-10 can additionally be incorporated into other formulations to enhance their gut-friendliness.

For more on taking advantage of the boom in consumers' interest in gut health, read our reports Going with the Gut and Natural Food Focus: Natural & Organic Products Europe 2018. For an in-depth dive into pre- and post-natal nutrition, see Natal Nutrition: Fertility to First Foods.

Published: 17 Jan 2019

Stick It: Disruptive Skincare Packaging

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Milk Makeup

Savvy brands are replacing bulky beauty packaging with fresh, portable formats. We spotlight two brands that have developed skincare sticks for active, time-poor consumers hungry for performance products.

  • Portable Face Masks: Edgy New York skincare and make-up brand Milk Makeup has launched two compact and multifunctional clay face masks in travel-sized, easy-to-apply twist-up sticks.

    Foregoing the usual bulky glass jars, the sticks offer a precise and mess-free application method. The format has also been adopted for the brand’s skincare and colour cosmetics packaging.

    The Watermelon Brightening Face Mask aims to brighten and hydrate the skin in a few swipes, with hero ingredients including watermelon and prickly pear restoring the skin’s glow. Meanwhile, the Matcha Detoxifying Face Mask is packed with kombucha and witch-hazel to shrink pores and absorb excess oil.

    The concentrated, lightweight formulas enable users to apply less product than a traditional face mask while achieving similar results. Downtime is also significantly reduced – the brand claims all of the ingredients are absorbed into the skin in just five to 10 minutes.
  • Activated Serums: As the sports beauty market continues to grow, active consumers are seeking products that enhance their daily routines. UK skincare clinic FaceGym has created conveniently packaged serum sticks for fitness enthusiasts.

    Launching in March 2019, the Training Sticks are motion-activated, so as wearers warm up, active ingredients are released to prep the skin. Once the formula comes into contact with sweat, the encapsulated actives – such as papaya to brighten and spirulina to lift – are absorbed into the skin.

    In addition, FaceGym’s Training Sticks save consumers time by removing the need to apply additional creams and serums post-exercise, as the skin-boosting effects last up to five hours.

    We predict that products that maximise the side effects of workouts (such as sweat) will become increasingly popular among the active community. For more on strategies targeting the sports community, see Sports Beauty Steps Up and Beauty 360.

To read more about time-saving beauty and portable packaging, see Agile Beauty, Streamlined & Minimal: Fresh Beauty Directions  and Packaging Futures: In-Transit.

Published: 17 Jan 2019

Huggable Robots Support Users’ Emotional Needs

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Lovot

Experiences of social isolation are now regarded as a normal facet of modern life – nearly half of all people in the US report sometimes or always feeling alone (Cigna, 2018). In response, tech companies are rebranding robots as companions to support users’ emotional needs.

Japanese company Groove X believes that artificially intelligent beings can evoke an authentic emotional experience of friendship and intimacy in the owner that is almost equal to close human to human relationships.

The company’s latest project is Lovot – a large-eyed creature that rolls on three wheels and is covered in soft, washable padding. The robot has a round camera perched on top of its head that scans its surroundings to identify its owner and give the impression of recognition.

Lovot uses non-verbal sounds and emotional gestures to communicate, enabling it to appeal to people of different languages and cultures. Its eyes are also used to communicate, with each featuring a six-layered display to create a lifelike appearance of depth. The body is also fitted with sensors that trigger reactions when touched for realistic physical interactions.

The cuddly outer body encourages ‘skinship’ – a term used to describe the importance of touch to achieve bonding between mother and child. Users are encouraged to pet and hug Lovot to spur emotions of attachment and companionship, which Groove X believes can enrich the user’s life.

Hugs have proven health benefits – they release oxytocin, a bonding hormone that improves mood and lowers blood pressure (U.S. News, 2016). Therefore, robots with soft-skinned bodies can encourage greater empathy and support the invisible emotional needs of the humans interacting with them.

For more on how robots are adopting human-like features to help rebrand them as carers, friends and teachers, see our latest Macro Trend The Kinship Economy: Crafting Modern Connections.

For more friendly gadgets from this year's Consumer Electronics Show, see our event coverage, publishing January 22.

