Liquid Iconoclasts

 In Insight

Fetishisation and demonisation are the ebb and flow of liquid modernity. As opulents surf national borders, the masses, defined by them, wade for their survival. United, however, by an ambiguation of identity.

Modern societies strive on ordering chaos and simplifying complexity. In order to expand, our economies must streamline and untangle. Tech industries yearn to make our lives more simple by making their products less complex. Industrial processes relinquish human labour in favour of mechanical aptitude. Numbers save us from the risks of the future. This constant tide, accelerated by our hyper-connected, information centric societies, thrusts us toward an illusion of ultimate ease, comfort and tranquility. Modernity, however is bound to human migration. Some choose to, others are forced, though it is inevitable: with expansion comes movement, and with movement comes uncertainty. The liquid youth embrace fluidity of race, gender, political persuasion, sexuality, nationality and opinion. Luxury is no longer defined by an abundance of material, but by an abundance of time, privacy and open borders. The wealthy indulge with air miles, quietly unaware of their dependant shadow, pursuing a modest life wherever the tide takes them; facing an uncertain fate: will they sink or swim?

“Brands are learning that diversity and inclusion is normal, and just plain good for business”

– Andrew Barratt

We do not live in isolation any more. The internet has changed what community, connection and influence mean to many of us. Consumers are familiar with all walks of life gracing their screens. ‘This idea of a truly globalised culture – one in which content can be distributed as easily as it can be received – has the potential to be realised through the Internet,’ says Dr Jack Lule, director of Global Studies and the Globalisation and Social Change Initiative at Lehigh University. ‘While some political and social barriers still remain, from a technological standpoint there is nothing to stop the two- way flow of information and culture across the globe’ (LS:N Global). These ideals are championed by brands like ANZ (Australia and New Zealand Banking Group) in their #Equalfuture ad (pictured above), and Gap.

Gap have partnered with Ellen Degeneres to challenge gender inequality with their ‘girl power’ kidswear collection (which includes clothes for boys too). The clothes feature words like ‘creative’ rather than ‘princess’, ‘respect’ instead of ‘spoilt’ and ‘epic’ as opposed to ‘cute’. It’s a rounded, aspirational vision of young girls everywhere. ‘I know from my own experience that nothing makes you feel better than being who you are and celebrating what makes you unique,’ Vogue quotes Ellen. ‘I think if we shine a light on real girls doing incredible things, that’ll encourage other girls and boys to do incredible things, and that’ll encourage even more people to do incredible things, and eventually the world will be a more incredibler (sic) place.’ The ad features a drummer girl, skateboarding girl and a girl who makes prosthetic hands (pictured above).

Gender isn’t the only social or political barrier being challenged. Race, an unending dialogue and nowhere more-so than in the US, also resonates with the liquid youth. Race relations remain fragile in 2015. A year after Michael Brown was shot by a police officer and Ferguson rioted, saw the moment in history that South Carolina removed the Confederate Flag from its state building. But tensions are present in the minds of the nation. Almost a quarter of Americans (23%) saying that they feel civil rights for blacks have worsened or stayed the same in their lifetime according to a 2015 Gallup poll (LS:N Global). This compares with only 11% saying that same thing in 2011. One brand prepared to approach this issue is the LA Film Festival. Its 2015 trailer (pictured above) not only focuses on race and identity but prides itself on having 40% female entrants and 30% of films directed by people of colour.

Presenting race ambiguously has been a common expression of liquidity, whether in pop culture for the aforementioned LA Film Festival trailer – see Buffalo, a music video by Tyler the Creator (pictured above) – or in fashion such as South African designer Lukhanyo Mdingi’s iridescence campaign. Each of the images produced involved a repainting of the human skin showing a physical interpretation of this demographic’s views and opinions of globalised culture.

