What’s all this then? Thanks to new technologies, we may soon be able to unlock the inner workings of our minds, and capitalise on our subconscious. We’re arriving at a new horizon, one that lights up the dimly-lit corners of our brains. And this will mean that cognitive liberty, ie the freedom to control our own thoughts, is set to become one of the most important topics of the next decade.

Sounds dystopian. That’s only because it is. 

Not sure if I like the sound of that. Big Tech doesn’t care. This is the final frontier for brands to stake a claim on. Did you know Apple quietly filed a patent for AirPods that monitor and track biosignals and brain activity last summer and start-up NextSense aims to sell earbuds that can collect heaps of neural data — and uncover the mysteries of grey matter for health benefits. Writing about Apple’s patent, tech expert Gautam Hazari described it as a big step in the so-called ‘Internet of Thoughts’, explaining: “The bio-sensing electrodes as on-ear EEG sensors built into the AirPods fit the generic, multipurpose device, opens the door for the IoTh to become a mainstream reality…”

But does anyone really care outside of Silicon Valley? Funny you should say that. You might have noticed that Ariana Grande’s new album and music video riffs off of the cult movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – a movie about memory-hacking 20 years almost to the day after it first hit cinemas. And while brain-hacking, and memory-altering tech has often been part of our creative inspiration, the key difference now is that this technology may well have caught up with our imaginations.

That’s pretty meta. So I’ll be able to erase memories of my ex? Not exactly. But we could, for example, be able to induce lucid dreams. One product in development is The Halo, an AI headband that will use a combination of ultrasound and machine learning models to allow users to control their own dreams. “Together we will pursue the answers to life’s biggest questions,” it teases. If we can hack our subconscious, we could access a whole new level of human understanding. Already the practice of using lucid dreaming as therapy is becoming more accepted, with more patients open to learning how to disrupt their dreams to process debilitating symptoms.

What’s the down side? Well, this scenario pretty much is an advertiser’s dream (pun intended). Think of all that untapped real estate in your brain. Forget DTC – we’d be going DTS (direct-to-source). In fact, A24’s recent movie Dream Scenario shows us a world where this can happen. And you can imagine how that pans out. Not to mention the implications for productivity – why rest when you can be on 24/7, conscious or not? – and our ability to exercise autonomy over our own thoughts. 

Seems like a dodgy threshold to be crossing. It’s a double-edged sword, a Faustian dilemma of the modern world: would you trade understanding – and access to a higher level of consciousness – for your own cognitive liberty? 

TL;DR: Brands and Big Tech are starting to reckon with the potential of our subconscious and our dreams in a way that might be equal parts enlightening and sinister, and we’re seeing these ideas trickle down into mainstream culture. Sweet dreams™. 

What’s all this then? We’ve had #GutTok (over 800 million views) and posting a stool sample to a nutrition app for analysis. Now comes the next big branding of bodily functions: the drive to tap menstrual blood as a valuable health resource. 

Has ‘period positivity’ come this far? Yes. Content creator wild.witchy.woman (26.9 followers on TikTok) is among the advocates for actually drinking menses for optimum well-being… Meanwhile, healthcare start-ups are capitalising on this with research into the medical value of menstrual effluence (which contains blood, vaginal secretions, cervical mucus, and endometrial cells), and demonstrating its value to a consumer.

Tell us more… Theblood (www.theblood.io) offer a kit that will give insights into individual menstrual cycles from a sample, and can be studied for conditions such as endometriosis. Founders Isabelle Guenou and Miriam Santer believe: “Menstruation can be the answer to problems and pain”. Meanwhile, Qvin™  has designed the Q-Pad (qvin.com) for the supply of a sample of menstrual blood that can be then tested for critical health information like biomarkers for diabetes. 

So why is this ‘waste’ product being re-valued now? It’s time to take the female body seriously – all of it and especially the bits greeted with disgust. Healthcare services are being called out for failing to do so; from ‘medical gaslighting’ to blaming terminology (eg, ‘geriatric mother’; ‘hostile uterus’) and the so-called Gender Data Gap where treatments efficacy may only have been tested on male bodies. 

It’s a long way from hiding tampons up sleeves… Absolutely. To have the option of giving a blood sample that is not only for research into overlooked health issues, but taken from a bodily process often treated with unease by medical professionals (or much worse) is empowering. As one of the participants in a Qvin™ study to assess if menstrual blood can be used to screen for cervical cancer put it: “For me, it’s just a win overall if this becomes a product because it will reduce my anxiety and will give me more control over what’s going on with the testing.”

And let’s not underestimate how this research is needed: Note, in a recent review of scientific papers, Leah Hazard finds that there are about four hundred studies on menstrual effluent compared with more than fifteen thousand for semen or sperm (Womb, published 2023).