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Published: 16 Jan 2019

Gillette Causes Controversy by Tackling Toxic Masculinity

Gillette's latest ad campaign is a well-intentioned attempt to address issues of toxic masculinity in the #MeToo era. So different from its previous marketing, the initiative almost feels like a brand refresh – one that hasn't been created collaboratively with consumers, leading to inevitable backlash.

It's been 30 years since Gillette debuted its famous tag line, "The Best A Man Can Get". Since then, its ads have followed a familiar formula – blandly aspirational, positive, and product-focused. This week, the company launched a starkly different kind of campaign, We Believe – led by a two-minute ad that calls on men to tackle issues of toxic masculinity, with hardly a razor in sight.

It's clearly well-intentioned – Gillette will be donating $1m over the next three years to men's charities and has launched a website, The Best Men Can Be, that offers further support. However, it's garnered intense critical backlash – not least from Gillette's target audience of young men. On YouTube, the spot has 300,000 downvotes, compared to 50,000 likes, with comments including "Gillette ad demonises its customers, scores own goal".

It's worth comparing this campaign to Axe's 2017 project to address toxic masculinity, Is It Ok For Guys. Dealing with similar issues and from a brand that – even more so than Gillette – was known for its outmoded messaging, the campaign was a huge success. It transformed Axe's image and is making a tangible difference through its partnership with anti-bullying organisation Ditch the Label. Most importantly, the campaign was underpinned by research from real people, enabling Axe to frame the campaign as one that would, as the brand stated, "[provide] guys with resources to live more freely".

This collaborative, inclusive attitude contrasts with Gillette's top-down broadcast approach, which isn't contextualised within a larger, brand-focused message like Axe's "Find Your Magic". If the backlash continues, Gillette will need to work on creating a dialogue with customers turned off by this approach – something which should have been baked into the campaign from the start.

For more on brands tackling social issues, see Enlightened Masculinity, Nike & Levi's Aim for Moonshots in Purpose-Driven Campaigns, and Incite Marketing Summit 2018.

Published: 16 Jan 2019

Retail’s Avatar Opportunity: Fashion for Virtual Alter Egos

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(clockwise) Gucci X Genies; Carlings and Yoox

The increasing popularity of reality-bending, computer-generated influencers is extending beyond social media, with consumers hungry to have their own personal avatars. Savvy brands are warming to the outlook with tech for dressing their virtual alter egos, including digital fashion items they can buy. We highlight three early-stage ideas with major potential.

  • Gucci: The fashion powerhouse offers a digital version of its collection on Silicon Valley avatar-creation and messaging app Genies. Supporting avatar-to-avatar communication within its app, Genies invites users to create digital clones of themselves, choosing from one million customisation options including personality types, eye and hair colour, and skin tone. Available since late 2018, users can outfit their avatars with 200 Gucci pieces. In future, they’ll be able to purchase items (both digital and real) seen on their friends’ avatars through the app in one click.
  • Carlings: Countering fashion’s eco-unfriendly reputation, in December 2018, Norwegian brand Carlings launched a digital-only streetwear collection. To wear and digitally own the items, consumers upload an image of themselves and pay between €10-30 ($12-35), depending on the style. 3D-motion designers digitally add the garments to consumers’ images, which are then shareable on social media. Profits are donated to charity WaterAid. Concepts that replace physical products (and their associated environmental cost) with digital equivalents offer an increasingly important slant on championing sustainability.
  • Yoox: When Italian luxury e-tailer Yoox relaunched its app in December 2018, it introduced Yoox Mirror – a virtual fitting room including  a digital avatar called Daisy, which can be fully customised (height, weight, body shape and skin tone) to resemble consumers. The images can then be saved to a wish list – upgrading standard lists. Alternatively, users can upload a picture to receive an avatar that looks just like them. See also Gap x Tango: AR Dressing Room.

For more on the importance of feeding consumers’ personal brands, see Teen Destinations. For more on retailing products for avatars, see Beauty’s Digital Illusionists.

Published: 16 Jan 2019

New Eco Hotel That Can Travel Around the World

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AccorHotels

As demand for sustainable travel continues to snowball, hotel brands are creating inventive eco-concepts that offer guests increased flexibility and comfort. Demonstrating this approach, French hotel group AccorHotels has launched Flying Nest – a modular eco-hotel concept that can travel around the world.

