Thursday, 4 December 2008

Monocle Pop-up

I love the fact Monocle, one of my favourite magazines, has created a pop-up shop on Marylebone High Street. It sells very Monocole products, think John Smedley knitwear, Scandinavian designer furniture and exclusive limited edition pieces you can't buy anywhere else in the world, such as a bespoke Comme Des Garcons fragrance.

It got me thinking why more magazines don't do this (Pop did it well at Selfridges and Dover Street market) and think more in terms of their publication as a brand and part of multiple revenue streams; the print mag itself might not even turn a profit as we're increasingly seeing. And I don't mean stuff like the awful Elle clothing line (how un-Elle can you get? It's so 1990s Kookai).

I write this as an ex member of staff of the Face magazine, one of the most powerful magazine brands in the world (and still is posthumously). I remember when the Face was closing down and we were thinking of ways to save it which included starting Face exhibitions and club nights. Vice magazine does this sort of thing really well now. I love the Vice Guide to Travel especially.

I also say it as I harbour ambitions to launch my own multimedia teen brand someday.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Why I love Gen Y

I just interviewed Penny Power, founder of Ecademy, the business networking site (what a superhero-style name!). We were discussing the Interpersonal Economy (I will blog about this properly soon). This is a theory by the futurologist's futurologist Ian Pearson. He says that as work increasingly becomes automated and outsourced, what is left are the jobs that require human and emotional skills and these will become more important to the economy. Some of these jobs already exist, such as nurses and life coaches, others haven't been invented yet.

The Interpersonal Economy will be based on supportive, sharing, like-minded communities and networks. As Penny says, 'People will help each other in this economy because this is what really matters. Ultimately, people know if they build a likeable reputation, that's their insurance for the future.'

Anyway, in relation to this trend, Penny told me a wonderful story about her teenage daughter who had diligently revised for her GCSE mocks over the holidays. It turned out her daughter's classmates weren't quite so diligent and the teachers' were panicking that the class was unprepared. Her daughter came home and shared this with Penny who took the Gen X view of 'all the better for you then'. Her daughter however, decided to upload all her revision notes to Facebook and share them with her classmates because she wanted 'everyone to be at the same place and go forward together.'

I think this is such a striking and rather lovely example of how distinctive Gen Y's attitudes are towards work, collaboration, and sharing than previous generations.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Final Fantasy

Collyn and I have finally finished our Fantasy article, which explores a new cultural movement we think will change design, culture and branding. The article is out in Wallpaper*'s March issue.

Here's a few snippets from the final draft:

We are looking for more magic, mystery and fantasy in our lives and design is finding its new mission to provide it. Designers are bored with reality. Function has been perfected as far as it can. As designer-cum-artist Jaime Hayon says, 'Fantasy is a very important component of design. I don't believe it's enough for a product to be of good quality, it must also have a narrative. The narrative takes you to another world.'

In the emerging Fantasy Age, storytelling is the new currency and the role of design, technology and culture will be to make our fantasy worlds a reality...

'We live in a fantasy world and we need to make products to fill it,' says Rolf Jensen, author of the Dream Society and one of the protagonists of this movement. 'Fantasy products may never materialise in the real world. It could be robot milk, a computer game or a concept car. The product is a by-product of a fantasy.'

The idea is not to create a fantasy brand, but to invent a fantasy world through which a brand can tell its story. The architects of our imaginations, the Eric Cloughs, Steven Spielbergs and JK Rowlings, will have an integral role to play in this new era of fantasy branding.

Dan Hon, CEO of Six to Start, a cross-platform entertainment and augmented reality game (ARG) company agrees with this theory. 'Harry Potter is a great example. It's JK's [Rowling] story. But in her world there are some amazing sweets and a company out there has thought – let's actually make these sweets. It's making fantasy a reality.'...

The commercial age has gone as far as it can. In the Fantasy Age, where we trade in stories and dreams, customers and creatives will be defined by their imaginations. 'People are ready for wonderful, special things,' says Hayon. 'In this era, the industry can do anything you want. What the technology can't give you is fantasy, and that's where the designer comes in.'

