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Nikita Bhalla

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Whether it was Priyanka Chopra Jonas in Ralph Lauren outfit which has been turned into a car cover, the famous Guo Pei “omelette dress” worn by Rihanna or the Kim Kardashian x dementor MET Gala look – we have often seen the quick, memeified version of runway designs breaking the internet. The word meme has been used and abused extensively throughout the globe in past few years. But what are memes, where do they come from and how they are linked to the world of fashion? 

The Runway Hilarity

The fashion industry has a long-established relationship with the new age meme culture. It began in 1927 when the fashion maverick, Elsa Schiaparelli started to make surrealism inspired outfits with irony and hilarity attached to it. Once fashion found its center stage digitally on Instagram with this innate sense of humour, the meme culture was born! Memes act as an antidote to fashion’s preconceived notion. They allow making the most monotonous styles both on and off-ramp relatable by adding a touch of humour, satire and wit to them. 

Once fashion industry tapped the right trend, it has always welcomed, celebrated and used the same in its best capacity. Lately, the viral memes showcasing renowned brands and designers for a quick laugh and a few have helped them to be on the radar. The brands are jumping on the bandwagon by creating designs, campaigns, advertisements and red carpet looks that can be tailored to the meme age. The tool of meme marketing has also helped many fashion publications, celebrities and bloggers to spread their presence in the market by creating captivating and relatable content to engage with the younger audience. 

To further add fuel to the fire, Instagram creators like @freddiemade, @siduations and many more have found employment through posting recontextualized content and collaborating with brands, making them meme-makers professionally! To convert a dull moment into a joyful one by adding a pinch of relatable humour and packaging it into a trailblazing guerrilla advertising to initiate a conversation has become part of many brand strategies. Thus, giving rise to the bizarre trend of “the meme age”.

Meet the meme

The word was coined in 1976 by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his book, The Selfish Gene. He took it from the Greek root “mimeme” meaning imitation. It acted as an instrument to translate the ideology of a culture or a definite mindset through an art form. Symbolic to the low-attention span for the generation of millennials, memes can be termed as a modern way of communication emphasizing a symbol or a social phenomenon. 

When the absurdity of memes infuses with an individual’s perspective to produce a reinterpreted version of thoughts and attitudes clashing with trending, popular pop cultural references it gives birth to a new, sartorial, bizarre content that is amusing in the mundane life. As Dawkins defined them as units of cultural propagation, memes hold a certain value to them behind the comic curtain – hence, making them more meaningful and relatable for an audience at large. 

To a layman, memes are a vent for a few laughs but, it allows them to express their thoughts and beliefs at the given moment. The rapidly pacing digital world has glorified the nature of memes by making them universal. It tends to bring strangers around the globe together irrespective of their language, religion, cultural and societal beliefs by the mere fact of finding and relating to something funny.

Culturally, memes have become an integral form of communication for the current generation. As our time span is relatively becoming shorten and consumption increases, our obsession to share these simple, explicit messages constantly to escape reality is thriving. The growing sense of nihilism amongst mankind is a reflection of modern society – one that values their happiness before anything else. To attain the same, they are willing to instill relatable content amongst the cybernauts, questioning the relevance of meme culture. 

Our obsession with meme culture is alarming than ever before. The unparalleled art form can mould and reveal the traits of humans for better and worse. Whether it’s funny or not, the accessibility and ability to reach the audience within microseconds has revolutionized the way we communicate. The urge to go through different chains of thoughts depicted by a picture and caption which are not even our own is evoking a deep concern as it’s turning many of us apathetic and unconscious about our behaviour, beliefs and actions.

Are memes just a product of creativity or a rhetorical medium to mock someone? Do we need a virally-transmitted symbol to express ourselves or are we losing our identities to this quick-witted satire? And perhaps most importantly of all, what sort of impact this new medium of communication will have on our relationships and coming generation?

The phrase ‘less is more’ or ‘more is more’ has often depicted the two extremes on a design continuum. Whether it’s the clean-crisp silhouettes, muted colour palettes or exaggerated layered garments, striking neon’s from head-to-toe, the constant battle between minimalism and maximalism has led to diversified sartorial expressions.

As said by Frank Stella ‘only what can be seen there is there and ‘what you see is what you see’. In the 1950s, the art scene saw a rise in aesthetically pleasing minimalism art which was a reaction against the abstract expressionist movement.

These opposing directions were born out of the similar movements of economical, socio-cultural and technological changes. Thus, subsequently trickling down to stimulate and define each other.

Minimalism vs Maximalism

The notion behind the idea of minimalism celebrates purity, simplicity and restraint. The rise of the minimalist mavericks like Max Mara, Calvin Klein and Rei Kawakubo in the 90s subtly portrays the ethos of that era. Reflecting harmony and balance through an expression of reductionism, fine tailoring and transformational garments, the minimalist aesthetics were a breath of fresh air.

As explained by Calvin Klein minimalism is

“a philosophy that involves an overall sense of balance, knowing when to take away, subtract.”