Conceived by French designer Ora-ïto, Flying Nest is a collection of repurposed shipping containers that each contain a living area, bedroom and bathroom. The spaces are connected by terraces, encouraging socialisation among guests.

The modular hotel can be completely dismantled and moved from one location to another. So far, the hotel has been prototyped in Clairefontaine (where the French national football team trains) and the Rencontres d'Arles photography festival (also in France), where it was assembled on the beach alongside a DJ, bar and food trucks. It has most recently been moved to ski resort Avoriaz, which is located 1,800m high in the French Alps, enabling guests to step out of their rooms and straight onto the slopes.

Every part of the hotel has been designed with sustainability in mind, with each module clad in environmentally friendly wood, painted with eco-certified paint, and furnished using fair-trade suppliers. The cabins are also powered with green energy and re-use recycled grey water.

The hotel is currently being offered as a B2B solution for event organisers, festivals, exhibits and corporate clients, but the brand plans to open the concept up to the wider public later in 2019.

For earlier examples of high-end roaming accommodation concepts, see Travel for the Agile Elite, and for more on how hotel designers are putting sustainability at the heart of their concepts, see Exploring Eco-Tourism.

Published: 15 Jan 2019

£3 Tap Donations to End London’s Homelessness Crisis

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The rise of the cashless economy has inspired non-profit Tap London's new contactless donation points. Money raised from the terminals will support 22 London charities helping the city's 170,000 homeless citizens (Shelter, 2018).

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan unveiled 35 terminals across the capital in November 2018, with plans to expand the scheme to 90. The Tap points have been strategically placed outside locations such as theatres, cinemas, cafes and bars, where consumers will already be spending money. Each tap donates £3 ($4) to Tap London, which will distribute the funds amongst the London Homelessness Charities Group. At time of writing, more than £29,847 ($38,307) had been donated (Tap London, 2018).

Homelessness is on the rise; on one snapshot night in autumn 2017, local authorities estimated that 4,751 people had slept rough in England, up 15% on the previous year (Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, 2018). In the US, 553,742 people were homeless on a single night in 2017 – the first rise in seven years (Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2018).

At the same time, the cash economy has declined sharply; 2017 saw cash payments fall by 15% to 13.1 billion, and by 2027 it's anticipated that 36% of all payments across the UK will be contactless (UK Finance, 2018). Charities are responding with a variety of contactless schemes. In the US, social good start-up Samaritan is using Bluetooth-powered beacons to help homeless people collect donations.

Tech-savvy charities are wise to adapt to consumers' changing spending styles in order to maximise spontaneous altruism. For more on the pros and cons of a cashless society, see Bespoke Banking, part of The Future of Money Spotlight.

Published: 14 Jan 2019

A/W 19/20 Menswear Influencer Show: Marni

Menswear might be in a state of flux, torn between ongoing streetwear influences and the demands of the luxury market, but Francesco Risso drove a deft path through the maelstrom in Milan – combining modern-day tailoring with louche layering in an explosive mix of colour and pattern.

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While other designers may be trying to play catch-up, Risso stays true to his ironic view of menswear, magically combing a sense of playfulness with seriously influential silhouettes.

Tailoring came in easy, slightly oversized shapes, giving high-peaked 3SB jackets and relaxed, city-slicker coats a modern twist through bold colour and  unexpected fabrics like soft-touch boucles. Team that with silky printed shirts and full-legged washed drill pants, and you have a modern-day uniform that would happily traverse boardroom to bar.

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Streetwear influences loomed large in the form of oversized washed sweats and sporty cocooning cagoules, as well as the popsicle-coloured tracksuits reworked in lightweight textured knits. Elsewhere, we were given louche commuter macs faced in skin print, the relaxed elegance of multi-patterned silky PJ layers, and the soft, streetwise armour of padded duvet coats and gilets.

Overdyed denims and washed-yarn dyes were a key look, combined with the contrasting gloss of luxe pony skins, slick leather and snakeskin. Meanwhile, leopard-print faux furs and fuzzy striped brushed knits upped the ‘touch me, feel me’ quota.

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Risso mixes print and colour with an iconically painterly hand – seen in the unlikely combination of abstract art prints and animal skin patterns in a palette of camel, ultramarine and burgundy, shot with pops of lilac, raspberry, Day-Glo orange, sky blue and ochre.

