It ended up in my feed, retweeted by my business partner, (whose grandmother just so happens to own a bookstore), but I’d wager , at 2,200+ retweets, this may be among the most popular things Kleon has written.
Because, on January 2nd, Mark Zuckerberg announced that his annual challenge for 2015 is to read a new book every other week. Every year Zukerberg takes on a new challenge to broaden his perspective and learn something about the world beyond Facebook. Last year’s challenge was writing a daily thank-you note, and the year before it was meeting someone new every day. This year’s challenge was crowd-sourced, and resulted in something bigger than just Zuckerberg’s own personal growth — an open challenge to anyone interested in reading 26 books in 2015, and discussing them in the Facebook community A Year Of Books.
At the same time, before the new year was even a week old, Céline launched their Spring 2015 campaign with Joan Didion as its poster girl:
Let’s talk about Céline’s just-debuted ad campaign featuring none other than immortal intellectual-and-otherwise dream girl Joan Didion. Did you just feel the collective intake of breath shared by every cool girl you know? Did you feel the pulse-quickening vibrations of every recent college grad and literature fan? Did you sense the earth trembling beneath your feet? Do you have two eyes and a heart?
Of all the celebrity fashion campaign appearances, who better to represent Philo’s ideals—a certain ease of wear, simplicity of line, clothes that are assured, structured yet fluid, decidedly for the woman on the move—than Didion, the original chronicler of heartfelt experience, both her own and others’? One whose perpetually Tumblr’d and tweeted packing list famously includes “2 skirts, 2 jerseys or leotards [and] 1 pullover sweater,” (an ethos Philo, who proudly advertises her own reliance on a personal “uniform,” would clearly understand); who understood fashion while relying on clothes that didn’t draw attention as much as prepare her for the task at hand.
We’ll be buying whatever Joan’s wearing.
In this unusual twist, Facebook found a 15th-century medium to champion, and Vogue breathlessly embraced an 80-year old literary icon as the new fashion It girl — all as part of the same trend.
See also: Ikea’s 2015 catalog campaign extolling the virtues of an analog, “bookbook” (TM) like it’s the next breakthrough in touch technology:
Maybe it’s something we’re learning about our new reality — books are the last, tangible refuge in a hypermediated world. In an age when everything is accessible, books are the most exclusive place you can go: it’s un-Instagrammable. Outside of a dog, as Groucho Marx said, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read — or selfie, or tweet, or anything. Inside of a book, you are absolved of the ever-escalating rat race for self-individualization through self-broadcast. You’re on another planet. Beyond GPS. You’re unfindable, unreachable. And yet, we read to know we are not alone.
If you live in LA, you should go to the Modern Millennial exhibit. As soon as you possibly can, too, cuz it’s over in 6 days. I’ll explain where and how to find it in a minute, but first I want to tell you what it is.
Modern Millennial is an art installation / existential performance art piece / media experiment in the spirt of Exit Through The Gift Shop / I’m Still Here, except the theme is about being a person going through the modern experience.
The project was funded, and the exhibit installed, so now what’s happening is during the month of September a dude named Moses Storm is living inside an art exhibit in an industrial loft in #DTLA. The loft is filled throughout with installations that comprise the Modern Millennial exhibit, and Storm, the eponymous modern millennial, living life in said loft, is himself an interactive installation as well. It’s funny and weird and smart and awesome.
Modern Millennial seems, at first, like it will be a lampoon of millennial clichés — and it is definitely that — but it’s also something so much more interesting and introspective and sincere in the process.
“The Modern Millennial,” proclaims the Kickstarer, “Is a game-changing form of immersive performance art in which roaming audiences experience epic insights into a generation.”
Of course, that’s part of the point. The art and the artist are both keenly aware they are the results of the same generational forces they are ridiculing.
Or maybe not ridiculing at all.
There are, in a sense, three phases to the Modern Millennial exhibit. First, there is the digital precursor that you encounter before the physical space of the show. Then there is the in-person experience of the exhibit itself. And finally there is the digital afterlife of the exhibit, living on through shared photo content and hashtag feeds. Each of these three aspects comes with its own distinct tone and role in the narrative arc of the Modern Millennial experience, and likewise, the modern millennial experience.
