Caleido interviews Lidewij Edelkoort

issue #19: awareness

Caleido’s interview with Lidewij Edelkoort, one of the world’s most famous trend forecasters and founder of Trend Union, is the cover story of Issue #19, entitled: Awareness. Welcome to Caleido, an inspirational diary, that narrates many stories: about creative people, trends, travels, objects. / Read the Editor’s letter here.

Diary of: @lidewijedelkoort

Caleido interviews Lidewij Edelkoort
Ph. Thirza Schaap
1. We could call you an ‘archaeologist of the future’. In an interview, you said “I collect information extrapolated from today’s society, from the street, be it songs, videos, a colour, a poster, a taste, a scent. Some things catch my eye and I see them coming back again and again. We all build up an inner archive over time, almost always unconscious. I am simply more aware of it”. How long did you have to be an archaeologist of the past before you became an archaeologist of the future? How is your work done in practice?

I predict trends using my intuition, now more than ever. Over the years I have trained my intuition, just like a muscle, and somehow it gets better at forecasting the future year after year. This awareness is combined with sharp socio-cultural observation and arose when I was a teenager. Back then, I participated in a journalistic contest to design a carnival costume. My sketch was of an extremely short dress over short shorts and a diagonal sash across the bodice with the word carnival written boldly on it. I had never imagined anything like that before, so it was an absolutely intuitive design. But it completely surprised the judges – who were fashion journalists -. They had recently seen similar trends on catwalks and were astonished that a girl living in the middle of nowhere could have caught the latest trend. I didn’t win the prize, but they encouraged me to develop this talent for predicting trends and make it my profession… So, I did! At the age of 21, I joined a famous department store in Amsterdam as a fashion coordinator and forecaster. At that time (in 1971) I predicted that leisure wear would become important and that we would need to have inclusive sizing; in fact, I promoted opening a boutique for larger sizes! All these early forecasts came to pass… When I identified big tent dresses as the next popular garment, we sold hundreds of pieces. Yet I realised soon enough the need to relocate to pursue this profession and so I moved to Paris.

2. in your work, you’re oriented towards ‘predicting’ long-term change rather than focusing on ‘seasonal affairs’. Some kind of ‘oracle’, which inevitably highlights how something that is obvious today, in your eyes it was already so years before. besides experience and personal instinct, which are the tangible indicators that we can use as a method to distinguish a passing trend from one that is destined to last?

We could say I am tuned into the thought processes of the universal world, and the more I tune in, the deeper my instinct becomes, and so I just know when something will become change. I keep my antennae up, studying nascent concepts globally, analysing the collated references to interpret current thinking and intuitively forecast their trajectory. Some concepts transform into major changes more rapidly, yet cultural and social currents tend to evolve over longer periods, perhaps taking several years and even decades to become visible.

Instinct is a gift that all humans possess but most of us do not use. It is vital to know you can train your intuition and the most important ingredient you need is your faith in it. I have trained mine, similarly to how we train our bodies, so I am able to see things clearly much earlier, and I dare to say what my intuition tells me.

3. during the pandemic you stated that: “out of this disaster a new taste will emerge, a certain idea of elegance made of clothes that can be handed down to future generations. and this will also happen because we will have scarce resources and will have to share the few fabrics that can be initially produced. designers will have to use existing stocks to implement their ideas. improvisation: that will be the new rule of the game”. have we taken this opportunity to start anew by building a completely different society, or have we wasted it?

While the last few years have been filled with immense loss and sadness, I believe that the pandemic has allowed us the opportunity to rewrite things from scratch. Some people think that we are going back to business as usual, but we are actually experiencing a major disruption in society. People move away from the urban environment, quit their jobs and work from home, need more care for their mental health and are interested in radical design. This means that the previous rules no longer apply, that a fluid society needs completely new forms of business, communication, design and thinking, paving the way for conscious consumption, human connections, and radical creative innovation. Now is the time to take chances and go all in. After all, we only have a few years left before the damage of the environment becomes irreparable. That doesn’t mean that we will stop consuming; I believe there is power in aesthetic activism and that beauty can be part of the healing society so desperately needs.