Images from top: D&G's fashion fantasy is an homage to the Queen, one of our most enigmatic icons; Robot milk, one of the early Fantasy products on the market; Interior architect Eric Clough has designed an apartment that invites its inhabitants to live out a mystery in their own home. 'Mystery on 5th', as it has come to be known, is designed as a kind of sophisticated scavenger hunt, embedded with riddles, ciphers and furniture with hidden compartments; Tim Walker brings nature indoors, tapping into the Fantasy aesthetics of menageries and aristocrats.

Meet me at St Pancras

I am not very good with dealing with customer service people. Especially staff in mobile phone shops (why are they all rude boys and Alan Sugar wannabes?). Today, my faith was restored. (Mark Hadfield, I think of you as I write this, customer service Nazi!!!).

I booked a trip to Paris for me and my beau and though I tried to find the cheap £59 return deal I couldn't, and ended up buying a really expensive one. Then we both had a panic and realised we couldn't afford it, particularly him. Although my ticket was non-refundable and non-exchangeable, I thought I'd at least give it a shot with their helpline, see if they could help us out.

Wow. I don't think I've been so impressed by a sales person, the lovely 'Margaret' was so genuinely sympathetic, efficient and went above and beyond for me. I emailed her manager to say so and hope she gets some kind of commendation (not a Eurostar t-shirt I hope). I think we're set to see a revolution in customer service soon. The gold standard of John Lewis (and perhaps Eurostar?) will become the norm...

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Fashion Mart

Swedish fashion label Filippa K recently created a store which invites customers to donate their old Filipa K clothes to be resold in a dedicated Filipa K second hand store. What I particularly like about this is that customers receive commission if their old clothes are sold. 

Oxfam and Marks & Spencer similarly launched a scheme this year offering customers M&S vouchers for any M&S clothes they donated to Oxfam. I think this reward incentive is where ethical consumption is headed, it cannot be sustained or mass marketed by guilt. And as one of my icons Jane Shepherdson said on Twiggy's Fashion Exchange doc this week, 'conscience fashion' has got to make us feel good by making us look good. Out with the hemp sacks, in with the Stella vegan shoe boots (at Topshop prices please).

Talking of Topshop, this summer the brand trialled a 'Top Swop' event in conjunction with Rubbish magazine which invited customers to swap and update their old Topshop clothes. The concept looks set to be extended and Traid recycling depots are popping up around stores up and down the country too. 

I really like the idea of a second hand branded store that serves as a kind of fashion archive.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Why I love John Lewis

When I was at Circus, the brand consultancy, I was lucky enough to work on the John Lewis account. John Lewis doesn't need much help from the likes of us branding folk, it intuitively understands its customers, even in the absence of a marketing department (only recently installed) and the brand is deservedly thriving. 

Anyway, a friend of friend (the stunningly beautiful Nielem, with the interesting job of managing Robbie Williams' website) recently popped into John Lewis on Oxford Street to enquire about knitting classes. The lady behind the counter apologised and said they weren't running any at the moment because it wasn't the right season (when is knitting season I wonder?), but offered to teach Nielem how to knit herself, there and then. An hour later, they're still there, pearling away.

How absolutely lovely is that? A sales assistant that goes beyond the call of duty to help a customer. There are very few brands I can imagine doing that, let alone creating a brand experience that is so genuine and interpersonal. 

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Why classics are more important than ever

I wrote an article about what makes a classic recently, Hermes Cape Cod pictured being a future one I reckon. I spoke to Alfie Tong about this, the brand consultant you may have spotted in the Guardian last Saturday talking about how stylish he thinks is! (He is actually one of the most stylish people I know). The Italians, he said, have a wonderful word for classic style - spezzatura, which roughly means to work at performing an action with the outward appearance of effortless grace. It's why Italians wear blue suits with brown shoes and shoes with no socks - contrived effortless. This makes me think of Kate Moss and sums up what style today is all about.

Another insight I discovered was that classics are becoming more popular again because they represent assurance. David Wolfe at retail consultancy Doneger Group, has said, 'People are scared about social security, the environment, the geopolitical situation. We are looking for security. Classics give people the sense of assurance they're looking for.'

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Beauty fantasy

I've been writing about the Future of the beauty industry and this is my latest and favourite discovery.  Lancome's Destiny Cube, a curious make-up palette with hidden compartments, was inspired by an 18th century Chinese secret box the brand's creative director Gucci Westman, received as a present. Toss the cube as you would a dice, and the idea is to let its mystical symbols and words determine your mood for the day. 