Google “Modern Millennial” and the first thing you’ll find is the Kickstarter.
A typical cocktail of narcissism, hype, and jargon, it’s also unmistakably meta: taking its absurd premise seriously while also mocking itself, Millennials, (Kickstarer campaigns), everything:
Our goal with this piece is to show a different side of Millennials. And prove that not all of us are lazy narcissist who are just looking for a handout.
Some cool stuff happens if we hit our stretch goals.
If reached, we will tour with the exhibit. I am thinking Paris!
But in the physical space of the exhibit, the the mood is notably different. It’s exposed, honest, intimate. The way things look online is not how they feel in person.
The cynicism and detachment of digital distance break down into vulnerability and sincerity in physical space. So many of the pieces are an exploration of existential yearning for meaning and connection.
The Wall of Activism, for example, is a usual suspects lineup of viral sincerity eruptions.
It’s impossible not to view a LiveStrong Bracelet, a Stop Kony poster, a bucket full of ice water (among others), with a cynical side-eye. But when you see them displayed this way, all cataloged together, they are also inescapably earnest. These recurring, massive social hysterias of optimism and the dream of collective empowerment; this ceaseless desire to care.
The most popular piece in the show (based on frequency of Instagram appearances) is also the most inscrutable.
Is it a comment about being unafraid to come out as an artist? To claim a sincere artist identity in the midst of a storm of irony?
Or is it a jab at the pretentiousness of the concept? An ironic joke about such an analog anachronism?
Does such a thing as a “serious artist” still even exist, or is the popularity of the piece akin to that of an endangered animal on display at the zoo?
Is it for real, or is it a joke?
Does it matter?
For an exhibit titled, #ModernMillennial, the show itself is remarkably, unremarkably lo-fi. The Modern Millennial is less infatuated with technology than with humanity. And yet the experience is inherently hybridized with digital DNA.
In 2014, our digital technology is increasingly hurtling towards pervasive invisibility, insinuating itself into our every waking moment with the banal inevitability of electricity. And yet, it’s the human interactions with the art pieces, through the lens of digital media, that turn them on like a switch. Without Instagram, or at the very least the vernacular of Instagram, much of Modern Millennial wouldn’t really make any sense.
“Stand Here Do Nothing” is built to basically only really work once it’s in a photo you’ve posted up somewhere:
Likewise, “Like This So I know You Still Exist.”
Taking and posting these photos is at once a cliché and an act of participating in a piece of art about a cliché.
But it’s ok. Don’t worry. You can’t help it. This stereotypical experience — it’s universal.
Modern Millennial sincerely delivers on what its ironic (or not) Kickstarter promised: it captures the truths our contemporary condition. And it does so with humor and humanity. There’s certainly plenty to mock about the times we live in, but we’ve got to have compassion for our predicament, too.
How to get to the Modern Millennial Exhibit.
In a time where basically everything is accessible online, the show is almost stringently unfindable. You stumble into it like a niche forum from the ’90s. We used to discover things online. Now the only way to access a real sense of discovery is through things hidden offline. So go:
“The kids are doing the normcore,” my friend Quang said, trying out the new phrase with a deliberate, old fart dialect.
Only a few moments earlier I had tossed off the word like common parlance.
“‘Normcore?’” he had repeated, making sure he’d heard correctly.
“Yeah,” I explained, “It’s exactly what you think it is. It’s us, now.”
A shockingly pleasant March afternoon had arrived in Boston that day, on the heels of a cold that had felt like osteoporosis. A decade in LA had turned me into a wimp. I had forgotten how I’d ever managed to live through this in my youth.
But that day in Boston, in 2014, hanging out with friends who had come up through the rave, circus, and goth subcultures, you could hardly tell where any of us had been. What we wore now was nondescript. Non-affiliated. Normal.
The week before, at a craft beer tasting party at an indie advertising agency in Silver Lake, a sculpture artist was remarking about recently looking through photos of style choices from the aughts. “What was I thinking,” she said in bewilderment. That evening she was wearing a black tank top, and, like, pants. Maybe three quarter length? Or not? Maybe black jeans? Or not-jean pants? I couldn’t recall. Perhaps, I thought, this was just a symptom of getting older. There was some kind of sartorial giving a shit phase that we had all grown out of. But it turned out this, too, was a trend. Kids, too young to have grown out of anything, were dressing this way.