Where else is this health empowerment happening? Plugging the data gap on hormones, individuals track their cycles – to then sync to exercise, diet, skincare, mood or productivity (and yes, bypass a visit to the docs altogether and download one of the many apps to get personalised insights). There’s more and more options like this for people to choose – and therefore control – the process of tracking their health themselves. 

TL;DR: While looking at periods with wonder may have happened because people feel let down by traditional medicine, it has forced new insights, research and empowered attitudes to health. So the opposite of waste – thankfully. 

What’s all this then? People, we don’t have to take a clean, pristine and pure approach to life — dirt, grime, mess, and mud are being accepted as a new (likely to be rusty) gold standard.

Phew! No more wipeable sofa cushions! So where are messy aesthetics being celebrated? They’ve moved on from just a social media-fueled shock tactic as people have grown desensitised to yuckiness. Now mess and dirt are making an impact by appearing in everyday, big ticket pleasures. 

Tell me more… There’s a lot of mud being thrown in high fashion — think Elena Velez models and mud wrestles on the runway, or Kylie Jenner’s recent Acne Studios campaign clothed in thousand dollar garments and splatters of mud. We’ve also seen the return of the moto and rain boot, and also niche creations like Crocs’ new Shrek-themed shoes (“get out of my swamp!”-core).

How else is messy realities making an impact? Meanwhile, on social media you’ve probably noticed the dirty/messy trend. Think: glass tubs filled with paint being rolled down stairs for ASMR videos, or wine bottles being thrown into walls. And if you can bear to watch it, there’s the ‘is it cake’ trend’s viral older sister — the zit popping cake and the bloody cake smash trend.

Ok, give me the dirt on dirt – what’s really going on here? It’s way more than just surface level spillage. It’s a manifestation of our collective desire to embrace imperfections and chaos in an overly curated world. It’s how Kylie appears with a dirty double of herself in the Acne Studios advert, signalling that this aesthetic is an acknowledgement that we all – yes, even the supremely manufactured Kardashians – have a good and messy side…

So no more clean fun? The world is literally boiling and the clean movement just didn’t seem to capture the overall dirtiness of how people have been feeling. We’re living with dirty realities all around us, and there’s a collective sigh of relief in being honest about it.

TL;DR: As the earth boils and the ground muddifies, everyone and everything is welcome in this swamp! 

Crowd Shortcuts – a quick chat about something that’s caught our attention. This week, how the fashion for clothes that shroud or reshape give confidence to take up space in the world…

What’s all this then? This summer, Kanye West took girlfriend Bianca Censori to church, with her concealed by a cushioned wall encircling her neck and black fabric that stretched all the way over her head and torso with no arm holes or sleeves. Also seeking clothing for concealment at a blockbuster premiere, actress Hayley Atwell hid half her body in oversized-plus trousers by Ashi Studio – opting out of the red carpet norm for female actors. Meanwhile weeks earlier, at London’s fashion week, models had their necks and ankles covered up by super voluminous ruffles, and wore big brooches that were more armour than accessory.

Finally, a stylish alternative to the kaftan! Yes, these clothes look pretty darn cool. But more than that – and yes, even more importantly – these cover-ups will administer safety. They are clothes that give anonymity, or they rebuff the male gaze, or literally allow the wearer to take up more space – actions desired by celebs and people in everyday life alike. 

A cover-up? Sounds like the opposite of the bodycon trend… Not at all, and that’s what makes this so exciting. The original bodycon clothing equalled women being tightly stitched into their dress to experience the suffocating grip of passing as skinny and hot. But these clothes are still look-at-me fashion like the bodycon dresses that clung to every line of the figure. Yet it’s moved on to reflect our current needs: clothes that provide service to the wearer (safety, or space) as well as body confidence that is no longer predicated on binaries like fat or thin, small or large. 

Stylish clothes serving up body confidence for more of us? We like… And there’s more. Let’s look at how pop star Sam Smith doesn’t let their gender identity be reduced to choice of clothing by embracing this new bodycon trend. At the Brit music awards earlier this year, their outfit by HARRI featured a high neck, inflated arms and legs and a zip-up design over the chest – mocking the traditional concepts of couture that flaunt the perfect shape of the body. Embracing sculptural clothes was a way for them to comprehensively present their identity as not narrowly defined, as fluid, as a new shape entirely.

Body and soul confidence, then… and clothes helping us to have the space for that exploration is quite a cultural moment. Holding space and…

… literally giving space… You’ve got it. In our post-pandemic world it is also quite handy to have a large floral accessory that both serves looking stylish and makes people stand some distance from you. 

TL;DR: What to wear has always been a dance between personal expression and the need to pass in the world at large. This new body-con enables both: to be confident about your expression of self in clothes, and feel safe doing so. It takes the body-conditioning – that we all need to look a certain way – out of body-con. And that’s true body confidence for all.

