Barcelona – The World Retail Congress 2023, held at Hotel Arts Barcelona, opened by reflecting on the major global events that have rocked the retail industry since the last show back in 2019.
The overall message of the event was one of optimism. Deloitte’s chief global economist, Ira Kalish, delivered an economic update affirming that the US is unlikely to slip into recession in 2023 and if any occur in any of the major European economies, they are expected to be mild. More interestingly, Kalish dismissed the concept that de-globalisation has begun, stressing that, instead, climate change is the biggest threat to global trade.
Jennifer Woo, chairman and CEO of The Lane Crawford Joyce Group, Asia’s premier fashion retail, brand management and distribution group, explained how the pandemic had sparked creativity, leading to training of sales staff to live-stream as content-creators. Unpacking the Chinese consumer today, she explained that the growing mainland middle class expect a hyper-personalised and emotional retail experience, something we explore in our latest macrotrend, EQ-Commerce.
UK – Following the success of its initial lifestyle co-working hotel concept in Cheshunt, Birch will open a second location this spring.
Birch was designed for Bleisure travellers who want to combine escapism with productivity. Located a 30-minute train ride from the centre of London, the new Birch Selsdon offers just that – a suburban retreat to disconnect from reality and connect with like-minded people. Set in a 19th-century mansion and surrounded by greenery, the hotel has everything guests could need to reset, recharge, work and play. In addition to overnight stays for drop-in guests, Birch Selsdon will offer a membership programme unlocking access to the entire estate and to additional perks.
The premises are home to two restaurants, three bars, a lido, a wellness space, studios, communal spaces and even a green co-working concept with sheltered outdoor desks for a nature-filled working session. Birch’s concept, which puts the healing power of nature and of human connection to work to inspire and re-energise visitors, suggests how spaces can accommodate the nomadic and elastic futures of work.
US – American fashion brand Coach has launched a new line, Coachtopia, in a bid to elevate its commitment to regenerative fashion. The collection comprises nearly 100 products, including bags, accessories, ready-to-wear fashion and footwear made mostly from waste leather or partly recycled materials like cotton, resin or polyester. Prices range from £60 ($75, €68) for a T-shirt to £398 ($495, €450) for its most expensive handbag.
The line, with motifs like fluffy clouds and flowers, is aimed at Gen Z, who uphold sustainability as one of their key values. The 1970s aesthetic of Coachtopia is also designed to fill people with hope, rather than anxiety about the future. Like other fashion brands, Coach came under fire when a viral TikTok video in 2021 accused the brand of destroying unsold handbags. Since then, it has been investigating how it can adopt a circular business model that minimises waste while maximising product re-use.
The introduction of Coachtopia can also be viewed as a commitment by the brand to move beyond classic marketing opportunities of sustainable lines or limited-edition capsules – as consumers are no longer fooled by surface-level greenwashing attempts. Instead, the range shows what brands can do with unsold apparel and dead stock materials, as discussed in our Deadstock Designers microtrend.
UK – Acclaimed creatives Lucy Hardcastle and Maisie Cousins have joined forces to create Spora, a series of digital art pieces the duo define as ‘hypnotic moving images exploring the hidden alchemy of the female form’. The project was launched in Shoreditch, East London, as part of Downstairs at Mother in April 2023.
Spora is available to watch online and we encourage you to do so to experience the fascinating yet uncomfortable ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) soundtrack, the macro-level photography and the CGI elements, all moving in harmony. ‘We wanted to create visuals that expose the eco-system of micro-organisms existing within us beyond a surface level,’ Hardcastle told Dazed. ‘These processes are happening within our body that we may not be aware of, or might be considered unpalatable.’
In Grotesque Grub and Doom Dressing, we previously looked at how both food and fashion brands are exploring their darker side and embracing uglier aesthetics in a new creative movement shifting away from the Instagram-ready pristine visual identity that dominated the 2010s and recalling the abject, de-centred work of artists such as Cindy Sherman.
Italy – On day three of Milan Design Week, The Future Laboratory explored the sought-after Brera Design District – housing everything from hyperphysical flagship stores to interactive showrooms and university exhibitions.
In line with tradition, Fuorisalone made space for the designers of tomorrow by highlighting graduates’ creativity in various exhibitions. Students from Swiss university ÉCAL’s BA in Industrial Design turned junkyard items into innovative furnishings from junkyard items. Their counterparts doing their master’s in product design developed new prototypes of wind turbines for Fogo Island, an offshore destination known for its strong gales. Students Yohanna Rieckhoff and Luis Rodriguez’s turbine doubled up as a seaweed farm, proposing a solution to Fogo Island’s vanishing marine trade. Jule Bols and Sophia Götz presented a turbine that stored a hydroponic greenhouse, a space that would facilitate year-round food production.
Sweden’s Lund University School of Industrial Design (LUSID) presented Liminal Spaces, an exploration of sensor technology in collaboration with Sigma Connectivity. Visitors could see how the movement of pendulums and a person’s heartbeat could create personalised artwork via one of the installations. Others addressed how self-powered thermoelectricity could be used for children’s lamps or how interactive mirrors could be tomorrow’s sign language teachers.
The Brera Design District is also known for hosting big names. Timberland, best known for its working boot, is celebrating its 50th anniversary in the Triennale Milano Museum of Art and Design as part of Milan Design Week 2023. Future73 Visions presented six iterations of the famous boot designed in collaboration with creatives such as Christopher Raeburn and Suzanne Oude Hengel. The latter also developed an accompanying film powered by artificial intelligence that combined existing Timberland advertising, its archival imagery and her knitting techniques.
Elsewhere, world-renowned architecture firm Carlo Ratti Associati partnered with Italo Rota to create a living board game that prompted visitors to question their urban mobility choices. Guests were guided around the board to rethink their travel methods and routes.
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