The Essence of Cocooning : It's a Desire for a Cozy, Perfect Environment Far From the Influences of a Madding World

Times Staff Writer

They used to dance at private clubs, dine out five or six nights a week and take in every movie remotely worth seeing. Yoga classes, meditation groups, horseback riding, scuba diving--you name it, they did it.

Today, say Orson Mozes and Christen Brown, "a great evening for us is a night on the house."

Instead of eating out, they dine in--on meals prepared by a resident housekeeper and made with vegetables and herbs grown in their own garden. Meditation and yoga exercises are performed at their Brentwood home, often followed by a dip in the Jacuzzi. And the couple confines moviegoing to occasional private screenings at friends' homes or viewing videocassettes on a VCR.

Scuba diving and horseback riding have been dropped in favor of at-home massage sessions, provided by a mobile masseur. "And if we want to go dancing," Mozes explains, "we go into Taylor's room and put on 'Old MacDonald Had a Farm' and dance with our son."

Reorganized Businesses

Since the birth of Taylor 2 1/2 years ago, Mozes and Brown (both of whom own their own Beverly Hills firms) have reorganized their businesses so they can each work from their home two days a week. To reduce time spent taking their child on recreational outings, they turned their backyard into a park and even hired a pony to perform there for Taylor's last birthday party. (The ploy, Brown admits, insured that the children of similarly time-conscious parents would show up.)

Despite all this time at home, Mozes, 35, and Brown, 42, maintain that they have not mentally retreated from the world in the slightest. "We're highly active in the world. This is how we regenerate," Brown says, "and make time for our careers, for our family and for ourselves. It's a very loving thing to do."

Mozes and Brown, married for six years, are advanced practitioners of cocooning. That's the term coined by New York trend maven Faith Popcorn to describe the growing popularity of what used to be known as simply staying home, holing up, nesting, being a homebody.

But, of course, now that the baby boomers are finally doing it, there's a twist.

"It (cocooning) is a rapidly accelerating trend toward insulating oneself from the harsh realities of the outside world and building the perfect environment to reflect one's personal needs and fantasies," maintains Popcorn, a trend forecaster and marketer based in New York City. Through her firm, BrainReserve, she periodically surveys about 2,000 consumers to research her predictions.

The first suggestion of the home-focused phenomenon emerged in her data in 1984. By late 1985 she was convinced it would become a trend not a short-lived fad. Today, she says, "We think more individuals will make purchases that provide control, comfort and security against what they perceive as a harsh outside world. Anything you can make that is easy and secure, warm and available, you can market to their cocoon."

Some of her favorite examples: gourmet frozen foods, soft furniture such as Barcaloungers, investment services, big cookies and other "mom foods" that remind consumers of adolescence.

"There's a tremendous fear of environmental destruction," adds Popcorn, zeroing in on what she feels is one of the trend's more unpleasant roots. "This year it's starting to grow among average people and before they step forward to fix (problems of the environment), they're going to step back. They feel they can't control the environment: dumping sites, water going bad, garbage issues, herpes, AIDS, cancer, the ozone layer."

The downside to cocooning, in Popcorn's view, is that consumers are becoming less involved in social and political issues.

Although she expects a countertrend (consumer rallying, environmental concern, political involvement) to begin by 1989, Popcorn figures cocooning is good for at least three more years in all parts of the country.

Though it's more obvious among yuppies who can afford to bring increasingly exotic conveniences into their homes, the trend is also practiced by consumers who curl up with "Wheel of Fortune," send out for Domino's pizzas and flip through Sears catalogues.

Popcorn's found the only group not really big on the whole thing is the "over-60 group--they don't want to stay home, they want to get out."

Similar Conclusions

Other market research organizations have come to similar conclusions on increased activity on the home front.

"We've been talking about it for six years," says Susan Hayward, a vice president with Yankelovich Clancy Shulman, a marketing and social research firm based in Westport, Conn. "We think it particularly affects younger people."

Developments that contribute to the trend as identified by the Yankelovich group include:

--Baby boomers finally beginning to have children.

--The development and use of home-based technological devices.

--The maturation of the women's movement ("Women have decided that although work is still very important that there are definite benefits to roles such as wife, mother and good home manager").

--Baby boomers' investments in real estate when it was a growth market.

"When we talk about a trend like this (cocooning), we mean that most of the population is moving in that direction," Hayward notes. " . . . The baby-boom generation is growing up. There's a lot of stress out there and they're getting tired."

At SRI International (formerly the Stanford Research Institute), marketing consultant Terese Tricamo says the back-to-the-home movement was recognized by the institute in its early stages, and recent research indicates it's still growing.

"This kind of trend is to be expected considering that more than 70 million of all Americans are basically the baby-boom generation and they're at the point of establishing and furnishing their homes," she says.

Those furnishings are sometimes crafted with the retreat life style in mind. Los Angeles furniture and interior designer Mimi London creates beds that "act like a nest" and couches in which people "really relax into postures instead of perching on the edge."