Much of the brand’s inspirational appeal lies in the creative director’s confident mismatched styling, all accented with the unexpected twist of multi-tasselled loafers, leopard-print bucket hats, oversized knitted scarves, and boxy leather satchels.

Published: 14 Jan 2019

Weekly Thought-Starter #008: Gen Alpha’s Moment

Date:Monday, January 14, 2019
Author:Charlie Gilbert

Here’s something to ponder, however briefly, this week: Gen Alpha.

Aged nought to eight, they’re vastly different to children of preceding generations. They’re playing with super-charged toys, reading stories that reject traditional narratives, and dressing in clothes that look beyond gender and ability.

These ‘leisure goods’ will make them more dynamic, creative and inclusive. And this, we believe, presents huge opportunities for brands.

We reveal what they are in The Gen Alpha Moment, our latest Consumer Attitudes report. From helping parents to embrace their inner child (clue: develop nostalgia-led products and experiences), to weaving in inclusive messages, you’ll discover how to tap into a generation that will, before long, replace the all-conquering Gen Z.

A couple of report highlights: first, how new children’s books are teaching Gen Alpha to be empathetic as more lifestyles and backgrounds are being normalised. My Name is Not Refugee, for example, challenges young readers by asking them what they’d take if they had to leave their country (and their friends) behind.

Second: the spectacular rise of ungendered play and clothing, which is being taken to new levels by the likes of Words of Wonder – a unisex clothing collection that uses text on garments as starting points for children to express their thoughts and feelings (rather than emphasise problematic messaging like ‘Training to Be Batman’s Wife’).

We’ll end with a quote from Krystina Castella, author of Designing For Kids: Creating For Playing, Learning And Growing (which Stylus contributed to), whose words are salient for brands considering gender-neutral products: “There are many small companies creating gender-neutral toys, home furnishing and clothing. Most of these bring girls into traditionally boys’ markets; very few bring boys into girls’ markets.”

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Published: 11 Jan 2019

Julia Errens on Her 2018 Pop Culture Review: Part 1

Date:Friday, January 11, 2019
Author:Charlie Gilbert

2018 was a huge year for pop culture. So big, in fact, that we needed a two-part interview with Julia Errens, our Media & Marketing editor – and author of our 2018 Pop Culture Review – to make sense of it.

From Netflix shows that reveal sex-education opportunities to ad campaigns that demystify taboos, in part one Julia talks about the moments she believes are redefining our cultural values.

Julia, one of the shows you mention in your review is Netflix’s Big Mouth, and how it’s tapping into the “sex education opportunity”. Tell me more…

Big Mouth is interesting because it’s raunchy and brash, but it’s not about laughing at people who are too stuck up to find sex funny. It’s more about stepping back and analysing what sexual experiences are, and casting a light on the development of personal sexuality.

“We use sex and position it as a powerful force in society, but then we punish certain people for talking about or trying to change it [case in point: CES revoking an award for a female pleasure device]. But I think this is changing, and this Netflix cartoon is an expression of that shift in thinking.”

“I kept imagining what it would have been like as a 13-year-old to have a show like it, where it’s not ‘Ha, this type of sex is funny,’ but more ‘Here’s how those feelings you have are shared by other people. You’re not disgusting for having them, but here’s what you can do to guide yourself without hurting others.’”

This leads in nicely to your point about brands in the pop culture space “demystifying taboos”. Are there further examples that businesses more generally can learn from?

“Bodyform/Libresse updated its 2017 Blood Normal campaign with Viva la Vulva in 2018. The video supporting it is set to a hymn of gratefulness, where women sing about their vulva and vagina to explicit, but not off-putting, imagery.

“When approaching a taboo, brands shouldn’t just go out and say the most horrible thing they can think of. They instead need to look at something that’s viewed as horrible and have an objective view on it.

“Look at the cleanse on Tumblr, which banned all adult content on December 12. I think there’s merit in examining how our social mores have driven us to tabooise certain issues, and whether these are still valid from a modern perspective of equity and equality.

“This is what Bodyform did by trying to de-tabooise menstruation blood, which led to massive Instagram blocking issues in 2017, and again now with Viva la Vulva. But it’s still just anatomy, and it’s all in context.

“Brands should ask why we shame certain behaviours. I think, though, that this is shifting socially, and that new moral lines are being drawn.”

