MILAN — “The best way to predict the future is to design it.” So said over 30 years ago Richard Buckminster Fuller, the U.S. architect, designer and author. In an increasingly complex scenario, filled with political, environmental, social and business challenges, how can the creative industry envision the future and pave the way for it to become reality?
Pivoting on that question, the 2019 edition of the “Next Design Perspective” conference organized by Altagamma was held on Tuesday at Milan’s Gucci hub, the luxury company’s headquarters in the city.
Gucci president and chief executive officer Marco Bizzarri made a brief appearance onstage ahead of the conference to welcome the audience, noting “there’s not a single answer to this question [referring to the theme of the conference focused on the next design perspectives]. At Gucci we interpret creativity as freedom and respect, including toward the environment.”
To this end, the executive retraced the Kering-owned brand’s latest sustainable efforts, including going carbon neutral and hosting the first carbon-neutral runway show for spring 2020. In both cases, Gucci pledged to offset the environmental impact of its overall business and of the fashion show, respectively — in the latter case by planting 2,000 trees in Milan’s Parco Nord last week.
Hosting the Altagamma conference triggered Bizzarri to pursue the company’s eco-friendly trajectory as he announced Gucci would plant one tree in Milan for each event attendee.
To be sure, creativity in the future will increasingly have to encompass a radically new approach — and an eco-friendly one, too.
Referencing James Lovelock’s theory of Gaia, with which the centenarian British chemist postulated a new age called Novacene, Andrea Illy, chairman of Altagamma, said “we cannot think linearly anymore, because everything is complex and most of the time chaotic. Even the paradigms of science will have to evolve from deterministic to probabilistic.”
“We cannot be incremental anymore, relying upon technological road maps. We need to invent unimaginable technologies, new machines, new ways to regenerate resources in a circular way, so that resources become infinite,” he added.
According to a study presented at the conference by WGSN, upcoming trends in creativity will pivot on different pillars. “In an increasingly complex world, we will require a powerful combination of design thinking and systems thinking to address economic, political and societal challenges,” said Lisa White, director of lifestyle and interiors and future innovations at WGSN.
“Bringing these two areas together will see issues reframed as opportunities, where design and creativity can be used to develop long-term solutions for people, the environment and business,” she explained, noting a short-term approach that takes shareholders rather than stakeholders into account won’t be profitable. “Long-term prosperity is process, purpose, people and provenance over product and short-term profits,” White remarked, citing a slew of companies and projects that have embraced what she called “long-termism.”
Among them, White cited Evian, which pledged to be fully circular with its plastic production by 2025, and tapped into the Gen Z audience by expanding its communication assets to YouTube and partnering with Virgil Abloh for its ad campaigns; Arc & Hook, which unveiled Blue hangers made entirely of marine plastics at London Fashion Week last month in partnership with Roland Mouret, citing that 100 billion hangers are used each year, 85 percent of which end up in landfills; Clarins, which acquired 200,000 acres in the Alps to grow and study plants for the development of its skin-care and makeup formulas, and textiles developed by Google that fashion companies such as Levi’s and Saint Laurent have embraced.
White underscored “consumption will be decreasing over the next 10 years by as much as 50 percent” as younger generations are increasingly veering toward reuse, as well as recycled and renewed products. It reflects a trend of people wanting access over ownership, “instead of having more things they will simply just want their desires fulfilled,” she noted, adding quality will win over quantity and rental services will amp up their global reach. Such a scenario will generate cost savings amounting to $60 billion in Europe alone, White noted, urging entrepreneurs in the audience to stay ahead of times.
Desires often come in the form of engaging experiences.
Sara Ferrero, ceo of luxury handbag and accessories brand Valextra, said she sensed it when she joined the company in 2015, as the 80-year-old company was not growing despite leveraging strong values such as luxury, heritage and craftsmanship. “There was something we were missing: What makes Valextra unique,” she said.
“We don’t have a creative director, we have a huge amount of creativity helping us shape our vision,” the executive noted, mentioning a range of retail projects Valextra worked on over the past four years, with personalities from the design and architecture worlds, such as Michael Anastassiades, Martino Gamper, Kengo Kuma, Jhon Pawson and Snarkitecture, among others.
