From Millennial Pink to Art Deco Revival: Here’s How Trends Actually Come and Go
Forecasters spill all.
Updated Sep 29, 2021 7:17 AM
The search term “Millennial Pink” has over 54 million results on Google.
Credit for its nascence is generally attributed to a 2016 article written by journalist Véronique Hyland for The Cut. Since then, the references to the color feel almost more prevalent than the hue itself. Most of the 54 million–plus results include headlines heralding the end of the color, ranging from the polite (“Place Your Bets on the New Millennial Pink”) to the blunt (“Millennial Pink Is Dead”), and yet, the stubborn trend isn’t decreasing in popularity. A quick look at Google Search trends shows a sharp increase in interest for the hue a year after that first article was published, followed by a minor dip and a fairly steady plateau ever since. Millennial Pink refuses to go quietly, despite the best efforts of the internet’s think pieces. Which begs the question: How much do we understand about the lifespan of a trend?
The last few years have seen a constant onslaught of trends, with a new one seemingly born every other week. Acrylic furniture. Woven rattan. Retro-inspired maximalism. Strict Scandinavian minimalism. Cool neutrals. Vibrant neon. Futuristic sci-fi lamps, for some reason. To entertain a running interest in design is to suffer (albeit willingly) from constant sensory overload. With so many competing trends and so much saturation in the industry, it’s hard to keep track of everything, and it’s therefore easy to write off the business of trends as fickle and even superfluous.
But to do so would be to ignore the tangible impact of trend reports. The interior design industry is purportedly valued somewhere around $10 billion. The fashion industry is valued at a cool $2.5 trillion. More and more, shoppers are influenced by external factors: A recent study found that 80 percent of Gen Z’s purchases are swayed by social media. Through the pressure to stay current and cutting edge, social media encourages fast fashion, which, in turn, favors the trendy over the timeless. It encourages users to not only pay attention to trends but to also buy into them, shaping both our culture and our retail industry in the process. In reality, the business of trends is anything but superfluous.
And yet, our understanding of trend forecasting is muddy at best. Is the role of a trend forecaster reflective or prescriptive? Who decides the trends? What factors are weighed? And how does any of this affect us?
In the words of Diana Vreeland, celebrated editor, “You’re not supposed to give people what they want. You’re supposed to give them what they don’t know they want yet.” Aside from using the pretentious tactic of quoting an icon in an article, this statement offers a small glimpse into the world of tastemakers and how these trends trickle down from a select group of people to the shelves at your favorite store. We spoke to trend experts across industries and specializations to find out more.
A Year in the Life of a Trend Expert
Perhaps the most interesting question of all is how, exactly, one goes about becoming a trend expert. It’s not exactly a skill you can easily pick up in a university curriculum. In speaking to trend experts, the only commonality we found in their career paths is how wildly varied they are: These people come from design, PR, merchandising, and retail, and there is no singular clear road.
Dayna Isom Johnson, Etsy’s in-house trend expert, got her start at FIT studying fashion merchandising. She’s been with Etsy for seven years and only got into trend forecasting halfway through her time there. Hannah Yeo is a member of Benjamin Moore’s color and design team, the group responsible for crafting the annual Color of the Year. The six people on Yeo’s team all come from different design disciplines; Yeo herself has a background in graphic design.
As with the people who inhabit this industry, the daily schedule of trend forecasting is incredibly varied. Johnson produces quarterly trend guides for Etsy, but she also works broadly with the virtual marketplace’s design team. She appears on podcasts, represents the retailer as an expert source in stories, and regularly combs through the site to stay on top of what’s new. Similarly, Yeo and her team may be responsible for the much-anticipated Color of the Year announcement, but they also work broadly with everything color-related (including naming paint colors) at Benjamin Moore.
How long does it take to disseminate those big trend announcements? “It’s a yearlong process,” explains Yeo. “As soon as we launch our color trends in October, it starts literally right after—or even before. We’re always thinking about what’s new that feels fresh.”
What Makes a Trend?
In a 2018 interview with Business of Fashion, WGSN forecaster Jane Monnington Boddy puts it simply: “The roots of trends are very human.”