Crowd Shortcuts – a quick chat about something that’s caught our attention. This week, how local neighbourhood stores are selling luxury convenience…

What’s all this then? An everyday visit to the local convenience store is turning into a luxury browsing opportunity. You may have heard of the lipstick index: it’s a way to spot a recession by lipstick sales going up as people turn to purchasing treats within their budget. Now look instead to the ‘local store index’, because this is the new place for cash-strapped consumers to find affordable luxuries.

Luxury among the cans of baked beans? Tell me more… The neighbourhood shop has undergone a glow-up. We see this in the bodegas of New York city making space for guest-curated snack boxes, craft beers and fancy, localised gifts.

Now you mention it, I have noticed expensive olive oil and kombucha on tap… Bingo!

So will we be ditching mega supermarkets? They’ve jumped on the local luxe movement, too. In the UK, supermarket giant Asda launched On The Move convenience stores last year – promising “a wide range of premium ‘Extra Special’ products” – while Aldi’s Corner Store in Sydney does a fast turnover in treat lunches: fresh sushi and artisan baked goods. Meanwhile, luxury convenience stores in South Korea have overtaken Japan in scale, and doing so with a focus on “developing unique products” (McKinsey, 2023).

Isn’t the economy amazing! Sure is. But local luxe is not just being driven by the economy. It reflects changing consumer values – as we see in how 7-Eleven (the largest convenience store chain in the US) is installing new charging stations for electric vehicles in its local branches, hoping to attract the environmentally-minded customer.

And the cherry on the luxe cake… here’s the even better sell: it takes us full circle back to a time when we’d go to the local baker, butcher and candlestick maker. Now the corner shop is getting the good stuff on the shelves – and not just essentials, which it always has done – it offers the kudos of a local market, of knowing what their customer really wants, of generating word of mouth recommendations.

Will this change the aspirations of product makers? They may move away from wanting to sell in enormous bulk to supermarkets and want to talk to local shop owners (even if it means lower profit margins) instead. Or brands may get better quality awareness from a local, trusted supplier.

Blimey. And the local store index? In a tougher economic landscape, few would argue with the sense in turning to the small treats to sustain us rather than emptying our bank accounts with bigger ticket items. Some may even claim their local artisan bread habit as an act of anti-globalisation… 

TL;DR: Local, luxury, convenient and conscious consumption – now that’s a shopping style that should outlast the cost-of-living crisis.

Crowd Shortcuts – a quick chat about something that’s caught our attention. This week, how men’s bracelets have become the ultimate social signifier…

What’s all this then? Charmed, beaded, woven… the humble bracelet has become the latest menswear trend catapulted into the limelight. From A-listers to activists, stacks of bracelets strung around wrists have become a new, subtle social signifier for men with something to say.

A few beads can’t really say that much, can they? Turns out they can, actually. For men of a certain status, wearing a well chosen bracelet is a way of campaigning without overtly campaigning. 

I don’t buy it. Surely nobody that important is wearing one? Two words: King Charles.

The King Of England? Wearing a bracelet? Yep. The first portrait since the start of his reign was released ahead of this month’s coronation. The painting depicts the King in his signature look – pinstripe suit, pocket square, smize – all pretty normal. But a closer look reveals a black braided bracelet with a gold trim and red beads, positioned just below the King’s watch. This bracelet was presented to him by Domingo Peas, the leader of the Ecuadorian Amazon’s Achuar community, during a meeting to discuss the implementation of global biodiversity plans. The artist included the bracelet to symbolise the King’s commitment to climate change and sustainability.

So this isn’t just men wearing old festival wristbands? No, this is much more intentional. Unlike festival wristbands that are usually forgotten and left on for the entire summer, the bro-celet is a carefully considered accessory – often with a heavy subtext. For Charles, the inclusion is a subtle nod to his positioning as an environmentalist King. 

Clever! These are very carefully planned. Men are purchasing them from designer boutiques and incorporating them into their daily wardrobes. Work, gym, pub; the bro-celet is a constant companion, favoured by both bankers in boardrooms and tech bros in Silicon Valley who wear them as a savvy power move, often paired down with an Apple watch.

And what about those A-listers you mentioned? Bro-celets have appeared on the wrists of some big names, like David Beckham, Harry Styles, Timothée Chalamet and Brad Pitt. It’s a subtle way to show some rebellion, and can easily be hidden under a sleeve when needed. Plus, many of these bracelets have a charitable connection, which is a nice bonus for those who want to avoid getting too political about capitalism and what not.

I was planning on wearing a tuxedo today, can I still ‘bro-celet’? Go for it! While some may assume a casual bracelet wouldn’t go with a formal suit, like the one worn by King Charles, the mix of high and low is all part of the charm.

