By Adam Tschorn
Los Angeles Times
December 26, 2010
Janus, the Roman god for whom the first month of the Gregorian calendar is named, has two heads — one looking forward to the future and another looking back to the past. That might make just him the most appropriate mascot for 2011's emerging trends — a simultaneous embrace of technology, such as 4-D and social networks, and a fascination with quainter notions, such as good customer service, ballet and royalty. What follows are some of the main trends we expect to see in the worlds of pop culture and style in the coming year.
It's a hard combination to beat — the toughness of a professional athlete tucked inside the femininity of a petite ballerina or grace of a danseur — which is why the art of ballet is poised to execute a glissade to center stage sometime soon. Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan" (with tutus by Rodarte) pushed the pirouette into the psycho-thriller genre, but that was just an opening movement. In December, a ballet-themed BCBG Max Azria holiday collection was released, and spring fashion lookbooks for a wide range of labels, including Alice + Olivia and Lover, seem to have been influenced by the belles of the barre.
Adidas might be the biggest brand to bank on the ballerina in the upcoming year, collaborating with Staatsballett Berlin to develop the newest version of its TechFit athletic apparel for women. Several of the company's dancers appear in its lookbook for spring, and one — Alessandra Pasquali — was recently tapped to be a brand ambassador for the company.
After three long years dominated by a recession-muted palette of neutrals, color is clocking back in with a vengeance. The Pantone Research Institute announced this month that a reddish-pink (think Pepto-Bismol) hue that it dubbed "honeysuckle" was its pick for the top color of 2011. But based on what we saw when designers showed their collections for spring-summer 2011 in New York and Europe this fall, fashion is embracing vivid shades all across the rainbow — and not just as accent colors, either. Among the noteworthy names giving the color wheel an enthusiastic spin are Jil Sander, Dries Van Noten, Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton, as well as Tommy Hilfiger, who showed a brightly hued, neo-preppie 25th anniversary collection during New York Fashion Week in September.
When Prince William put an engagement ring on Kate Middleton's finger, he lit a fuse of nearly round-the-clock news coverage that is guaranteed to burn right up to (and probably well beyond) the royal nuptials, scheduled for April 29. Copies of the $535 sapphire-colored Issa jersey dress she wore when the engagement was announced sold out at Net-a-porter.com in an hour, and variations of the sapphire and diamond engagement ring (which was once Princess Diana's) can be found online from $39.54 to $54,405. Banana Republic is ready to help you "get Kate Middleton's look for less." The handful of official engagement and post-engagement photos on the British monarchy's Flickr stream — yes, the British monarchy has a Flickr stream — were collectively viewed more than 76,000 times in the month following the Nov. 15 announcement. And women on both sides of the pond have reportedly been playing "Copy Kate" as they try to duplicate her look in hairstyles and head gear.
While Middleton is at the center of the royal crush, she's far from the full extent of it. The pendulum swing toward a level of royal infatuation that hasn't been seen since the days of Di includes movies such as "The King's Speech," which pulled in the most Golden Globe nominations of this year, and "W.E." a film about King Edward and Wallis Simpson (directed and co-written by Madonna) that's due out in 2011. Prince Albert of Monaco is scheduled to marry Charlene Wittstock in July 2011. And with London as the host city for the 2012 Summer Olympics, don't expect the popular culture fascination with all things regal to wane anytime soon.
China's been the "it" country for the better half of this century, but it's India, the world's largest democracy, that's poised to finally take a place in America's popular culture pantheon befitting a nation of 1.2 billion people. And not just because President Obama called the Indo-American relationship "one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century" during a 2010 state visit there and advocated making the nation a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.
Since "Slumdog Millionaire," Hollywood has continued to stoke interest in all things India. NBC's sitcom "Outsourced" is about an American company call center relocated to India, and high-profile Bollywood actors have been cast in upcoming mainstream American movies. These include Irrfan Khan as a villain in the 2012 "Spider-Man" re-boot and Anil Kapoor ("Slumdog's" game-show host) in the next "Mission: Impossible" flick. Mumbai-born Freida Pinto, another "Slumdog" alumnus, will be seen in the "Planet of the Apes" pre-quel due out in 2011.
Celebrity weddings ( Katy Perry and Russell Brand tied the knot near a wildlife preserve in northern India in October, and rumors place a potential 2011 Brangelina wedding in Jodhpur) and high-profile events (the ICC Cricket World Cup and the country's first Formula One race are both scheduled in 2011) promise to put the subcontinent on our pop culture radar for good.
