With pastel colours, childlike shapes and references to cartoons from the 90s or funny internet memes, fashion has recently been inviting us to return to childhood. It’s a fun, nostalgic fountain of youth, but one undercut with a bit of irony.
For the youngest, it’s above all a response to a difficult context, a kind of poetry of despair. But it’s also a way for them to affirm their identity.
Last spring it was Super Mario, the iconic plumber from the Nintendo video games. He was a screen star, pulling in children and adults to movie theatres (nostalgic 40-something gamers made up most of the audience). This summer another children’s idol will take over the visual landscape. How can we ignore the return of Barbie, revised and corrected by the very hip filmmaker Greta Gerwig and starring actress Margot Robbie? With pink aplenty and kitsch galore, going back in time is going to be unavoidable. In addition, the fashion world is also celebrating a form of aesthetic regression made of soft, sugary colours (especially pastels), kawaii images, puffed sleeves and baby doll dresses … in short, everything you need to regress with a clear conscience!
Designers haven’t held back: Avnier gives us T shirts that pay homage to the 1990’s Japanese cartoon “High School! Kimengumi”. Elise Chalmin stays true to herself with fun colours and necklaces with smiley faces. American Vintage opts for fruit prints. Maison Kitsuné‘s fox, restyled to be more cartoon-like, is printed on an entire accessories line. At Sézane, the dresses have ice skater style. And Manoush‘s latest collection makes a clear statement with inspiration from Laura Ingalls, the “Little House on the Prairie” heroine. It’s the ultimate in childish freshness.
But this is also the sign of wanting to take a small sidestep and abandon current standards and rules. NellyRodi trends director Vincent Grégoire sums it up perfectly: “Right now fashion is a bit two faced with two moods.” On one hand there’s quiet luxury with a return to the classics and a reverence for low-key chic. The other very strong trend is driven by Generation Z, who wants to go back to their childhood, play with the codes, satisfy nostalgic inclinations and dive into a cuteness that sometimes borders on bizarre. In any case, there’s a certain strangeness. In this vein we can think about the designer Jeremy Scott, who was always keen on this creative discrepancy. For example, how can we forget his 2014 fall-winter Moschino collection dedicated entirely to SpongeBob? There’s also JW Anderson at Loewe. For several seasons he’s built a world that’s as surreal as it is poetic. Then there’s Daniel Roseberry, who rebooted Schiaparelli by also committing to that same vision.
All of this is happening at a time when we’re fully exploring the power of digital images created by artificial intelligence and everything that supposedly entails: unlimited creativity, broader outlooks on what’s possible and an explosion of colours. What if this “cool kid” trend, a product of internet culture and the latest pop culture references, was the perfect uniform to deal with an AI era? It’s childlike fashion, to be approached like a game.
Vincent Grégoire, Consumer Trends and Insights Director with the NellyRodi consulting agency, shares his thoughts.
“This cute/weird trend, championed by Gen Z, touches both the fashion and home decor sectors. It’s often crazy, surreal and sometimes ‘cringey’, to use an Anglo-Saxon term. In a way, it’s the next step after internet’s lolcats. For the youngest, it’s above all a response to a difficult context, a kind of poetry of despair. But it’s also a way for them to affirm their identity. Since it’s heavily based on cultural references and tied to phenomena that come from social media, it’s inaccessible to older people.”