4. with the advent of social media and live-posting, and then with the pandemic, we have already witnessed an evolution of target and purpose for many of the systems that ruled the fashion and design systems. i am thinking of fashion or design weeks, for example … what are the main evolutions of these “collective events”?

If you’re talking about a purpose-driven fashion industry, we must be cautious since there is rampant green washing. We need brands to take responsibility for their overproduction and pollution, cleaning up after themselves in the admirable way that Eileen Fisher @eileenfisherny , Re;code @recode_ and several others are doing. Social media has served the purpose of making people feel they are connected but it can also have the adverse effect and alienate us. I have recently been studying this isolation in my latest Home & Lifestyle Forecast and we are really entering a time in which – especially young people – are in need of mental healthcare, to the point of inspiring new forms of dress that include soothing garments and materials, or what is known as healthwear.

5. what struck me about your master’s degree “From Farm to Fabric to Fashion” at Polimoda, was the approach to the subject, which is presented as something absolutely complex and non-decomposable. it is not just the idea of a common circular culture, but first and foremost, an awareness of life in its inescapable essence, which gives rights to materials as well as animals, plants, and human beings. a full awareness of the entire phenomenon and the inseparable relations between cause and effect. what are the characteristics of the occupations that emerge from your course? is their profile outlined exclusively by what the planet requires of us (and thus we are still at an early stage) or from companies’ explicit needs (and thus we are already at an advanced stage)? how can we convince industry players of the (immediate) need to surround themselves with these figures?

The Farm to Fabric to Fashion introduces a cultural approach that will gradually transform people into collectors and collaborators versus consumers, individuals who will consider goods as good, foods as festive, items as innate and craft as culture. This comes from our unique teaching of textile anthropology, archaeology, history and theory. We are seeking textile and fashion thinkers, not just textile makers and fashion designers. Each expression will be considered and appreciated, cherished, and coveted. Each fibre will be respected, starting with the first semester in which students will focus on the essence of yarns and responsible farming materials. Empathic design will be celebrated. We will invite our graduates to intuitively understand their journey from farm to fabric to fashion. It’s our attempt to educate the new generations as the vanguard of social style and common culture. Students will work with industries that are convinced they have to enter a new phase and they will also set up their own studios and create their own brands. They will be material specialists, which is a rare specialty nowadays. They will be colour designers, yarn architects, fibre fanatics and fashion innovators, since their creativity will come from their textile thinking. I expect to discover true innovation.

6. do you believe these types of figures will manage to interact and integrate “happily” into the system, leading to an evolution of the vision, or will they have to demolish what is there now in order to create something new?

Some of them will infiltrate the fashion industry and disrupt it, making changes step by step in large and small companies. This will include changes to how resources are ethically sourced and how workers are respectfully treated, as well as teaching a wide range of consumers how to rethink their relationship with clothing. But success can also be defined by small scale practices and cottage industry production, so we expect several individuals to become underground heroes and heroines for future generations; possibly living in rural regions as creative examples to emulate. They will design ecological fibre capsule collections that are seasonless, showing us how we can “wear the landscape” or be bundled in the beauty of a handloom piece of cloth.

7. i am intrigued by what we might define as ‘paradox’ concerning gen-z: on one hand, we could call them ‘conscious-native’ (if i may use this neologism) – as it is the generation that is most aware of climate change and calls for sustainable changes in all areas -, but on the other hand, it is the same generation that is riding the tiktok #sheinunboxing trend (52.1 million views), which praises unbridled consumerism. how do you see this dichotomy?  then I would like to ask you this: how could an ideally increasingly conscientious, and therefore numerically reduced demand for goods, sustain an economic model that is historically based on consumerism?

