Trend- and lifestyle researcher Henrik Vejlgaard predicts an increasing demand for crafts and aesthetics. The demand comes from new, young hyper-individualists who go experience-shopping looking for unique items.
By Pernille Anker Kristensen
Madonna, David Beckham, Princess Diana and the Dalai Lama. The list of celebrities that we worship as icons and trendsetters is long. As late as the 1950s the main role models in many communities were the minister, the doctor and the schoolteacher, but now there are many more sources of inspiration to help us define our identity.
We met with trend- and lifestyle researcher Henrik Vejlgaard to find out, what crafts mean to modern identity. According to Vejlgaard, there has been a marked shift in our sense of identity. "Previously social identity was a given, and only certain institutions lent us identity. Identity was created first and foremost through family, as well as through religion, politics and work. Identities could be mixed - " the socialist working man" or "the conservative business owner." These are archetypical combinations of the 20th century," says Vejlgaard.
Today the old authorities are losing ground. Due to the liberation movements of the 1960s and -70s the church, state and military no longer hold the same authority. This lack of authority has created a vacuum. "It is almost a physical law that a vacuum will quickly be filled by something else. We now take our bearings from the celebrities, stars, and idols that function as authorities and icons. They fill the void with identity. The family is still an important source of identity, as are religion, politics and the military. But now our leisure activities are also a source of identity. Like when young girls want to be Britney Spears or when someone likes sports. As far as crafts are concerned, it is very interesting that certain lifestyles are also a source of identity."
We use lifestyle products and design to tell ourselves and others who we are. "A quart of whole milk is not a source of identity in our society, which is so privileged. But to me lifestyle also means these products and not least the design that functions as a source of identity. We ‘produce' or stage ourselves through an aesthetic awareness of clothing and through the use of certain products in our homes.
But haven't we always done that - for example in the heavy, tasseled Victorian style? "Well, yes, the fact that things can create identity is not news. But today it is something we choose. In the Victorian age, there was only one style, really. It was a source of identity, but not of individual identity. Everyone of the same social class lived this way, and it was all very uniform. Today it's highly individual. There are many different lifestyles that you buy into. You choose whether you want to be a skater or a hip-hopper, or whether you prefer country and western, romance or the high trend fashion look!
It is quite possible to be a mother, work at Microsoft and be into the hip-hop artist Puff Daddy and the soccer club Real Madrid. Perhaps you're an academic, British-Japanese, bisexual, liberal Buddhist. Among other hyper-individual identity mixes Vejlgaard mentions the "Buddhist surfer," and the "catholic clubber."
"What's new is that many young and younger people are hyper-individuals. When there are more sources of identity, they can be mixed to give a feeling of uniqueness. Going back to the 1950s and the socialist worker, there were a great many of them and they had several shared identities. If you looked at a typical working-class neighborhood, everyone used to live in the same way and they were all very similar. If you pick a neighborhood today, we all live quite differently."
The hyper-individual wishes to set him- or herself apart from the crowd. "Many people want to see themselves as different from others. This is significant both for consumption and for crafts. Buying things or experiences underscores hyper-individuality. We live in a society of excess where many people have a lot of money and thus consume to uphold their identity."
The shopping-list includes everything from adventure trips to fine dining, style and design. "We see that designer products - be it clothing, accessories, home decorating items or furniture - mean a lot to many people. We buy a lot. If we look at the development in the last 50 years, a huge differentiation has taken place. If we're talking clothes, there used to be one fashion every summer. Today there are 5-10 fashions. Historically speaking, whatever happens in the apparel business, is increasingly taking place in other areas as well."
Not all design lives up to the hyper-individualist's demands for quality. "Today there is an abundance of design on the market. However, it is mass produced, and similarity conflicts with hyper-individual identity. Megabrands like Coca-Cola, Nike and The Gap are having problems because many consumers have rejected them. Hyper-individualists cannot identify with mass-production brands."
In a countermove to mass-produced products several small workshop stores have opened in Copenhagen in just a few years. "It is incredible to see all the little individual stores with clothing, jewelry, and home decorating items that have popped up. They have found an audience among hyper-individual consumers. It is an interesting development in customization and personalization. People are seeking unique items. Tailoring was an almost defunct trade, but now you can have a bespoke suit made. Marlene Juhl Jørgensen was one of the first jewelry designers to open up shop with ‘Figaro's Wedding.' If the prices aren't exorbitant, I can easily imagine the same development in other product categories, where crafts are represented. If craftsmen let themselves be inspired by the categories that are on the cutting edge, then that is where their future lies. That is where the market will be."
Internationally this development is already underway. "In London and other large cities I have seen little stores selling individually produced arts and crafts. The artisan creates a mix of multifunctional shop, workshop and showroom, where the hyper-individual consumer can go experience shopping. It's like getting a verbal massage from the person who created the pieces. It means a lot that the craftsmen are hooked up to the channel of distribution. Designer shops have made it to Copenhagen too, selling both clothing and jewelry."
Henrik Vejlgaard explains the growing interest in design by referring to the hierarchy of needs, developed by the American psychologist Abraham Maslow in the 1940s. When people have had their basic needs for food, sleep and shelter satisfied, the need for beauty arises. "Reading Maslow explains why everything to do with design is exploding. According to Maslow, the need for beauty and aesthetics is at the top of the pyramid. Now that society has moved in a positive direction for many people, Maslow foresees a need for aesthetics. Is it a psychological ‘law,' that when people reach a certain level of the hierarchy of needs, they will be interested in style and design."
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s the general aestheticization of everyday life took off, and most social classes now participate actively. "Previously only the fraction of the population belonging to the upper classes was able to purchase arts, crafts and beautiful things for their estates and castles. Now other people have moved up, and we each have our own castle. Generally speaking, more people than ever before now have art in their homes. If you want to convey that you are unique, you can do so by possessing unique objects."