Trends aren’t just birthed overnight, and industries don’t exist in vacuums. To put together something as focused as a color trend or as broad as a full report, experts spend months—if not years—poring over details from every discernible aspect of life.
“We like to go outside these office walls to get inspired; whether it’s having a dinner table conversation on a personal level or going to a trade show in New York or internationally. We all travel,” says Yeo. She and her team look at every industry, from interiors to fashion to pop culture to even automotive to gather evidence that will eventually culminate in one color palette that feels indicative of the zeitgeist. They’re like culture detectives.
Johnson similarly takes her cues from a number of resources. She combs through forecasters like WGSN, which she refers to as “kind of like the bible” before turning her attention specifically to Etsy. There are over 50 million items on Etsy, and Johnson spends her time digging through each to see what feels fresh, eventually mixing those findings with quantitative data from the analytics team that provides information on searches and sales.
One single trend can have multiple sources. Take, for example, the Southwestern style trend. While the trend itself is fairly ubiquitous across industries, each tastemaker arrived at this conclusion by pulling from a number of references. In fashion, it started with Raf Simons’ Calvin Klein debut in 2017 and became more starkly evident with Dior’s Cruise collection for 2018. Simons, a Belgian designer showing an iconic American brand in New York for the first time, used Americana motifs to symbolize his optimism and appreciation for his new home. While at Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri was inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe. Johnson, who called Southwest style out specifically as a trend to watch in interiors for 2019, approached it differently. “I started looking at colors,” she says of how she interpreted that particular trend. “I looked at the decks from WGSN and Pantone, and I just started seeing more earth tones. Then, I got into thinking about the state of the world; we’ve had a lot going on and when it’s a wild time, people crave normalcy, retreating back to nature, and being grounded. When you start thinking about stones [that are trending] turquoise pops up, so it’s just about building layers.”
Trend forecasting is a subjective business. It’s that subjectivity that accounts for why we frequently see trends in stark contrast with one another. It happens especially with color, where you can have something as splashy and bright as Living Coral in the same trend bracket as a calmer, earthy tone like Cavern Clay. If, as Boddy suggests, the roots of trends are human, so is the explanation for their differences. It would be unreasonable to expect that multiple groups of experts would look at the same landscape and all come to the same conclusion.
As for what gets put into magazines and newspapers, think of editors as bridging the gap between professional trend experts and readers. The factors we look for also have their roots everywhere, which is why the items you see lining the pages of Domino are inspired by more than just the design world.
“We see the home as a canvas on which to apply all the elements that inspire us, and we’re constantly looking to art, fashion, food, travel, as well as interior design for fresh ideas on color palettes, material choices, application processes, and more,” says Domino style editor Elaina Sullivan. “Each industry ultimately affects the other, so keeping a broad range of knowledge helps to inform stories that push the boundaries and set new trends into motion.”
The Great Cerulean Rant of 2006, courtesy of Meryl Streep’s character in The Devil Wears Prada, will surely go down as one of the most iconic moments in cinematic history. Between the withering put-downs and the lengthy examination of two belts which—it must be said—look exactly the same (sorry, Meryl), the scene is not that far off from providing a real glimpse into the lifespan of a trend.
Beatrice Trussardi is the design and art curator at Yoox, where she leverages her expertise in design to select the items sold on the platform. To grab her attention, an item has to be unexpected, “producing a change of point of view.” She looks for artists and designers who are willing to get experimental and cross over to a different field. Again, trends seem to be all about the intersectionality of industries. Each month, she launches existing products on the platform, but she also works to commission new projects and oversees exclusive designer collaborations for Yoox. This latter process can take anywhere from six months to a year before it trickles down to the digital storefront.
For big-box retailers, the process is a little different. Evelina Kravaev Söderberg is H&M Home’s head of design and creative and works with a design team of 30 people. Each new collection has a yearlong lead time and has its root in various trend reports. “Diverse sources of inspiration are relevant,” she says when asked about the importance of trend predictions. “We see a lot of connections between fashion and interiors when it comes to colors, qualities, and prints. For example, femininity, floral expressions, and spring colors like yellow and pink from the fashion shows have influenced our Italian Spring Garden collection.”