Sadly, the Destiny Cube was limited edition and released last year but it is very much ahead of it's time, tapping into the Fantasy Age trend I am thinking and writing about at the moment. 

Friday, 22 August 2008

Earn as you go

Orange has come up with a really nice social enterprise idea - do a spot of volunteer work and you get free tickets to exclusive gigs. The initiative is being run by Orange RockCorps, an off-shoot the brand describes as a "pro-social music production company". The idea behind RockCorps is to encourage consumers to give back to their community - 4 hours volunteer work in return for sought-after entertainment, such as Busta Rhymes at the Albert Hall next month.

What's most interesting I think, is this idea of having to earn something, rather than pay for it. This seems so relevant to the music industry and being a fan - why can't your loyalty and passion for an artist or band be valued as much as your cold hard cash or at least warrant special privileges? (I know this happens to some degree but surely not enough). 

It's new business models and ways of engaging consumers like this that will help the music industry sort itself out. The initiative has been running successfully in the US and apparently 35% of those who volunteer develop a habit for it. 

Image courtesy of Google images

Brand Play

Collyn and I were talking about the idea of 'brand play'. Just as we have 'brand essence' and 'brand personality', it seems there is an emerging integral role for brand play where brands create experiences for consumers that are designed to create pure delight, surprise and playful interaction. This taps into a concept I've been talking about known as 'the delighter', a term used in the hotel industry to describe the serendipitous moments engineered for guests.

The importance of play to our creativity and wellbeing is starting to be better understood and as a result, the role of play is being elevated culturally.  I think we're due for a Childhood Renaissance, but that's another story.

At first, brand play may seem out of context or a novelty, but before long it could become as standardised as CSR (how wonderful would it be to receive brand play briefs). Digital brands will be very good at it but I also think it's a key role for the corporates - I can imagine McDonald's creating 'pop-up' bouncy castles with Carston Holler or something. 

Artists, happiness economists and interaction designers will be integral to brand play. I love this example spotted on Priyanka's blog of a project by artist Bruno Taylor, who has taken to hijacking public spaces and injecting a dollop of much-needed fun, such as a swing in a bus stop. 

Images courtesy of Google images; Pixelsumo

Monday, 18 August 2008

A pair of strategists

It seems lots of us are thinking about planner pairs. Have a read of this on Priyanka's blog

Friday, 15 August 2008

Society is becoming autistic

My Mum said this to me the other day, 'Society is becoming autistic'. (We love psycho-babble in my family). She's really into something called 'Human Givens' (a form of psychotherapy) and read in a journal recently that extreme environmental conditions (i.e. Eastern European orphanages/British care homes) can trigger Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism (remember Rain Man? Incidentally, Dustin Hoffman is my Mum's favourite actor).

My Mum - or Debbie as she is more widely known - and a number of Human Givens practitioners seem to think that we are becoming more susceptible to conditions such as autism because as a society we are losing emotional intelligence. 

They partly attribute this to our co-dependence on technology which is lessening face-to-face interactions. MIT social scientist and psychologist Sherry Turkle agrees that this - what she calls 'tech-tethering' is having a detrimental effect on our interpersonal relationships, independence and soft skills.


Thursday, 14 August 2008

City Boys

There was something in one of those free papers that litter the tube and stop me reading proper books the other day about how city boys have found a way round fumbling for their Oyster cards and instead, are hacking into them and inserting the chips into their watches for effortless swiping.

Instead of seizing this as a new merchandise opportunity or something, Transport for London are branding it "vandalism". This just highlights how some companies still think they can and should dictate to consumers how they should use their products, rather than observing how consumers are using their products and adapting to this (or better still, making them flexible and intuitive in the first place). 

I think the city boys have a point, and although they're responsible for the spread of All Bar One and contrasting shirts with white collars and cuffs, this could actually prove to be a useful, lucrative mass market product innovation.

Personally, I don't wear a watch (an Hermes Cape Cod would be nice and a future classic I think) but why not offer to implant handbags, mobile phones, even at some point I imagine, consumer's wrists?