I realized that, from behind, I could no longer tell if my fellow Soho pedestrians were art kids or middle-aged, middle-American tourists. Clad in stonewash jeans, fleece, and comfortable sneakers, both types looked like they might’ve just stepped off an R-train after shopping in Times Square. When I texted my friend Brad (an artist whose summer uniform consisted of Adidas barefoot trainers, mesh shorts and plain cotton tees) for his take on the latest urban camouflage, I got an immediate reply: “lol normcore.”
Normcore—it was funny, but it also effectively captured the self-aware, stylized blandness I’d been noticing. Brad’s source for the term was the trend forecasting collective (and fellow artists) K-Hole. They had been using it in a slightly different sense, not to describe a particular look but a general attitude: embracing sameness deliberately as a new way of being cool, rather than striving for “difference” or “authenticity.”
Oh my god, I thought reading this: this is me.
In Nation of Rebels: Why Counterculture Became Consumer Culture, published in 2004, cultural critics, Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter examined the inherent contradiction in the idea that counterculture was an opposition to mass consumer culture. Not only were they not opposed, Heath and Potter explained, they weren’t even separate. Alternative culture’s obsession with being different — expressing that difference through prescribed fashion products and subcultural artifacts — had, in fact, helped to create the very mass consumer society the counterculture believed itself to be the alternative to.
“To me, Nike’s famous swoosh logo had long been the mark of the manipulated,” wrote Rob Walker, author of 2008′s Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy And Who We Are, ”A symbol for suckers who take its ‘Just Do It’ bullying at face value. It’s long been, in my view, a brand for followers. On the other hand, the Converse Chuck Taylor All Star had been a mainstay sneaker for me since I was a teenager back in the 1980′s, and I stuck with it well into my thirties. Converse was the no-bullshit yin to Nike’s all-style-and-image yang. It’s what my outsider heroes from Joey Ramone to Kurt Combain wore. So I found [Nike’s] buyout [of Converse] disheartening…. but why, really, did I feel so strongly about a brand of sneaker–any brand of sneaker?”
In response to Buying In, I’d written, “Whether we’re choosing to wear Nikes, Converse, Timberlands, Doc Martens, or some obscure Japanese brand that doesn’t even exist in the US, we’re deliberately saying something about ourselves with the choice. And regardless of how “counter” to whatever culture we think we are, getting to express that differentiation about our selves requires buying something.”
But that was five years ago. A funny thing happened on the way to the mid twenty-teens. The digital era ushered in an unprecedented flood of availability — of both information and products. This constant, ubiquitous access to everything — what Chris Anderson dubbed the “Long Tail” in his 2006 book of the same name – had changed the cultural equation. We had evolved, as Anderson predicted, “from an ‘Or’ era of hits or niches (mainstream culture vs. subcultures) to an ‘AND’ era.” With the widespread proliferation of internet access, mass culture got less mass, and niche culture got less obscure. We became what Anderson called a “massively parallel culture: millions of microcultures coexisting and interacting in a baffling array of ways.” On this new, flattened landscape, what was there to be counter to?
“Jeremy Lewis, the founder/editor of Garmento and a freelance stylist and fashion writer, calls normcore ‘one facet of a growing anti-fashion sentiment,’” Duncan writes in New York Magazine. “His personal style is (in the words of Andre Walker, a designer Lewis featured in the magazine’s last issue) ‘exhaustingly plain’—this winter, that’s meant a North Face fleece, khakis, and New Balances. Lewis says his ‘look of nothing’ is about absolving oneself from fashion.”
That is how normcore happened to me, too. When I quit the circus, leaving behind its sartorial regulations, I realized that difference wasn’t an expression of identity: it was a rat race.