TL;DR: Want to tell the world how much you care about [insert charitable cause], but are too busy getting ahead? Throw on a bro-celet and let your accessory of choice do the talking for you. 

Crowd Shortcuts – a quick chat about something that’s caught our attention. This week, we're asking when did being ‘basic’ become something to shout about?

What’s all this then? Being ‘basic’ is shedding its shameful connotations and turning into something to be celebrated. In other words: lame is the name of 2023’s game

Catchy! But isn’t being ‘basic’ an insult? Well, it simply means enjoying things that are mainstream. It’s shorthand for an individual’s inability to tap into nicher, unconventional and eclectic themes that are considered more interesting. What we’re seeing now is people owning their ‘basic’ preferences. Enjoying cringy, mainstream things is their thing, and they’re not afraid to shout about it.  

That’s nice. Why do you think that is? After so much of the 2020s being about the development of niche aesthetics and an urgency to stand out, people are more or less ready to fit in. The pressure to be unique is giving way to the joy of collective appreciation. 

Phew, sounds like a lot less effort. Where can I see this in action? If you’ve been on any social platforms recently, you’ll have seen the ticket craze surrounding Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour. Videos of hysterical fans went viral as they displayed intense reactions to getting (or not getting) absurdly expensive concert tickets to a very popular, very mainstream artist. Their public outpourings had zero shame. 

Those Swifties! Where else is ‘basicness’ shining through? Pinterest’s 2023 trend report predicts ‘romcom core’ – people shamelessly dressing up as their favourite early Y2K romcom characters – as the aesthetic to watch (surprise, surprise: romcoms represent a more mainstream side of entertainment). In a similar light, recent hit shows like The White Lotus have people hunting on Google for the theoretical price of a White Lotus hotel stay, or step-by-step makeup tips from Jennifer Coolidge. 

Halloween 2023 is gonna be a big one. All this chat is making me hungry… bingo! Brunches are back. The more ‘basic’ the better (bottomless, anyone?). And, while it would’ve been semi-ghastly to post a food pic in the past, shameless basicness encourages those “no-one-eats-until-I-get-the-insta-worthy-shot” moments.

So does all this mean I can enjoy my pumpkin spice latte in public? Yes! When the time comes, enjoy your seasonal drink with zero hesitation. You may run into long lines of other like-minded pumpkin spice lovers, but there’s no time like the present to partake in the lamestream.

TL;DR: People are shunning social media’s ever-fracturing aesthetics in favour of simpler, mainstream joys. Take those UGGs out of storage and wear them without fear of public humiliation – you will be the trendiest person everywhere you go.

Crowd Shortcuts: Teddy bears

Crowd Shortcuts – a quick chat about something that’s caught our attention at Crowd. This week, teddy bears for grown-ups

What’s all this then? On the top of a cupboard, carefully stored away – maybe gifted on to a child – but adults don’t usually display their teddy bears. Until lately, that is. We’ve seen it from music’s most stylish Drake showing that he “only love my bed and my momma (oh, and my teddy bear)…” and Harry Style’s collaboration with Gucci featuring pouting pink bears. Plus there’s the ubiquitous teddy coats on the high street, the spike in TikTok searches for cockapoo#teddy#bear, and Thom Browne showing his A/W 2022 collection in front of an audience of 500 stuffed bears. 

Surely it’s all harmless though? Yes, if it’s for the Lidl 2022 Christmas campaign. But it’s not without risk. As Balenciaga catastrophically found out, there’s a problem with adults co-opting toys: they had to pull their Christmas 2022 campaign featuring teddy bears trussed up in bondage attire being modelled by children.

Ah. Let’s stay with bondage for a moment? No.

But is the teddy bear craze about security? Yes, of course being wrapped in a full length fleece is cosy. As is cuddling up to a soft toy or softy tufty doggy. And sitting next to a childhood toy rather than Anna Wintour on the front row is probably preferable if you are of a nervous disposition. But to be serious for a moment, it’s no surprise that the teddy bear is one of the items the Red Cross pack in their disaster kit.

So why are adult toys so popular now? As an item that can take us back to our childhood, evoking those secure memories, the teddy bear is standalone in its power. Adults are seeking out this comforter as part of a wider trend shift to calmness and serenity – as we also see in 2023 colour of the year, Digital Lavender. A teddy bear is a transitional object needed at a time when the Emoji of 2022 is the face holding back tears and the Collins Dictionary named ‘Permacrisis’ as Word of the Year 2022.

OK, now I need my teddy… It’s fine, go for it. And remember that cockapoos are hypo-allergenic, so that’s another bonus.

TL;DR: There’s no shame in needing a cuddle whether as an adult or a child, and if that means reaching for a teddy bear, then at least now you can tell the haters that it’s a fashion statement.