People crushes & The Nose

Recently, I've been having what I call 'People crushes' upon meeting new people and instantly hitting it off/becoming in awe of them. I definitely had this with Ivan Pollard. And with Collyn, my new collaborator. And just tonight, perfume expert Catherine Mitchell. 

Catherine was hosting a talk called 'The Nose' as part of the Barbican's wonderful Viktor & Rolf season. She offered interesting analysis of what makes a hit scent. She gave CK One as an example - a unisex, neutral scent for a generation plagued by AIDS in which advertising clearly made a vital contribution.

In Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Lustre, there's an excerpt where author Dana Thomas interviews the great nose (what a lovely job title) Jacques Polges and he bemoans the fact clients are always asking him to create a 'classic' perfume. He says classics can't be designed, it's about the magic that happens when you create something consumers didn't know they desired.

This is bringing back the olfactory backdrop of my youth. The Body Shop's White Musk anyone? Or Ananya? Bloody Dewberry and Fuzzy Peach? Buying soaps and "smellies". Classic, British 14-year-old girl smells, add a splash of Frizz-Ease and unwashed P.E. kit and I could almost be back at Waingel's Copse. 

I almost forgot Impulse. I adored the old Impulse ads. Deodorant was aspirational. Impulse made me think of being a grown-up, sassy 19-year-old. There is something about idealising particular ages when you're a teenage girl, particularly the odd numbers - 15, 17, and 19.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Planner pairs

Why don't planners work in pairs? Like copywriters and art directors and many other creative partnerships - from Viktor & Rolf to Ant N Dec. I've been thinking about this the last couple of weeks since I met my new work partner, Collyn. She's a visual planner - she does pictures, I do words, to put it simply. We're good enough on our own, but together we feel rather formidable.

Mark Hadfield, the Geordie planning genius, has been thinking about this too and may be writing an article on the subject. 

I met Andy Lear, head of planning at Publicis today, and asked his opinion. He said he has worked for agencies where comms planners work in pairs with account planners. He thinks it's a great strategy, the only problem is it's expensive, who pays?

My Big Fat Greek Nose

I was at my flatmate's house in the country last weekend and we got talking about noses and what's the ideal shape. Amy, who works as a PR for Topshop and is the most stylish person I know, piped up with, 'The new nose is straight and Grecian'. It was hilariously impressive knowledge.

Nose jobs are a bit 80s but transforming your body based on fashion trends is a completely feasible concept. Remember the J-Lo butt implant phase?

(If you don't know Amy, you've probably actually seen her in G2 modelling Ray-Bans or on talking about how to wear peg-shaped trousers or something.)

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

The Fantasy Age

I'm working on an article at the moment about the rise of fantasy in culture. I'm co-writing it with Collyn Ahart Chipperfield, my new work partner. We think fantasy will replace authenticity as the major cultural movement. The feature will explore fashion, design, food, science, and sustainability. It will include things like the Met museum's forthcoming Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy exhibition, interviews with people like Rolf Jensen, author of The Dream Society, and importantly, how to apply this trend.

Lolita Marketing

I've never been more flush than when I was 16. Back then, my spending power was limited by supply - Topshop and Barry M. Today's teenage girls are even better off and brands are actively targetting the 'baby pink pound'.

Gleneagles Spa, a luxury hotel in Scotland, offers its younger clients a 'Little Miss' range. For £20, girls from the age of six can indulge in a 30 minute Versace make-up session (Versace? This makes me think of baby whores).

‘Yummy mummy’ culture seems to be driving this trend along with a style of parenting in which many want to be ‘mates’ with their kids. But it is also that children are just more grown-up these days, especially girls. It’s telling that the term ‘tween’ is exclusive to girls, after all.

Proctor & Gamble are rethinking the target market for ‘Covergirl’ cosmetics. Make-up game-playing will be introduced to attract 8 year olds. Face Boutique is the best example I’ve seen of a beauty brand marketing to the new girl consumers. Stocked in Space NK for a start, it boasts ethical ingredients and Julie Verhoeven-style illustrated packaging.

I love the trend for ‘Sweet Sixteen’ style parties (as in the MTV show). Companies such as ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ make every brat’s dream come true – from pamper parties with never-ending lipgloss to turning the back garden into fairyland, costing up to £800 a pop.

