Why Retro Won’t Go Away!
More than any design movement, retro ‘50s and ‘60s keep trying to come back. Why is that and is it welcomed… and by whom? The ‘80s tried to come back last year with plaid, pegged pants for men and that didn’t go very far. Occasionally, “flared” pants, better known as bellbottoms hits store ads but kids think they’re creepy and those who wore them learned their lesson several decades ago and won’t touch them. Skinny lapels and ties and shorter suit jackets are back for next season and “Mad Men” will be buying them for the office without any hesitation. I’m glad I saved my skinny punk ties from the ‘80s… although satin and leather ties won’t fit in. DAMN!
Why Do People Love Retro?
Some think it’s the popularity of the Mad Men series and the good ol’ days of 9-5 business hours, three martini-lunches, slapping a female secretary on the rear and no such thing as human resources, equal rights and the shock of Captain Kirk kissing Uhura on primetime TV.
Sure, the clothes and furniture were quite snappy! The designs took imagination into the far-flung future of the 1980s where everyone had jetpacks and personal robots. While that didn’t happen, antique retro furniture is in high demand and retailers like Fab.com offer updated retro designs for top dollar (with an occasional good sale).
“Acid art” from artists like Peter Max (who is listed as one of the most influential artists of the 20th and 21st century) was “trippy” and stores still sell blacklight bulbs and posters. Andy Warhol Campbell’s soup can prints are still a bloody fortune and Easy Rider posters fly off the shelves.. of internet poster sellers, of course.
When trying to figure out the market, the main factor is the consumer-base. The baby boomer generation is still driving the market as they span most of the disposable-cash buyers (baby boomers were born from 1946-1964, far outweighing Generation X, Generation Y and whatever the current generation has been labeled). They not only hold fond memories of retro design, they have influenced their children with a familiarity of the design of that time and that familiarity brings warm emotional feelings people seek for their surroundings.
It Wasn’t One Big Party!
Despite the fun aspect of those decades, they were frightening times for most. The Korean War was the first conflict the United States didn’t win and although the Vietnam War was labeled a draw through the Paris Peace Accord, it was a brutal loss and a war that divided America. It was a time of heavy changes, free love, long hair, Woodstock, drug use, riots, civil rights struggles the loss of two Kennedys, King and Malcolm X, it’s odd that anyone could look back with a warm feeling. It was, no doubt, those things that surrounded us with immediacy and intimacy. Our furniture, clothes, toys and TV shows are what we choose to remember, leaving the rest to history, never to return.
Still, it’s important to understand your target audience and retro design will be around for many years to come. Perhaps, as that time goes on, it will be due to the perception of those times as the younger generation sees clips of Woodstock or 1960s performances of the Rolling Stones when they were only in their forties. The best way to understand is by asking those that lived those wild days – grandma and grandpa.
Yes, dear old Mee-ma and Boom-pa may seem to be gentle, quiet old folks who rush home from dinner to catch Matlock reruns at 4:00 pm but the truth is, they need their afternoon fix of marijuana. Next time you’re over at their house for Thanksgiving, look around and you’ll find their bong. Chances are Mee-ma has put her knitting needles in the stem to camouflage the smoking device.
While enjoying the traditional holiday meal that your grandparents tried so hard to protest while handing out flyers for the communist party, ask them some questions about their youth and how they felt about that magical time when they ate magic mushrooms like they were a large order of popcorn at the movies.
Do Your Research!
Here are some helpful questions to get you started on the right track for understanding the demographics:
“Did you go to Woodstock? How much acid did you drop and how much weed did you smoke in terms of poundage?”
“Did you swim nude in the pond?”
“How many ‘pigs’ did you ‘off’ between 1965 and 1970?”
“Did you go by nicknames like ‘Starchild’ or ‘Moonbeam’ and did you have your names legally changed? What did they almost name your mom or dad?”
If Grandpa served in Vietnam, ask grandma how she feels about him “nailing” prostitutes and how many did he have sex with?
Ask grandpa how many “confirmed kills” he had and did he save any human ears?
If grandpa didn’t serve in the military at all, ask him if he went to airports to spit on soldiers returning from Vietnam and call them “baby-killers” and if so, why does he have a “support the troops” sticker on his fuel-guzzling caddy?
Did grandpa burn his draft card?
Did Grandma burn her bra?
When did they give up their dream of living on a commune and become “establishment?”
Test the Boundaries of Consumer Commitment
Just for fun, to see your grandparents’ reaction to controversial beliefs about the ‘60s, make the following assertions completely out of context of any conversation:
“Thank goodness someone put an end to that commie-hippy, John Lennon!”
“This election is getting really disappointing. Where’s a Nixon or LBJ when you need them?!”
“I was having a business meeting with a representative from a firm based in Vietnam and he looks like he could be dad’s twin!”
Cap off the evening by asking if they can give you one good reason to not smoke pot, then laugh at their reasons and say, “no, really. Any good reasons?”
The answers will give you a better understanding of your grandparents or you will never have another family dinner again. Either way, it’s a win-win situation!
Seriously, retro is a fun design challenge and will please consumers. It can be updated with a bit of “grunge.” Just remember that one day you may have to ask your parents about their punk rock days and what the hell they saw in the music of the Sex Pistols and if mom ever “made out” with one of the Ramones?
Unfortunately, no one gets a free ride and you will have to explain to your grandchildren about your Nsync tattoo, grandma’s “tramp stamp” or who (or what) was “Lady Gaga.” Start thinking about the answers now because they will be hard to explain.