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Radical Neutrality: Curating With Confidence

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I deactivated my Facebook profile the other day. I find it difficult to explain my exact motivation but I had an uncomfortable sense that they were suddenly getting more out of the arrangement than I was. I guess it was a kind of passive aggressive reaction to the increasing invasion of my privacy coupled with a desire to switch off. That said I do like to think those weight loss and anti-aging adverts and the pop princess product endorsements were never based on any data they actually gleaned from my account. Were they?

Interestingly enough I still use both Twitter and Instagram but what differentiates those in my rationale, is that they are a tightly edited, and therefore highly efficient, approach to social networking.

I am not alone in this desire to switch off; in fact as I'm writing I've looked into the archive back to August 2010 and our WGSN Think Tank predictions for 2012 where senior editor, Ruth Marshall-Johnson had written that "social media is lightening up. It's essential that you're involved in a social space but quality over quantity will be important". So it seems I am nothing if not predictable. Ruth also writes about "...scaling down products where possible; but it is a refining process, not a dumbing down." This is really one of the underlying principles behind our WGSN Radical Neutrality macro trend for next autumn/winter as we look at how minimalism and moderation provide relief from fast-changing fashion trends. As consumers are facing the contradictory forces of a depressed economy and overload of product choice they are likely to look to justifiable purchases which are presented in an easy to read format.

As retail analysts we've been tracking the success of editing initiatives such as Topshop's shop-in-shop Edit (for those who can't cope with the full Oxford Circus flagship within their alloted lunch break) or Topman's curated General Store in Shoreditch (because men are the undisputed kings of edited shopping). Then there's the emergence of subscription-based retailers such as Stylist Pick, which is pretty self explanatory. We're also looking at the importance of searchandising, where online stores present you with carefully merchandised search results which are both appealing and relevant. Or on the flip side we're seeing an emergence of consumer-editing sites such as pinterest, Lookk or Lyst. So you can see Ruth's comments on products which help to refine were really incredibly accurate.

As the editor of What's in Store it's the changes to store interiors which have really interested me. There is a perceptible shift not just in the design and layout, but in the overall ambience of a new breed of stores. Gone are the densely packed rails, shiny floors, bright lights, and high energy music, and in their place are quieter surfaces in natural materials, neutral colours, soft lighting, and even a return to carpet - which suddenly feels very luxurious. Fixtures and rails give the clothes room to breathe. Take a look at some of the new shop fits from the likes of Esprit, Zara, John Lewis and Monsoon in Stratford's Westfield centre for great examples of this. These are not the environments where snap decisions are made, but somewhere to contemplate, stop a while and smell the roses. After years of high intensity fast fashion shopping this new breed of high street stores really are radical in their neutrality.

This is all well and good for the chain stores but as Mary Portas is at pains to point out, our UK indie stores are facing the kind of adversity which can't be swept under a new carpet. However the consumer desire for edited product really does play into their hands. Independent boutiques have always had to do a quality edit, they have always had to look for product with a point of difference and they've always had to provide bespoke service to help their customers with their purchasing decisions. When it comes to refining product choices indies need to have confidence in their skills as analogue searchandisers and really drive that message home to their customers, probably via Facebook.