Call it post-steampunk up-cycling, a renewed appreciation of all things retro or new wine in old bottles, but the nostalgic longing for the look and feel of days gone by has resulted in an ever-growing "newstalgia" movement, blending elements of today with yesteryear. Twenty-first century hipsters sport handlebar mustaches. Prohibition-era moonshine is back on the shelves of swanky wine shops. You can put your MP3 playlists on a USB memory stick that looks like an analog era mixed-tape cassette.
And, thanks to the website Telegram Stop, anyone with $6 to spend can send the ultimate newstalgic experience: your electronic message printed out to look like a traditional (and now extinct) telegram, which is then physically delivered (by mail) anywhere in the world, with each period punctuation mark converted to the appropriate uppercase STOP.
Graft newstalgia with the eco-friendly ethos that's been prevalent for the last few years, and you get a hardy forest of wood and wood-toned accents — many of them in unexpected places. In the latter half of 2010 alone we've discovered high-end tool sets and flashlights by Jonas Damon in beechwood, Italian-made luxury wristwatches by WeWood in maple and ebony and a line of wholly functional wooden radios by Magno. That doesn't even begin to take into account enough sustainable-growth hardwood iPad cases and earbuds to keep a small-town sawmill in business.
As more of our daily lives are lived online and away from the outside world, look for the warm glow of wood — even if it's just wrapped around the edges of our computer screens or our eyeglass frames — being used to help conjure up a sense of connecting with nature.
If 2010 was the year that 3-D captured our attention –— and dollars — at the box office (as did, to a lesser extent, the reality of 3-D television), then look for 2011 to add another dimension as "4-D" moves more mainstream. The phrase, as it's being bandied about in the film and entertainment worlds, refers to adding an "atmospheric" element to the more familiar 3-D format — jets of air or sprinkles of water to simulate wind and rain, for example, or shaking seats or spritzes of fragrance. ( Walt Disney theme parks have been doing this kind of thing for years.)
In November 2010, Polo Ralph Lauren brought 4-D into its world with great fanfare, using camera technology to turn the facades of it flagships in New York and London into trippy, mutating 3-D movie screens that are fashion runways one moment, the backdrop for a giant dangling handbag the next and a polo field moments later, all accompanied by digital sound effects and wafts of fragrance (from the Ralph Lauren stable of scents, naturally).
And Polo Ralph Lauren isn't alone in fashion's fourth dimension. A few weeks earlier, Tiffany & Co. used similar technology to transform the exterior of its new Beijing flagship into a dazzling jewelry display set to soaring music that ended with the cube-like building being transformed into a giant Tiffany blue jewelry box, tied up with ribbon.
Throughout most of the last decade, the Internet has been wielded as a tool (or weapon) primarily of the individual — giving a soapbox, megaphone, printing press and broadcast tower to each voice, skill and viewpoint. But in 2010 there were signs that its use as a tool to harness crowd power — meaningful group collaboration toward a specific goal — was on the rise. Exhibit A: Groupon, a daily deal website that offers a big discount on restaurants, events and merchandise — but only if a certain number of people buy in by the deadline. The company, which launched in November 2008, has been so successful that it caught the attention of Google, which tried to acquire it for a reported $6 billion just a few weeks ago. Google itself opened a new chapter in crowd-sourcing with e-commerce site Boutiques.com, which not only allows customers to shop someone else's style preferences (from celebrities such as Sarah Jessica Parker or from a friend or classmate) but also trolls photos posted on street style sites to serve up accessorizing tips.
It's not just business, but crowd-powered art too, such as the Johnny Cash Project — which has strung together portraits of the country music star drawn by thousands of fans around the world as individual frames of a music video that accompanies the song "Ain't No Grave." Look for 2011 to usher in the era of the happy worker bee — with more collaborative projects and products coming to fruition than ever before. (If they end up giving any sort of award for best crowd-sourced product, we'd like to go on record as suggesting it be dubbed the "Crowdy" Award.)
The notion of customer service may seem quaint in an era in which everything and anything can be bought without interacting with another human being. But it has become one of the last remaining ways any brand — but a luxury brand in particular — can make itself stand out in a cluttered market place. Look at online footwear retailer Zappos, which used a nearly obsessive level of customer service to distinguish itself from competitors. (Apparently the folks answering the phones at Zappos will even help you find a local pizza joint, according to one oft-repeated tale.) Swiss watchmaker Omega is planning to open a spate of standalone boutiques in the U.S. in 2011. It's a move the brand's president, Stephen Urquhart, says is motivated largely by the ability to control every aspect of customer service — for both prospective and returning customers.
In the new year, don't be surprised to hear the sales associate address you by name (it's right there on your credit card, after all), or welcome you back to the store, since good, old-fashioned customer service will be ever more important.
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