So is it a case of pop-culture brands opening up taboo topics, and then others joining in by being genuinely useful somehow?

“It’s something people always say across social movements – the best thing to do is show up and ask the people already doing the work how you can help.

“Brands – which presumably have bigger social or other content platforms, and definitely have higher funds than most volunteer organisations – need to look for the community that exists around a message, say body positivity, and then find the thought leaders.

“They need to communicate not just with one or two, but a whole group, so they can get an understanding of what that community’s central issues are. There’s a difference between virality and clickbait, so brands need to find out what it is that a movement they find interesting has been pursuing historically.

“Then, they need to collaborate with them and use their cash, money and influence to help them amplify their message. You can’t gentrify an issue – you can’t come in because you have the money, the platform, and you think you have something to say, and then overwrite your opinion over the work that’s already happened. This is how you create a backlash.”

I guess this chimes with your line in the review about how “brands need to move beyond authenticity to reflect the complexity of modern existence”?

“In 2018 everybody went crazy for Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette, a comedy stand-up set whose entire purpose was to remove the key mechanism of comedy. Normally you set up tension and then relieve it – that’s where the laugh and the twist and the experience comes from.

“Gadsby instead gets up on stage and sets up a personal experience. She initially presents in a classic stand-up way before going into broader societal issues like the way women are treated, the experience of LGBTQ youth, and the many mental struggles that come from being ostracised, whether by your family or society at large.

“Then she goes back to her personal story, which actually has a harrowing ending. It culminates in the idea that it’s not the job of entertainers to take their own personal pain and present it in a digestible, approachable way.

“If you’re listening to something and it just ends up being a heart-warming, fun little story, then maybe you haven’t gone through the necessary process of empathy and feeling that pain, or at least sympathising with that pain – a process that might lead to genuine change.

“There’s an interesting discussion here, which brands can be a part of, over what many people becry as identity politics. ‘Why do you always have to talk about being black or gay or a woman? Aren’t we all the same?’

“Well, no, we’re not. When we talk about being the same we’re just defaulting to the status quo, which is reasonably wealthy, white, middle class and straight. The cultural default doesn’t actually exist because culturally speaking, the majority of us are sitting on different rungs of oppression.

“We need to create a broader, more open conversation on culture to really understand people who have traditionally been under-represented, oppressed or ostracised. We shouldn’t have to bleach their experience to make it fit into an easier perspective on the world.

“This will help us move beyond packaging something to be digestible to actually reflecting on what, as an audience, we’re being presented with. This shift has been notable in pop culture over the past year – now we’re getting much more specific stories, and taking more time to get to know specific and complex characters from different cultures and backgrounds.”

How will the different generations respond to this shift, do you think?

“I don’t think they’ll respond to it as much as they’re already willing it, and entertainment is just catching up.

“Young people have quite a bit to fight against with school shootings and violence, and trying to further the liberation of LGBTQ people. They have a different sphere of awareness.

“They also, thanks to having more access to cultural goods via the internet, no longer have to choose a single identity. You’re not just a pop-punk kid from the suburbs; you can be a pop-punk kid on Mondays, a goth on Fridays, and you can go to your Black Lives Matter march on Wednesdays.

“They have access to overlapping identities, which I think builds the culture I referred to earlier – this idea that we need to lean more towards discomfort and investing in understanding each other.

“The younger generation is already living it, so I don’t think they’re going to react to the revolution of inclusivity so much as they are already building it – not least because, in the US, census data shows that they’re the most ethnically diverse generation so far.”

Are they building it partly in response to what they perceive to be a broadly negative social and political environment?

“I think the current situation mostly just creates a sense of urgency; how much of this is honest anxiety I don’t know. Not so much with climate change because that really seems to be at squeaky bum time, but I remain uncertain whether it’s worse nowadays than it used to be, or whether we just hear about it more.

“But it does certainly feel like the world is on fire, in a social sense, right now. We’re so globally interconnected now that we’re sharing each other’s anxieties, and when they’re shared societies are pushed to extremes. This will always motivate people to see the severity of certain issues, and to develop movements to counter them.”

If you’re a Stylus member, you can read Julia’s 2018 Pop Culture Review now. If you’re not, discover the benefits of joining. And don’t forget to check back next week for part two of the interview.

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