Just because young people are engaged in TikTok doesn’t mean they all will turn their backs on society or the environment and embrace unsustainable consumption. In many cases these are the same souls, working with vintage and handed down items. Sharing clothes amongst themselves. But it is the next group – we can call it the Great Generation – that will clean up our act and pave a new way for society. A lot of their perspectives will be affected by new forms of parenting, particularly young fathers today who are raising their kids to think in more inclusive and gentle ways. That alone is cause for celebration and will dramatically change the course of history. The future will involve consumption in new ways, from sharing and recycling to a total aversion to expensive commercial goods. It’s inevitable since there will be widespread economic disparities, leaving overpriced luxury items just for the 0.1%. Tomorrow’s generations will therefore define other experiences, and these will be within more people’s reach. The future is in the hands of the creative individual, a period I call the Age of the Amateur.

8. i believe that a factor we should consider – parallel to the production chain – is that ‘the system’ must enable people to reduce their use of resources, in response to the fact that consumers will seek product systems that enable them to consume less and make a wiser use of resources. who is entrusted with this dual task (making it possible to use fewer resources while at the same time building environmental awareness)? increasingly busy parents, schools, politics, the media, or can we leave it to the subjectivity of individuals?

We are all responsible. Whether it’s by voting for the right party or being faithful to the right brands as individuals. We must learn from our wise elders but also listen to the youngest generations since their radical ideas are often those most straight to the point. Things will get moving faster from the moment that ecology = economy, and that moment is almost there.

9. Many emerging designers, independent brands or students are working on new ideas and sustainable approaches in technological innovation, design and product development. How could this approach, which is often typical of small companies, also scale to large companies or brands whose volumes are more macro?

It is all a matter of investment in these new domains. And believing in our future. The day huge funding will help to put spider silks on the commercial map, we will be able to eradicate polyester. The day brands will adopt the availability of seaweeds, farming and harvesting can be envisioned. The day all companies change to paper and natural plastics for packaging it will become the norm. All the ideas and technologies are there, but where is the capital?

10. What is an object in your home that you would never give up? What is the memory attached to it? Would you send us a photo taken by you?

In Paris, I have recently moved from a large space into a smaller pied-à-terre and had the opportunity to get rid of most of my pre-Covid wardrobe by donating it to charity. I’ve just kept a few key coats by Dries van Noten @driesvannoten that I have collected over the years. Since I currently spend most of my time in Normandy, I am in need of heavier sweaters, so those are the other pieces I’ve kept and treasured the most. My important design collection will travel to the Van Abbemuseum @vanabbemuseum , where it will be fully integrated into their art collection, quite a revolution of sorts, and back to the city where most of it was conceived: Eindhoven.

11. one last question. what is your reply to formafantasma (read the interview) who in our previous issue stated: “We know the guest of the next Caleido issue very well, as we studied at the Eindhoven Design Academy. First of all, we would like to say hello to her, then we would like to ask her what she thinks the future of education will be, also in relation to the economic problems that students have to face in order to pay for their studies, such as student debts?”

Sadly, many educational institutions have lost governmental funding at a time when the costs of running a school have gone up, and first and foremost we should pay teachers. Many schools have been forced to hire students simply to fill this budgetary void, and some students feel entitled to be treated like clients. Professors are then expected to give favorable grades instead of honest critique, and a few candidates try to sabotage teachers by abusing their trust and challenging their values. This is leading many design schools to send unprepared graduates into the world who, because of this, don’t necessarily have the education they deserve. Therefore, I think that entirely new agreements need to be forged between students and institutions. For example, students should welcome constructive guidance and expect to be critiqued and challenge each other. Judging and grading might become a thing of the past and could be replaced by more self-analysis. The student / teacher relationship needs to be built on friendship, respect and trust, something on a more equal footing. We no longer compare apples and pears. The whole system needs to become more mature and kinder.

The rising costs in private schools is also an ongoing issue that keeps talented students away for the mere reason that they cannot afford to attend. We need to call on corporations and brands that profit from the hard-working schools to invest in their futures by offering more scholarships and funds. Adopting students, so to speak. I have previously worked successfully with friendship systems between institutes and businesses, where a yearly fee helps pay for all the extras and fieldtrips. Governments need to step in also and absorb student debt after a fixed number of years graduates have contributed to society. And some students might want to consider studying abroad in less costly colleges, perhaps exchanging prestige for a real-life experience in cultures where they can learn other skills, from empathy and altruism to indigenous and spiritual knowledge.

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