Balancing Shifting Trends with Sustainability

Right now, we appear to be looking squarely into a transitional moment. We’re witnessing a shift in tastes from minimalist simplicity towards layered maximalism in interiors, from closer fitting and shorter cuts to longer and fuller silhouettes in clothing. 

As we observe the melting from the spirit of one age into the next, it’s always fun to wonder which forces are at play turning the wheel of change. Musing on this with a friend recently, we got to talking about the Hemline Index (the what? Quick and dirty summary below if you haven’t heard of it). And a question arose.

Could being mindful about what drives trends help us approach design decisions with more than just fashion in mind?

What is the Hemline Index?

The hemline index is less a fully-formed theory, and more an idea. Developed from observations made by post-war economist George Taylor, the model is simple: length of skirt hems correlates inversely to the health of the economy. Times are booming? Here come the mini-skirts. Heading for an economic depression? Expect a literal – fabric – downturn (after a lag, anyway). Okay, so the idea might sound outdated, especially in an age where individual expression reigns above a collective fashion uniform. And yet a tonne of research has been undertaken on the subject. The internet’s packed with hemline index articles. Many a pub chat over the last century has revolved around the subject. While empirically, researchers have pretty much debunked the idea, something about it must ring true. And maybe that’s just the old adage: the grass looking greener on the other side. In terms of clothing, maybe that translates to us hankering after yardage of expensive fabric for longer lengths when times are tight. 

What About Interior and Architectural Design Trends?

If we extend the hemline logic to interiors, tough times might herald trends towards richer visual texture: pattern, textile layering, sumptuous fabrics. Hello maximalism.

Annabel's, designed by Martin Brudnizki Interiors. Photo by James McDonald.

Naumi Studio Hotel, Wellington. Photo by Naumi Hotels

On the flip side, in times of plenty, minimalism and simplicity appeal like palate cleansers to excess and overproduction.

Nobu Hotel London. Photo by Nobu Hotels
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The truth is that lots of factors create the zeitgeist, and the trends that reflect it. Economic health is tangled together with cultural and political conditions of the time. But there are unrelated factors and influences too.

Covid and Maximalism 

Considering interiors for a moment. Check Google Trends terms for “maximalism” and you’ll see interest’s been on the up since mid-2020.

Naumi Hotel Wellington. Photo by Naumi Hotels

Post Covid economic turbulence had not yet fully kicked in by summer 2020, but the effects of the pandemic’s lockdown boredom definitely had. Most people were sick of the sight of those same four walls. Plus, many people had more time on their hands than usual to do something about it.

Urban Living and Biophilia 

Beyond money and pandemics, the appeal of what is scarce can also be seen in the ever strengthening popularity of biophilic design. Features like living green walls, interior courtyards, even the booming houseplant market reflect a yearning for nature of an increasingly urban living population.

A photograph of a dining table filled with shrubbery and candles
NoMad London designed by Roman and Williams
Shangri La Hotel Singapore designed by Bond Design Studio

A New New

So, we crave novelty, change, the greener pastures of the other side. When this impulse combines with fast-paced, resource-intensive consumerism, the “out with the old, in with the new” approach lands us with waste and environmental damage. We’ve arrived at a place where what we need and want is development, and real progress. Not the endlessly swinging pendulum from one end of the design spectrum to the other.

So, our dilemma? Resolving the human impulse towards newness and change with preservation, care and sustainability. 

Perhaps awareness of the forces acting upon us is the first step.

By Rosa Holden

Main image: Parkroyal Hotel Singapore designed by Woha Design