Architectural Digest editor Paige Rense has noticed soft, noise-absorbent, wall-to-wall carpeting--often displaced by area rugs on stone or hardwood floors is fashion-conscious homes--is returning to favor.

Services too are being expanded to serve more stay-at-home types. So many products are now available with home delivery and so many service-providers now choose to work in customers' homes that magazines and books have been published to list the possibilities.

That many cocooners have shifted their concerns from protesting wars to discovering the best at-home cat groomers has not been lost on some observers.

Changing the Street

"This is the generation that once talked about changing the world. Now they're very glad if they can change their street," remarks Dorothy Kalins, a baby boomer who is editor of Metropolitan Home magazine.

"There are certain pleasures that are being discovered by this group of people after all the restaurants have been eaten at and all the clubs have been danced at and after you've been trekking through Nepal," Kalins says.

"Homes are now mixed with work (through computers and other machines). Homes are weekend places to escape to . . . . This generation is investing their lives with a great deal more style and inventiveness than their parents did."

Like many young professionals who practice part-time cocooning, Kalins is loathe to equate the phenomenon with the Retreat of the Super Yuppies.

Won't Turn Their Backs

"These people have known so much of the world they're not going to turn their backs on it," she predicts. "They want to make a little corner of the world that's theirs. I don't think these people are going to become self-satisfied. Don't confuse comfort with complacency.

"The so-called cocoon is not a retreat in the sense of closing off the world. It's not let's-pull-all-the-wagons-in-a-circle-and-never-leave. It's a chance to express personality and work out some of the things in your own environment that you've sampled in the rest of the world."

Many observers emphasize that, in its extreme, cocooning encompasses unhealthy forms such as agoraphobia (fear of being in open places). Moderate cocooning, however, is often considered an intelligent solution to stress from the outer environment.

"There's a kind of wisdom in all this cocooning," says George Rand, an associate professor of architecture and urban design at the UCLA Graduate School of Architecture. "Cocooning is a desire to find a manageable piece of the environment, to make things function at a scale that's understandable," he contends.

"A lot of corporations are cocooning too. They're designing parking structures that lead right into their complexes so you can go directly from your car cocoon to your office cocoon."

From Rand's perspective, the drawback to cocooning is a limiting of experiences, a curtailing of spontaneous adventures that derive from being willing to interact with the environment.

"But I don't think people should be viewed as psychological cripples because they're withdrawing into cocoons," he insists. "And this shouldn't be thought of as playboy or playgirl narcissism. These people are experimenting. They're trying to figure out how to deal with limits, how to deal with freedom--big psychological and sociological issues."

In Southern California, some theorize that cocooning is intensified by both geography and density. Architect David Martin, a Manhattan Beach resident who works in downtown Los Angeles as partner in charge of design at Albert C. Martin & Associates, recalls that 10 or 15 years ago, people routinely hopped on the freeway to meet friends across town because they could do so in 15 or 20 minutes.

"All of the people who remember this kind of freedom have had to rethink their life styles. The traffic is so bad now that every move you can make that keeps you out of your car makes you a happier person. Everything is now becoming more village-oriented than regionally oriented."

For more than a decade, Martin and his wife, Mary, a world-class triathlete, have been been perfecting cocooning strategies. Those now include not repairing a broken doorbell and using United Parcel Service to move clothing to and from a favored Beverly Hills dry cleaner.

"Five years ago, I'd drive across town," Martin says. "Now it's 'Would you rather pay UPS a few dollars?' or 'Would you rather fight the traffic?"'

Hair design trend-setter Vidal Sassoon, who frequently cocoons with his wife at a rented home in Malibu, concurs that Southern California offers more and more reasons to stay home.

"To go out and brave the traffic just to go to a restaurant then come home doesn't seem to make it anymore," Sassoon says. "My sense is that what we need is a true restaurant-theater-coffee bar area where you want to mingle and talk with people. After all, we do have the weather, we don't have the area. We need to create places where people go to live, learn and love."

Looking for New Ways

Those who raise dollars for charity are also becoming acutely aware of the move to cocoon.

"People are constantly looking for new ways to raise funds that do not include a large, extravagant party. We're very tired of that," says Nancy Olsen Livingston, chairman of The Amazing Blue Ribbon, the fund-raising arm of the Los Angeles Music Center. "We don't want to go to a hotel anymore, get all dressed up and sit at a table with 800 people in the room."

While charity balls remain popular, many dance on without the presence of formerly faithful attendees.

An Off-Putting Thing

One increasingly reluctant socialite, Joan Agajanian Quinn, likens "going into a room with 700 people" to "just about the most off-putting thing you can do."

"We've cut down on big social outings," she says, explaining that more of her time is now spent in service-oriented activities.

"I seldom even lunch anymore. I just think there are better ways of using your time. If you have a good husband, nice children and a comfortable home you just want to enjoy it."

Or protect it. As Brenda Cooke, a mother, wife and realtor who lives in Hancock Park, puts it, "When you have teen-agers at home, you don't go out. You stay home and guard your possessions. They're really good kids, but we don't leave them here alone. We're not equipment people. We cocoon basically because we're dead tired."

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