Thursday, October 23, 2008

Trends and the Economy - Connecting the Dots

Ever wonder how trends start and what makes them repeat themselves sometimes decades later? I do. Often the original reason for the trend is lost in translation because it may be recycled for a different reason than when it started. Or perhaps they are resurrected for close to the same reasons that they started. I like to read all kinds of material so I am always finding what I like to think of as "trend dots" - stories or pieces of information that help me tie trends together as I connect the dots. The economy is a dictator of trends in pop culture and fashion. In the 18th century, silhouettes (shadow profiles traced and cut from black paper) were a popular alternative to costly portraits. The word took its name from the French controller general of finance, Etienne de Silhouette. During the Seven Years War against England, he tried to raise revenues by heavily taxing the wealthy. Victims of his high taxes complained and used the word silhouette to refer to their wealth being reduced to a mere shadow of what it once was. Today silhouettes (see my April 3rd blog post) are trendy because of their minimalistic appeal and modern look. In times of economic downturns people tend to spend their money on affordable luxuries to make them feel better. In the decade of the Great Depression cosmetic sales increased 25%. There was a similar surge in lipstick sales after the terrorist attacks on September 11th. Does tracking cosmetic sales indicate the health of the economy or the emotional mood of the consumer? (I know I always feel better after a trip to Sephora.) I've read that movie attendance increased during five of the last seven economic recessions. People tend to want to escape (think about the Superhero trend). They may not go out as often, but they when they do they choose something affordable, say, a movie night over a weekend trip to an amusement park. This last example is perhaps the most fascinating to me. I read an article in the Fresno Bee a couple of weeks ago called Hollywood dead aren't so scary anymore (Melissa Rayworth, AP). It takes a look at the dead-but-still-talking characters that are all over popular culture these days. From TV shows like "True Blood," "Pushing Daisies," "Desperate Housewives," "The Ghost Whisperer" to movies like "Twilight," "Ghost Town,""Over Her Dead Body" and the soon to be released, "The Lovely Bones." It seems as though across pop culture there is "an attempt to really start domesticating the notion of death," says Syracuse University television professor Robert Thompson. In times of anxiety, like the Great Depression, WWII, the 1950's atomic age, September 11th and now the tanking Stock Market, society has always turned to expressions of spiritualism, often the occult. The Great Depression ushered in the golden age of horror movies. But the monsters and undead of those stories were otherworldly and unfamiliar. Dracula and the Wolfman were not carrying ipods and sitting in a high school cafeteria. The article asks the question, why are we so focused now on making the supernatural seem mundane? Perhaps, says author Stewart O'Nan, it's because we are facing death on so many different fronts - climate change and natural disasters, multiple wars and terrorism, even our aging population. We need now, more than ever, to make death seem as manageable as a trip to Home Depot. Hmmm.......These are unsure times we are living in. New York's Fashion Week reflected this in the offerings from the designers. There were representations from multiple decades - the 1940's, the '60's, the '80's. What is the style? Some were left scratching their heads. I read in one of the articles that you would still be perfectly fashionable by pulling from your last year's wardrobe because anything goes. In fact, thrift store shopping is up 30% because of the refashioning trend that is happening. So what does one make of all of this? Connect the dots.............

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My view of the river

I was telling you about my former home on the San Joaquin River. This is just about what my view looked like if I were standing on the edge of the river in my backyard. I had a little waterfall that spilled just enough to lull me into calmness when I sat in my swing on my deck. I had about twelve feet of grass between my deck and the river where deer, raccoons, foxes and possums wandered. And I had three sets of sliding glass doors that looked out on the river. It was my sanctuary.

