Protect & Survive – Trend Analysis by William Higham

The follow up to Grandmaster Flash’s seminal rap ‘The Message’ in 1980 was called ‘The Message Part 2 (Survival)’. If 2009 was about consumers ‘getting the message’, then the theme of Survival looks to be a key trend for the near future.

Consumers today are concerned about surviving a range of different ‘onslaughts’ today: the financial crisis, effects of global warming, 2012, global illness, daily stress or extreme weather. They are increasingly drawn to products and services they believe will protect them – or that evoke protection

But the trend is a step forward from previous Fear-based trends. It is an active trend. Consumers today have lost faith in the ability of the establishment or technology to protect them. Trust levels for governments and brands alike are at an all time low. Today individuals know they need to protect themselves.
The Protect & Survive* trend is about being strong, taking back control, making do with what you have around you, and bonding with family, friends and neighbours over common threats.

This socio-economic consumer trend is manifesting itself in several different style trends.
* Protect & Survive was a series of information films produced by the British government in the early 1980s to help Britons survive a potential nuclear war

Unsurprisingly, one style manifestation is the classic fear-related trend for military uniforms. There have been several Military-themed collections recently, from Aquascutum and Moncler (SS 2010) to Burberry Prorsum and Reinaldo Lourenco (FW 2010).

The stoicism of the 1940s is proving a key consumer trend, from Interiors to Finance. Military styles are therefore inspired more by WW2 than the Napoleonic Wars. And when the latter is evoked, it is typically distressed or layered with less glamorous fabrics (e.g. Dolce & Gabbana SS 2010).

It is not just the protective aspect of Military styles that appeals. As post-Recession consumers decide they need to be more disciplined in their spending, the discipline of the Army becomes more appealing. Military discipline is already inspiring fashion shoots (e.g. the ‘Boot Camp’ spread in the new issue of France’s ‘L’Equipe Sport & Style’).

But it is not just about Military styles. Strong Individuals is another big part of the Protect & Survive trend. As manifested in Womenswear, it also reflects the greater influence that women are having as wage earners and household budgeters in the current economic downturn.

The strong Bond Heroine trend is a key inspiration for swimwear this summer: sleek, strong one-piece swimsuits, as seen in collections by Gucci, Julien Macdonald, Alexander McQueen and Proenza Schouler. It is also inspiring a return to bodysuits. There also appears to be a growing trend for Tomboys (e.g. Alexander Wang’s SS 2010 American Football look).

In this atmosphere, strong, ‘masculine’ women such as Annie Lennox or Sinead O’Connor may re-appear as icons.

Another ‘strong woman’ trend – Warrior Queen – combines ancient and modern. Goddess dresses (perhaps inspired by forthcoming ‘Clash Of The Titans’ movie remake) meets post-Apocalypse (think Tina Turner in ‘Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome’).

It ties in with the Steam Punk trend, which adds a touch of both 1940s and 1880s to the post-Apocalyptic look. This trend is being encouraged by a growing female interest in comic and gaming heroines, many of whom sport the look: from Tank Girl and Lara Croft to current favourite Bayonetta.

The post-Apocalypse theme is a big part of the Protect & Survive trend. Global politics and global warming are making the possibility of apocalypse appear more real. And the book and movie versions of ‘The Road’ are having an emotional impact too.

For fashion, this means blankets, distressed jackets and rugged boots, plus masks and protective scarves (e.g. Alexander McQueen FW 2010). These are part of a Covered-up Clothing trend that includes over-the-knee boots, capes and cloaks. There is a rough hewn, ‘make do and mend’ feel to it too. Patched jeans, for instance, have re-appeared at Lagerfeld, Balmain, Chanel and H&M.

The extreme weather conditions that many across the globe have been experiencing, has made such fashions of greater practical use.The Recession is also making consumers feel a greater affinity with the blanket-life of the Homeless.

There is a ‘band of outlaws’ feel to several collections. The idea of keeping together for protection echoes the greater communality consumers are seeking (as evidenced by the growth of social networking). Again, this references post-Apocalyptic culture from ‘Mad Max The Road Warrior’ to ‘The Road’ and ‘Children Of Men’. Drome magazine’s new issue is dedicated to ‘Outlaws’.

In films, such gangs are necessary to defend neighbourhoods against predators. And as the Vampire trend starts to plateau, its darker undead cousin the Zombie trend looks set to become the new predatory threat. It can be seen in the popularity of films like ‘Zombieland’ and video games like ‘Left 4 Dead’. And in fashion such as in Herchcovitch WS 2011 menswear show: skull faces and a doomy Cure soundtrack.

As the year progresses, the local elements of the Outlaw Community trend may develop. We are already starting to see it happen in non-fashion sectors, as consumers increasingly focus on their own neighbourhoods, prizing local produce and ‘old fashioned’ community events.

Military and Outlaw trends may combine for a national militia or National Costume trend in FW 2010, especially around Central / Eastern Europe (e.g. Giorgio Armani’s WW2 Resistance look or Alexander Herchcovitch’s Gypsy collection).

The trend may also morph into a Tribal Community look (e.g. Julian Louie SS 2010) as the influence of ‘Avatar’ spreads.
Other forms of ‘local’ defence may grow. Learning to defend yourself (e.g. boxers in Jean Paul Gaultier FW 2010) is one. Another is to get a gang together to protect your ‘turf’: a trend seen in several FW 2010 collections: Dolce & Gabbana’s Sicilian gangs, Bottega Veneta’s Teddy Boys or Ann Demeulemeester’s Dickensian gangs (part of what appears to be a growing trend towards Victoriana). These trends echo general and specific trends, as both communality, and boxing and gang membership, grow.

We may also see a more futuristic version of the survival trend. There is already some evidence in FW 2010 collections, such as rubber and patent leather head, arm and leg protectors, as consumers begin to look again for technology to help them survive.

About William Higham

Higham runs future trends and consumer research consultancy The Next Big Thing. He studies and predicts consumer change patterns and locates new consumer markets. Blue chip clients range across finance (HSBC to Nat West), entertainment (BBC to Universal Music), technology (AOL to Siemens), media (Hachette to News international), food (Aga to Budweiser) and advertising (Ogilvy to WPP).

In the 1990s, Higham worked in the Entertainment industry (co-ordinating marketing and communications campaigns at Sony and Universal). He has been a trend forecaster for 10 years. Frequently quoted in the media and a popular conference speaker, he is also the author of The Next Big Thing: Spotting & Forecasting Consumer Trends for Profit (Kogan Page, 2010)