“Products need a home and our stores are all different [because] if you have two or three homes, they don’t look all the same for sure. It’s the same for us,” she said. “People don’t get bored and when they go in different cities, they really want to go and see our stores, to discover our latest collaboration there.”
Ferrero’s aim was to enjoy the creative process and build a community, not only with partner designers, but also with Valextra’s customers. “We’re trying to do luxury [and make it] timeless, but we want to engage with all kinds of ages and we have to do it with creativity,” she contended.
The WGSN research referenced data showing Millennials in the U.S. spend 70 percent more time at home than the general population, which significantly affects the way retail and public spaces need to be configured. “The idea of comfort is extending to public spaces and retail, we’re seeing them soften and becoming more home-like to welcome customers with intimate ease,” said White, who cited Gwyneth Paltrow-led Goop opening its Mrkt in Toronto, Canada nodding to hospitality, experiences via workshops in addition to selling products across fashion, beauty and lifestyle.
“Space shapes behavior,” White said, an idea that largely resonates with the evolution international department stores have embraced.
Vittorio Radice, vice president of Rinascente, insisted retail has shifted dramatically. Showing the picture of a street market — which he admitted was a provocative stance — the executive noted that despite a data-driven, traffic-generating approach, “there is something that we actually miss most of the time and that’s what we dedicated ourselves to: having people meet and talk and share things.”
In the age of constant exposure on social media, Radice said physical retail has borrowed some of the virtual space features as people are buying “things today to share them with others, and that place [retail] is quite a platform for people to meet and to share.”
As it moves toward the 12 million visitors threshold at its Milan flagship, up from nine million to 11 million in previous years, Rinascente is, according to Radice, a sharing space, which helped the retailer stay strong throughout its 100-year history. “We have to turn on the AC on the first day and shut it down 100 years after. That’s the biggest challenge,” he said.
Radice stressed the company’s environmental stance materializes through community building, employee training and the ability to establish a bond with the cities where the retailer operates units. “We’ve been investing in city centers, and putting each time millions of millions [of euros] in those buildings to keep the city centers alive and be their engine. It’s been a big responsibility and big challenge.”
Adrian Cheng, the Hong Kong-based founder of K11 Group and C Ventures, noted “traditional malls are only a box.…I think the necessity of going to a mall just to shop is not relevant anymore. They are sharing spaces.” Cheng said they serve as “lifestyle symbols,” bringing together different purposes. In the next five years the entrepreneur plans to open 36 K11 units in nine Chinese cities, between art galleries, retail spaces, offices and experience-led hubs.
As inclusivity is a subject growing its outreach, creative companies are especially eager to embrace it and tap into the cultural zeitgeist. Age-inclusivity, the WGSN study argued, didn’t make the conversation, but things are slated to change.
As the polarization between the old and young audience is increasing, “the scenario is starting to cause generational friction,” White said, noting how demographics influence businesses and brands, providing opportunities for those businesses “to become champions and facilitators of increasing the longevity dividend for aging individuals.”
In emerging markets, meanwhile, the population is growing younger, with the median age in India being 29, Africa contributing 54.5 percent to the 2.37 billion world’s population rise by 2050 and one-quarter of South East Asia countries’ citizens under 15.
Speaking to both sides may not be easy, but technology, social media and retail spaces can provide the necessary solutions catering to both audiences, as for example the silver-tsunami Boomers phenomenon in Asia is increasing the number of independent, tech- and social media-savvy middle-aged consumers.
Cheng voiced his concern over a technology and social media-driven future. “People are inclined to forget. They are losing the affinity to the idea of authenticity and integrity of things. I think we really need to go back to simplification, to simplify and detox.”
According to WGSN, future design practices will remove humans from the center of their universe to embrace a more holistic approach, reaching out to all living forms in a more respectful way, which speaks to the creative industry’s green journey. Additionally, as the appetite for domestic heritage is picking up among younger consumers, local brands and underrepresented cultural groups will have a stronger platform design-wise.
As he kicked off the event, Deyan Sudjic, the director of London’s Design Museum and the guest-curator of the summit, said “design is one of the few ways of looking which tries to integrate multiple viewpoints,” either offering solutions or taking actions for issues affecting the planet on a global scale.