“Fashion has become very overwhelming and popular,” Lewis explains in New York Magazine. “Right now a lot of people use fashion as a means to buy rather than discover an identity and they end up obscured and defeated. I’m getting cues from people like Steve Jobs and Jerry Seinfeld. It’s a very flat look, conspicuously unpretentious, maybe even endearingly awkward. It’s a lot of cliché style taboos, but it’s not the irony I love, it’s rather practical and no-nonsense, which to me, right now, seems sexy. I like the idea that one doesn’t need their clothes to make a statement.”
“Magazines, too,” Duncan writes, “have picked up the look:”
The enduring appeal of the Patagonia fleece [was] displayed on Patrik Ervell and Marc Jacobs’s runways. Edie Campbell slid into Birkenstocks (or the Céline version thereof) in Vogue Paris. Adidas trackies layered under Louis Vuitton cashmere in Self Service. A bucket hat and Nike slippers framed an Alexander McQueen coveralls in Twin. Smaller, younger magazines like London’s Hot and Cool and New York’s Sex, were interested in even more genuinely average ensembles, skipping high-low blends for the purity of head-to-toe normcore.
One of the first stylists I started bookmarking for her normcore looks was the London-based Alice Goddard. She was assembling this new mainstream minimalism in the magazine she co-founded, Hot and Cool, as early as 2011. For Goddard, the appeal of normal clothes was the latest thing. One standout editorial from Hot and Cool no. 5 (Spring 2013) was composed entirely of screenshots of people from Google Map’s Street View app. Goddard had stumbled upon “this tiny town in America” on Map sand thought the plainly-dressed people there looked amazing. The editorial she designed was a parody of contemporary street style photography—“the main point of difference,” she says, “being that people who are photographed by street style photographers are generally people who have made a huge effort with their clothing, and the resulting images often feel a bit over fussed and over precious—the subject is completely aware of the outcome; whereas the people we were finding on Google Maps obviously had no idea they were being photographed, and yet their outfits were, to me, more interesting.”
New media has changed our relation to information, and, with it, fashion. Reverse Google Image Search and tools like Polyvore make discovering the source of any garment as simple as a few clicks. Online shopping—from eBay through the Outnet—makes each season available for resale almost as soon as it goes on sale. As Natasha Stagg, the Online Editor of V Magazine and a regular contributor at DIS (where she recently wrote a normcore-esque essay about the queer appropriation of mall favorite Abercrombie & Fitch), put it: “Everyone is a researcher and a statistician now, knowing accidentally the popularity of every image they are presented with, and what gets its own life as a trend or meme.” The cycles of fashion are so fast and so vast, it’s impossible to stay current; in fact, there is no one current.
Emily Segal of K-HOLE insists that normcore isn’t about one specific aesthetic. “It’s not about being simple or forfeiting individuality to become a bland, uniform mass,” she explains. Rather, it’s about welcoming the possibility of being recognizable, of looking like other people—and “seeing that as an opportunity for connection.”
K-HOLE describes normcore as a theory rather than a look; but in practice, the contemporary normcore styles I’ve seen have their clear aesthetic precedent in the nineties. The editorials in Hot and Cool look a lot like Corinne Day styling newcomer Kate Moss in Birkenstocks in 1990, or like Art Club 2000′s appropriation of madras from the Gap, like grunge-lite and Calvin Klein minimalism. But while (in their original incarnation) those styles reflected anxiety around “selling out,” today’s version is more ambivalent toward its market reality.
In a post Hot-Topic world, where Forever21 serves up fast fashion in processed flavors like, Occupy:
and Burning Man:
we’re realizing that alternativeness, as a means for authentic self expression, is futile.“Normcore isn’t about rebelling against or giving into the status quo,” Duncan concludes, “It’s about letting go of the need to look distinctive.”
In our all-access, always connected, globalized world, obscurity is scarce. When everything is accessible, nothing is alternative.
“In the 21st century,” Rob Walker wrote back in 2008, not recognizing the quickly approaching end of counterculture, “We still grapple with the eternal dilemma of wanting to feel like individuals and to feel as though we’re apart of something bigger than ourselves. We all seek ways to resolve this fundamental tension of modern life.”
In 2014, normcore is one solution we’ve found to resolve it.