In contrast, maximalism focused on the aesthetic of excess. It celebrates the phenomenon of experimental and extravagance via distortion, decoration, bold prints & patterns and the art of being on the edge!

Looking back, profound designers like Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Lacroix, Versace, Alessandro Michele of Gucci and many more have played around with the concept of maximalism. The striking colours, the vibrancy of layered fabrics and eye-catching textures denotes the eclectic spirit of a maximalist. The 100-year-old fashion goddess Iris Apfel sums it perfectly in her Instagram bio – ‘More is More and Less is a Bore’. 

The Phenomenon of choosing sides

Are you a minimalist or a maximalist? Do you prefer an elegant outfit with minute detailing or a riot of prints? Throughout the history of fashion and even now, the minimalist and maximalist aesthetics have appealed to fashion designers all-round the globe. For some, embracing simplicity gives them the confidence to stand apart from the crowd while for a few experimentations defines their status quo and breaks the mundanity of isolation. 

With the fast-evolving fashion cycles and cultural shifts, the consumers want to try every trend in the market. We often base our assumptions and exhibit our unique sensibilities and individual flair through the way we dress up. 

It has been observed that our shopping patterns and purchases are an extension or a part of our identities, it also symbolises our mood and emotional state. Both aesthetics have a different set of values and beliefs attached to them depending upon how we perceive them.

But what triggers us to choose a side? Most of us dress up to express our style and show the world our best selves through fashion while many of us vent our creative energies.

Whether you prefer tailored silhouettes in neutral colours with one-of-a-kind accessories or an explosion of baroque prints adorned with embellishments, the question is “do we always have to take sides”? 

Yin and Yang

The concept of minimalism and maximalism continues to be driven by multiple factors ranging from the influence from art, design, fashion or the social media platforms through the voice of fashion bloggers, editors, influencers. With the inevitable climate crisis and socio-cultural practices, the future of fashion is quite unstable.

The shifting aesthetics will force us to ponder over minimalism, which focuses on reducing the production of clothing whereas maximalism aims the 3R code – reduce, reuse, recycle code to a T.  Traditionally, we have seen a level of commitment with each aesthetic but with the given privilege in the present we want the entire cake rather than a slice! 

Minimalism and maximalism are synonyms to yin and yang – opposites but complementary. They fall at extreme opposite ends of the spectrum defining our whims and fancies.

However, as humans, too much moderation bores us. With the shifting aesthetics and variety of options served on the platter, we need to find alternate options for consumption patterns. Rather than categorising ourselves with set rules and norms we should deviate and find a middle ground!

Moreover, it’s not about ‘less is more’ or ‘more is more’, it’s about choosing what brings you ultimate happiness and defines your style!

Have you often found yourself aimlessly adding things to your shopping cart to experience a moment of happiness? Do you enjoy the immersive shopping experiences which teleport you to another universe? For many, shopping is much more than a random activity on a day off or a weekend. It’s an expression of an individual, an extension of their personality, a reflection oftheir mood.

The comfort of shopping

In the past decade, the global world of retail has been like a roller coaster of revolution. Consumers are given enormous options for shopping whether it’s online via apps, websites through a touch of the finger or via the varied offline places like malls, departmental stores, exhibitions, pop-ups, etc. The phenomenon of shopping is expanding rapidly anywhere and everywhere. It has penetrated the consumer’s mind in such an effective way that they are seeking experimental and seamless methods of consuming new goods across all the channels.

As most of the retail has shifted online, the shoppers are still lured by new innovative ways of shopping for tangible retail therapy. The retailers need to understand the behaviours and new opportunities which come along with the consumer’s enthusiasm and enjoyment to shop. 

The journey to unwind something new with a convenience of human touch and presence is a vital factor for a one-of-a-kind retail getaway. As widely heard before, “When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping?” For many people, shopping is a vent to release the bottled-up stress and “Retail therapy” is one method to relieve stress.

The power of shopping and its ability to transform our lives consciously or unconsciously has been captured through the act of buying yourself a little something to boost your mood when you’re feeling low. 

Shopping as a stress reliever

Whether pre-covid-19 outbreak or post the pandemic, a major spike in unprecedented levels of stress have been observed in consumers worldwide. The root cause of this stress can be related to personal or professional lives. While many consumers take traditional routes like meditation, yoga, exercise, etc. to relieve stress, there is a larger chunk of people who indulge in shopping. 

“When I shop, the world gets better, and the world is better, but then it’s not, and I need to do it again.” Turns out there’s some truth to that adage. When we’re under stress, we often significantly react to things to surpass that ill-feeling. Following the same pattern, the urge to shop more increases under stress as it acts as a mood lifter and an instrument to feel positive about everything around us.

What are brands doing in respone?

Higher levels of distress have been linked with higher purchase intentions. The brands and retailers are coming up with innovative ways to fulfil the newly empowered consumers and their wants while shopping.

With the help of technology and AI, the brands are curating bespoke spaces for one-of-a-kind therapeutic experiences like stress-relieving seating to rhythmic music gloves for consumers to enjoy the shopping fiesta! 

