Introducing the Wallpaper* Style Special September issue
Back in 2012, the American novelist Kurt Andersen wrote a smart essay arguing that the more things were changing, the more they were staying the same. Plus ça change and all that. His point, though, was that while technology was driving radical, transformative shifts, it was all hidden behind the screen. Out in the real world, the pace of change was juddering to a halt. The cars, clothes, furniture, architecture and cultural output of 2012 didn’t look or sound that different from the way they looked and sounded in 1992. Regular Wallpaper* readers, alerted on a monthly basis to new design, architecture and fashion, may beg to differ but Andersen was on to something.
There are no boundaries for girls who are boys who like boys to be girls. Photography: Brigitte Niedermair. Fashion: Isabelle Kountoure
Where, for instance, are the aluminium foil boiler suits we were all supposed to be wearing by now? Send yourself back in time 20 years. Do you really look that different? Different trainers maybe, skinnier jeans, different current retro-revival. Pull that person into the now and they might look a little off, but not ridiculous. But imagine sending someone from the mid-1970s back to the mid-1950s, or vice versa? Now you’re talking fancy dress.
Do a similar experiment with cars and the current stylistic slowdown seems even more stark. Or take the fact, as Andersen did, that most of us still sit on ‘Aeron’ chairs. It’s as if, while technology has disrupted and re-engineered the way things are made, distributed and consumed, the actual stuff hasn’t changed at all. Perhaps, if digital change is so dizzying, the safest thing to do is to stand still and keep wearing the same trousers. All this stasis, fear of innovation, Andersen suggested, was a sign of mass exhaustion. And the beginning of the end. We like to strike a more optimistic note.
Artist Katrien De Blauwer’s final cut of A/W18. Photography: Esther Theaker. Fashion: Isabelle Kountoure
Ironically, Andersen argued – citing the success of this magazine as evidence – the more stylistic shift has stalled, the more we have become obsessed with design. So perhaps this slackening of pace is not born of torpor but due care and consideration. We take more care now about how things are made. And brands are answering those concerns (see the issue for our story on Zegna’s new Oasi Cashmere line). We care more about futureproof functionality than the quick fix (witness the rise of performance wear). We are more resistant to manipulative novelty and change for change’s sake.
There is an acknowledgment that constant churn and disposability comes at a cost. And if the demand for instant gratification has never been greater, that demand is increasingly for the experiential hit. The smartest fashion stores are using experiences to build loyalty (see the issue for our story on the Matchesfashion store). We like to think that we, and you, are not stalled, or lost in endless nostalgic loops, but rather better informed, more questioning and more savvy. A tougher audience for tough times.§
As originally featured in the September 2018 issue of Wallpaper* (W*234)