It seems like a knee-jerk reaction to say this kind of marketing is wrong but why can’t sophisticated pre-teens be treated as the willing and able consumers they are? Done properly, this could actually be life-enhancing.

Teen novels and magazines are a perfect example of this. I genuinely believe my generation would be worse off without More magazine’s ‘Position of the month’, the word ‘Phwoarsome’ (thank you Bliss magazine), and Judy Blume (Paula Danziger I could live without).

I could rant on forever about my obsession with teenage girls but I’ll wrap up with this phrase I read in a G2 article today on the new tween film, ‘Angus, Thongs, and Perfect Snogging’. The film is based on the books by Louise Rennison, who seems to have captured perfectly the ‘waiting-on-the-edge-of-life-for-it-all-to-happen’. All those grammatical dashes. How very Sugar magazine.

I must credit journalist Ella Alexander for her great article Painted Princesses in Pigeons & Peacocks magazine I have referenced from.

Protein Forum

Went to the Protein Forum last night, a series of talks around science meeting culture.

The Delighter:
Matt Jones, designer at Dopplr said some really interesting things. One, was the idea that travel today is 'broken'. Stuck in my head as I've been doing a lot of research on responsible travel recently.

He also used the phrase 'Cybernetic Serendipity' to describe the way Dopplr connects users to their friends by spotting travel 'coincidences'.

I also liked the idea that diaries are 'models of the future'. By forward planning, we can optimise our future.

When designing Dopplr, the creators came across the phrase 'the delighter', a term used in the hotel industry to describe small, unexpected details which delight guests, such as the chocolate on your pillow.

I made a mental note of this luxury industry-relevant quote by experience designer Dan Saffer, 'Because details are hard to get right, they're hard to replicate.'

Dopplr uses the idea of the delighter in its logo, which is subtly customised to each user and changes colour based on their patterns of travel.

Bow down to the 22 year old:
Kate Moross is a geometry-loving illustrator who has worked for the likes of Nike, Cadbury's and Topshop. A self-taught, self-starter, she put most of the audience (including me) to shame with her youthful entrepreneurialism. She's publishing a book next year, 'Work Nice, Play Hard'. Instead of studying the visual arts, she obsesses over triangles and gets paid by clubs to draw on people. (She must be good). I'm inspired to write an article on her for Teen Vogue or 
i-D or something.

Eau de Golders Green:
RCA graduate Tuur Van Balen talked about his 'My City, My Body' project, a sort of biology meets geography study of London. This involved him 'branding' three local tap waters, creating a story and marketing sell for them. 

Golders Green was branded as a fertility water because it is relatively oestrogen-free due to local Jewish diets. City of London on the other hand, was labelled the 'Red Bull' of waters, pumped full of toxins and stress hormones. The most appetising was Notting Hill, which has the highest concentration of organic shops, so was aptly given the organic sell. 

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Doppelgänger chic

Have you noticed that some teenage girls are starting to dress identically to each other? As in, twins. 

Fellow trendspotter and my doppelgänger Priyanka spotted a pair of rude girls in South London doing this, and we reckon it's quite a rude girl thing, perhaps because they love coordinating their outfits and the girl gang element to it. 

It's also particular to black girls. I came across a troupe of five teenage girls who synchronise hairstyles on a weekly basis. They're currently doing bouffants. 

This is a fully fledged trend in Asia which makes sense - they love cuteness and harmony. Asian labels such as Giordana, Baleno, and Samuel & Kevin have started capitalising on it by merchandising 'Double dresser' or 'Twinning', as this trend is known, outfits. 

When I probed further I discovered twins are becoming more prevalent in society. Older mums means a higher probablity of twins (due to hormone levels, IVF use) and in China, people have been getting round the one child only rule, by 'engineering' multiple births.

Could it be that in a more virtual world young people are craving the tangible bond twinship seems to offer? A report by Unicef shows that today's youths lack true friends, particularly children in the UK. 

Amy Harrison and Antonya Allen are a pair of Double dressers I spotted on the street and got talking to. Antonya is mixed race and well-spoken, Amy's white and slightly Cockney. They have a twin MySpace page and co-present web TV show, Bite. They say, 'All celebrities and high street clothes wearers look the same anyway. We've just taken it to a more extreme level. Double dressing almost makes too much sense.'

This post is taken from an article I wrote for THE magazine.