Enclothed cognition

The idea of retail therapy is strongly backed by phenomena of enclothed cognition. During a study conducted by researchers Hajo Adam and Adam D Galinsky, the term enclothed cognition was coined. It emphasized the clothing-versus-brain effect in action. According to enclothed cognition, it is the effect that our clothes tend to have on our various psychological processes. But, do clothes really affect us physiologically?

It includes the way we perceive or react to emotions, attitudes, interpersonal interactions and societal behaviour. The symbolic meaning which is associated with different types of attire reflects how clothes affect our behaviours and moods.

Clothes as a carrier of our expression

It often signifies the way we want to be treated by people, in which social group we belong or want to be accepted into. We even evaluate other people based on their choice of clothes irrespective of the fact if we have spoken to them to not.

This clearly states the importance of clothes and that we wear clothes that make us feel comfortable, confident and brings us a sense of calm while reflecting our behavioural patterns. 

Whether you indulge in retail therapy while you’re happy or sad, you are bound to end up with some mind-bending questions for self-analysis.

Do we need to empty our wallets to feel better, or should we use shopping as an instrument to cope with a defense mechanism?

However, the joy of tangible therapy varies for every individual. If certain consumers are seeking happiness and satisfaction from shopping, they must indulge themselves and relish every moment. Afterall, it’s each to its own! 

As anxieties around COVID-19 have segued into a deeper and more consistent malaise, a longing for simpler times has caused people to reshape everyday behaviour’s around comforting goods and long-established beauty rituals. The “new normal” has transformed the beauty industry, particularly the production and consumption patterns. Holistic care, mindful products, ethical production cycles and good value products are the key aspects for brands to flourish post-pandemic. 

A Sense of Normalcy

Being locked within four walls at homes, the pandemic has given us the time to be more mindful and pay attention to ourselves and our body as a whole which we may have overlooked in the past. Rather than investing in a magical foundation for flawless skin, the consumers are now more inclined towards a product that makes them feel better. Shoppers are seeking products made out of natural vegan and safer ingredients that mainly emphasize efficiency and functionality with a deeper meaning attached to them. 

To meet these expectations, beauty brands are trying to penetrate consumers’ minds and respond to their needs by introducing a product that fulfils the same. These brands are evolving and focusing more on self-care routines to provide a sense of normalcy. 

Back to Roots

Consumers want to turn back the clock and teleport into older and simpler times. They want to embark on a journey to explore new products and brands which reflect nostalgia, hence, leading to an urge to reconnect with their roots which helps ease anxieties. For decades, the beauty industry has been focusing on the look, rather than the “feel-good factor”.

The new-age consumer seeks transparency and is willing to make an effort for meaningful buying decisions. They want to relive and see through their personality via their product choices. This evolving landscape has given a boost to newer brands whose DNA respects the old age rituals and practices which are rooted in nature – the constant adapting and healing source.

Whether it’s about engaging brand narrative or adding a charming aspect to cosmetics via nostalgic packaging, many brands have been focusing on native practices as part of a holistic approach to wellness to establish trust with a consumer base. Thus, the question arises – How is this sense of nostalgia impacting beauty and wellness habits in the current scenario? 

The Impact of Nostalgia Marketing

Tapping into the nostalgic fond memories of millennials to stir a sensorial experience that teleports into a different time and space is the new tool found by the brands called Nostalgia MarketingWith the ongoing hectic lives, reliving a “blast from the past” positive memory that makes us smile is most likely to move our emotions.

Following this trend, beauty brands are taking leverage by reigniting their products and campaign strategies. The brands are identifying those special moments from the pasts which millennials crave. They are incorporating them in the form of impactful storytelling, a visually appealing packaging design with a familiar motif, icon or colour palette, by offering special services like customization and personalization or establishing an emotional hook by producing creative marketing strategies for brand promotions on varied online/ offline platforms. 

Nurture with Nature

The chemistry of ancient rituals along with nostalgic narrative has given birth to a new age oomph beauty segment. The nostalgia centric goods can innate optimism and produce meaningful content for maximising social media visibility through different mediums.

This trend has also led to the birth of many brands on a global scale. One of such newly launched brands is Fable & Mane which focuses on centuries-old ayurvedic rituals for a healthy scalp or hair. Founded by the sibling duo, Nikita and Akash Mehta, the brand is rooted in introducing authentic Indian hair care rituals and practices.

It pays homage to their grandmother’s traditional hair oiling routine with a blend of handcrafted plant oils and formulas for long, lustrous hair. With reminiscent packaging which is a reminder of ancient Indian beauty secrets along with powerful branding, it is a perfect example of a nostalgic brand, catering to the idea of “east meets west” at the same time.

Moreover, the COVID-19 has acted as a catalyst for hope for the beauty industry. The shift in consumer preferences and values has altered the otherwise regular expression: a sense of well-being and the vitality to nurture the nature around us is turning out to be as a key priority. And the nostalgia factor has acted as a feather in the cap by introducing a renaissance period for the beauty industry.

It’s time for ‘beauty’ to evolve, being in sync with the past & present, mutually.