Elsewhere, the turnaround between trend prediction and retail realization is even faster: “What’s really fun about Etsy sellers is that, because they’re mostly a one-person shop, they’re able to react to spur-of-the-moment trends and can turn them over much quicker than what a fast-fashion retailer can do,” says Johnson.
Interestingly, while the timeframe for turning around a new style differs among the three retail models, one thing remains the same: The number one factor these experts consider for a new collection is the customer, not the trend. For Söderberg, the lifespan of a trend fluctuates and is almost entirely dependant on the customer. It’s why we’ve seen trends like Millennial Pink become mainstays, for example, while other trends, like sheepskin or bright orange, are more short-lived.
In fact, while they’re certainly cognizant of forecasts, some retailers are hesitant to use the word “trend” in describing their process at all. “All trends are ephemeral,” says Trussardi. “They generate fake needs and wishes. We look for new tastes and visions able to drive people and customers to new directions and experiences, following a strong perspective.”
Yet, while Trussardi may not set out to curate trend-driven collections, a quick glance at Yoox shows some familiar common threads. Aldo Cibic designed two-tone vessels in the ever-trendy combo of pink and red. A plethora of sleek, simple items from popular Scandinavian brands also pepper the product pages. It might be that retailers aren’t consciously trying to replicate trend reports in their offerings—the product of which would make for a depressingly uniform market landscape, but rather, it’s the customers who are paying attention to the trends, demanding certain colors, silhouettes, and styles that fall in line with the latest forecasts. And if retailers are basing their designs off customers’ demands, the market landscape ends up being trend-based after all.
The “S” Word
It’s impossible to discuss trends without addressing the environmentally conscious elephant in the room. The question of sustainability is an important one because, let’s face it: The speed at which new trends are reported and disseminated facilitates fast fashion and fast design, which in turn, has serious negative impacts on our environment. Balancing the desire to stay current with the responsibility of being a conscious consumer is a tricky line to navigate.
Trend experts recognize this and address sustainability with various solutions. H&M is one of the few global retailers that put a real focus on making sustainability accessible. The brand’s in-house “Conscious” line sells at a comparable price point to its regular line and features many of the same colors, patterns, and materials you’d see otherwise.
“When we work with design, we believe in considered design, taking both trend and longevity into consideration,” says Söderberg.
The other alternative is to change how you think about trends altogether. While the word “trend” is often thought of as synonymous with the word “new,” the reality is that most trends are cyclical. We’ve seen this clearly as of late with the resurgence of styles like Art Deco and Memphis design. Case in point: The trendiest chair du jour is actually almost 70 years old.
The solution? “Purchase vintage,” says Johnson. “Trends are constantly evolving and coming back; relive the decade and refresh it.”
After all, why buy a ’70s-inspired armchair when you can buy the real thing? Authenticity is trending.
Why Do We Care About Trends?
No trend expert will tell you their role is prescriptive. “[A trend] is a subjective thing. Some people will like it, some people won’t. If everyone followed a different trend every season, they’d be switching out their home, their closet, and their jewelry every six weeks,” says Johnson. She sees her role instead as inspirational, sharing commonalities and styles inspired by a number of industries with people in the hopes that, should they want to refresh their space, they know what’s out there and can do so at their own leisure.
Looking beyond the color clickbait and the Instagram-famous decor, it seems that our fascination with trends isn’t necessarily about buying into a lifestyle. Pulled from every facet of life, trends are a language of their own, and understanding them means understanding an isolated moment in our culture.
For example, our love for cushy, retro sofas may have less to do with a sudden passion for velvet seating options and more to do with a society-wide moment of nostalgia. The sudden influx of boob-laden decor that puts the female form front and center can be directly linked to the body positivity movement. Going back to Millennial Pink—the bubbly pink hue that rose to prominence the same year that Pantone dubbed it one of its two Colors of the Year in an unprecedented statement about gender fluidity—it wouldn’t be a stretch to call the color’s popularity a side effect of the newly visible female empowerment movements in art and politics.
And if all that sounds like New Age hooey, there’s also a simpler explanation as to our fascination with buzzy trends: It’s in our nature to be interested in popularity. “Everyone wants to be fashionable,” says Yeo. “It’s about keeping yourself relevant and doing what feels right at the time. It’s about having a sneak peek of the future.”
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