Uniqlo have teamed up with UK fashion designer Hana Tajima, and her lifewear collection ‘fuses contemporary design with traditional values’, stocking everything from flowing long skirts and ankle length trousers to traditional kebaya and hijabs. The campaign surrounding the collection is suitably tasteful, depicting models of varying backgrounds and of ambiguous religious persuasion, elegantly playing into the field of neutrality – a great example of religiously fluid brand positioning.

‘You do you’ is a new web portal for agender fashion, accessories and lifestyle. It provides an inclusive online base that serves both the producers and consumers of genderless fashion by bringing them together in one place – via original content, editorials, advertorials, celebrity interviews and news stories.” While being focussed on agender fashion, the site quite clearly supports identity fluidity and uncertain ambiguity across the whole spectrum with photoshoots that could provide a window onto a potential future of globalised liquid identities.

“Third-stage globalisation and hyper-connectivity are changing the way consumers construct their identities. They are using a myriad of global influences and technology that enables them to seamlessly transcend time zones. For this consumer, privacy, time and open borders are becoming new signifiers of luxury.”

-LS:N Global

Fashion designers are creating a new visual language that plays with slogans and subverts iconic imagery based around time and travel through highly graphic, athletic collections. Études Studio (pictured above, middle & right) examined the implications of our always-on culture through its DAY TO DAY collection, which questions what constant connectivity means for the modern worker. It features clock graphics, photographic prints of a cityscape by Daniel Everett and a ‘24-7-365’ print in a bold typeface. ‘We wanted to imprint the timesheet of life’s infinite punch clock as a new graphic vocabulary,’ says the studio in a press release. ‘The pragmatic details of everyday life are transformed as decorative totems across garments.’ The expression of time as luxury is a theme that spreads far and wide in the fashion world with similar approaches being taken by: Low Classic (pictured above, left), Maria Piankov, ZDDZ and Tigran Avetisyan.

These notions translate into visual culture and image through bright, fractured, bold and distorted graphics and type. Collage and juxtaposition can be seen throughout brand identity, layout and compositional practices. Privacy is in demand for the fluid, which provides one explanation for presenting distorted and ambiguous text and imagery. Sur Le Sac’s brand identity (pictured above) shows how this is executed in a modern context. It’s particularly important to avoid over distortion – typical of postmodern practices of the 80s and early 90s. Other good examples include the typographic posters of Simon Gustafsson, Vincent Vrints and Build’s visual identity.

In retail, the fetishisation of time and borders manifests in displays much like Anya Hindmarch’s Selfridges 3rd floor car park takeover in London (pictured above). The pop up store, themed like a British motorway service station, uses the bold graphic style previously mentioned to maintain a rapid and stimulating, time-conscious environment. To presume this is a method to encourage the fast turnover of customers would be shortsighted. Hindmarch has a long history of manipulating the everyday and mundane into much sought after artefacts, recently expressing this through the glamorisation of Britain’s motorways in her catwalk shows. Which even began arrogantly late, lifting the perception of the label’s time-oriented persona. The store then is a continuation of this project that uses the visual language of speed and efficiency to emulate and suggest the newly glamorous status of being constantly transient, and in flux. An idea that was the theme of Paper’s September issue Luxe in Flux. Using transport semiotics and signifiers of passing time can be seen incarnated in many other forms, such as Japan’s Narita International Airport that has indoor lanes for passengers to navigate. Or the Hussein Chalayan store in London, where the front desk serves as a constant reminder of the passing of time.

Liquid Modernity is a long term sociological trend first identified by Zygmunt Bauman in his book of the same name. The uncertain and transient nature of our social practices and attitudes, Bauman illustrates, are as result of the rapid expansion of global capitalist civilisation. Our uncertainty and ambiguity across issues from race to sexuality, therefore, are a natural effect of our circumstance. What’s making these attributes notable and challenging for advertisers is their rapid evolution, a result of a hyper-connected world.

Conclusion: be truly unique with brand identities, personas and demographics by transcending stereotypes, clichés and pastiche.

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