The Glorious Peacock

When I was single and had my own little home on the north side of the San Joaquin River in Fresno County I would take long walks along the river and explore the rural landscape surrounding the area I lived in. That was eighteen years ago, long before the freeway hooked up to Friant road. I would leave the hustle and bustle of work behind and drive home, always feeling like I was heading out-of-town as I approached the road that led to my riverfront sanctuary. You couldn't see where I lived from the main road so I always felt like I was tucked away from the encroaching city. Anyway, as I was saying..........I would take walks with my dog, Bruno. He was a bird dog, a German Shorthaired Pointer. He and I would walk deep into the orchards behind where we lived to take in all the smells and sounds of the landscape. On these walks we would encounter these beautiful peacocks that roamed the fields and often watched as they flapped their way up into the surrounding trees. Bruno and I would stand quietly observing them strut, sounding off their mating calls. It was magical. The best part was around August when the birds were molting. The males would drop their feathers, leaving behind their gorgeous plumage for me to collect. I would bring home armfuls of them and arrange them in tall wood vases until I couldn't fit even one more feather in the vase. So imagine my delight with seeing that the peacock is inspiring fashion and color this fall. Did you happen to watch the finale of Project Runway? Korto, who came in second place, said her collection was inspired by nature and her roots in Liberia. The fans that the models carried and the beautiful color palette was very peacock-inspired to me. I loved it.
This ad from American Leather is an example of the use of the peacock color scheme. It is absolutely stunning. . . . . . I loved the message too: Personal expression...made to order.
Urban Outfitters is inspired by the plume of the peacock. A single eye-feather is simple and elegant for fall.W Fashion featured an article called Trend: Rhapsody in Plume by Vanessa Lau, saying this about the peacock trend, "......there's something irresistibly alluring and glamorous about these jewel-tone hues, including brilliant emeralds, indigos and purples - even exotic pops of fuchsia here and there. They don't call it peacock proud for nothing." The fashion world has long used birds and feathers for design and motif inspirations, and the peacock plumage and palette is a natural progression in this trend.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Kid's Are Cookin'

At the beginning of summer I was checking into activities to keep my boys busy so they wouldn't drive their dad over the edge while they were out of school. I came across the Young Chef's Academy that had recently opened in Fresno. While I didn't end up sending my kids for cooking lessons (they opted for Young At Art, learning cartoon drawing), I was intrigued by the trickle down interest in cooking that shows like Rachel Ray, Top Chef and even the Disney movie Ratatouille has inspired. Parents, worried about poor nutrition and childhood obesity, are thrilled to cultivate their kids' interest in cooking. Cooking is becoming a lost art in our fast-paced world of take-out and extra-curricular activities. When I started really looking into this I found quite a few entrepreneurs out there taking advantage of this trend. There's the Playful Chef Kids Cooking Kit that you can purchase to help you tap into your kids' eagerness to help in the kitchen. The tools are kid-sized and offer fun recipes to try. Batter Up Kids started out offering cooking classes, but today the Austin, Texas, business also does birthday parties and year-round camps, and it retails both cooking kits and cookbooks authored by entrepreneur Barbara Beery, cooking up annual sales of about $465,000. The interest has been so strong that Beery started franchising her concept last year. Daily Candy Seattle just sent out an article about cooking lesson parties for kids offered by Lovin' from the Oven. Owner (and mom) Bridget Meyer arrives at your event armed with tools of the trade and an arsenal of kid-approved recipes. Chefs-in-training get hands-on lessons in rolling sushi, toasting quesadillas, whipping up a batch of peppermint bark, or whatever tickles your birthday child's fancy. And kids chow down on the meal they've created. Think about it.... Cooking is a life skill that your child will most likely need to master. Why not have fun learning it? Consider sending your child to a cooking camp next summer. Melissa Owens, a former restaurant owner who started the Deliciously Nutritious camp last summer in suburban Maryland, teaches chef training for kids and teens who want to whip up haute cuisine. With the economy in a fragile state, why not opt to stay home, crack open your mother's old recipe books and cook something? You can do it, and you can make it a family activity. Best of all, you can consider yourself right on trend!

Monday, October 6, 2008


It's October! A kick-off to a favorite time of the year for me and my family because it means it is officially Fall with cool mornings and shorter days. I love the end of summer because I live in Fresno, California, and it is always so hot here, even up to last week it was in the mid-90's. I'm just OVER that! October means the Big Fresno Fair, decorating for Fall, visiting our favorite pumpkin patches - we have two - one is Cobb's on Highway 41, just north of the San Joaquin River, and the other is Satterstrom's in Reedley. My boys love the hay rides, the corn maze and picking out pumpkins to adorn our porch and dining room table. It also means soccer practice and soccer games on the weekends. It is a busy time for us. Last Saturday we had a family wedding to attend at Wolf Lakes. We have another wedding this Saturday at Huntington Lake in the mountains. Then Sunday we have an art show to attend and later in the evening we are having dinner with friends. Yes, October is definitely the start of a busy holiday season. With the economy the way it is I anticipate less commercialism and more family time for us. I am really OK with this concept because I have always hated the bombardment of materialism turning my simplistic holiday wishes into a three-ring-circus. I am actually looking forward to taking a 'less is more' approach to the holiday season. I've written about "staycations' and about the growing trend in refashioning - thrift store shopping is up by about 30% in the central valley. Hmmm. Lots to think about as Christmas approaches. For now, I am just enjoying October and all the promise it holds as this tumultuous year winds down. Yes, promise..........I choose to remain optimistic because I know that my true riches don't reside in a bank or in stocks and bonds (yes, we have them and are concerned). I choose to enjoy what today brings, in October.


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