This weekend I was invited to a salon-style dinner organized by Tim Chang and Les Borsai, hosted at the home of Steve Rennie. The event turned out to be a fascinating gathering at the intersection of digital media, technology, and music.
I have an art app called Mirrorgram. We launched it last October, and just this past month we crossed a million users! But I ended up in apps kind of by accident. I come, as did nearly everyone at the dinner, from music. For a long time, I used to produce music festivals. I’ve worked with Live Nation and House of Blues, and for years I was the marketing director for the Do Lab on the Lightning in a Bottle Festival. That’s actually how I met my Mirrorgram co-founder, Justin Boreta, who’s part of a band called the Glitch Mob. In fact, he came up with the concept for Mirrorgram while on tour, during the hours spent bored on the bus between shows, nerding out with iPhone photo apps. And it was built by the team at StageBloc, whose platform is designed to specifically support the unique content and community needs of musicians and performers. So when Tim asked me to come to the salon with a few minutes worth of lessons learned from working in apps, the first thing that came to mind for me was how much we draw on what we’ve internalized from our experiences in the music world to shape the way we approach what we do in the app world:
1. Fans vs. Users.
Before we ever started thinking about “users” our reference point was always “fans.” Of course, now we’re incredibly concerned with usability, and how people actually engage with our product, but beyond the app itself, we have a deep understanding and respect for the importance of nurturing the kinds extended social narratives and interactions that get created around it. Like what happens with a band people love, or an annual music festival that they revisit every year. We’ve seen so many Mirrorgrammers create connections and forge friendships and even artistic collaborations with one another through this shared love that they have for the app, and the art they create with it. And we’ve always understood that drive through the lens of fandom.
2. Choose your own adventure. Coming from a world of creating real-life experiences we have a natural inclination to approach what we’re doing in the digital space with that same sensibility. It’s about creating a platform with a certain amount of structure — a concert set list, a festival lineup, an app feature-set — but then also leaving a ton of room open people to create their own experiences within that structure. When we look at the kind of art that people create with Mirrorgram, it consistently blows us away. Half the time we don’t even know HOW people are creating the images they are with it. We’re just watching the feed, mesmerized. It’s pretty unbelievable. Coming from music, that experience of creating something and putting it out into the world and then seeing people take it into directions you could have never imagined or expected is very familiar.
3. More than the sum of its parts.
There’s something really interesting in approaching the evolution of an app, or any product, the way a band thinks about the new music it releases, or the way a music festival builds on what came before, year after year. A band doesn’t think about its next album like an “update.” It’s about a journey that we want to take our fans or our attendees or our users on with us. The day we went live with Mirrorgram, we referred to it (kinda jokingly, but kinda not) like the start of “The Symmetry Revolution.”
We still reference it in a tongue in cheek kind of way, but people in the iPhoneography world have really gravitated to that idea of it being about something bigger, of the app as an entry-point into a larger creative movement or community. To us, Mirrorgram has always been much more than just the sum of its features — it’s part of an ongoing, shared, cultural and aesthetic experience we’re creating and evolving together with the people who use it.
Since November I have been a partner, with long-time friend, Katie Kay Mead, in a retail endeavor called, Gather. Gather is a fashion incbuator of sorts, scouting and developing the best and brightest indie design talent into viable forces within the vocabulary of L.A. fashion. The boutique / consultancy has received accolades from LA Weekly as a proponent of the “slow fashion” movement, and been named one of the city’s “top mom and pop shops” by Racked LA. Katie, who has previously helped guide Skingraft Designs to success, and launched a fan-sourced merch project with Amanda Palmer, heads up scouting L.A.’s fresh fashion talent and selecting the most unique pieces. Meanwhile, I take on the digital strategy side of things. And on that note, I’m very excited to announce the launch of a new digital product from the boutique: The_Gather email, a curated missive of hyper-local fashion.
Since 2010, Gather has scoured the depths of Los Angeles to find the city’s best designers and unique products. Today we are excited to bring Gather to you!You are among the first to receive our brand new, curated fashion-gram — The_Gather — a hand-selected sampler featuring the latest items added to the store. So browse, purchase, and support your local designers —without dealing with L.A. traffic.
As always, thank you for supporting independent fashion!