What’s Hot Now: the Four Cs

Nov 01, 2004 10:30 PM  By

The primary question for today’s merchant is how to create a distinct style that will define who you are. In other words, if you want to be a successful cataloger, you have to be specific in identifying your brand and empowering your customer to recognize the brand instantly. ▪ “Chicly cheap, manageably medium, and perfectly pricey”…I just love how these words make everything sound affordable as well as desirable. Good merchants should include all price points in their product mix to reach out to a bigger customer base.

The four major trends for right now and the next year are chic, casual, classic, and cool. You are probably saying to yourself, So what else is new? Yes, we have been through all of these trends at one time or another, but we haven’t seen these trends happening all at the same time. And perhaps more important, with any of these trends, you can describe your brand and still be “trendy.” So let’s define these trends a bit further.

Chic is very hard to define, but you know it when you see it. I think that a multicultural element defines chic in a big sense of the word. We have seen the Asian Eclectic look getting stronger, and we know that just by adding a bit of black lacquer or a red tonsu chest to a room or a catalog page, we’ve added a touch of chic. At the last Dallas Market, I discovered “chicdom” in fabulous hanging silk lanterns — a “wow” if I ever saw one.

What I truly found inspiring, from Southern Accents magazine, is the photo below of an 1870s English trestle table surrounded by Chinese country chairs to evoke a look that’s traditional as well as minimal — chic is just oozing out of this page.

When Tom Ford introduced his final show for Yves Saint Laurent this past spring he zeroed in on China as the new fashion dynasty, showing pagoda-shouldered jackets and chinoiserie embroideries on latter-day cheongsams. Since fashion is our usual indicator of future trends, we know that Asian will be hotter than ever next year.

If we want to venture forth into the quintessence of chic, we now turn to the bedding line of fashion designer Roberto Cavalli, pictured below, which combines exotic animal prints and fabulous florals with scenes of faraway places as well as a touch of toile. This amazing bedding combines chic with classic and cool all in the same patchwork…another “wow.”

Casual sounds boring — unless you define it as less opulent than chic, but soft and cozy with a touch of class thrown in. Think of an area rug in a bold print of checkered color but with earth tones and a contemporary design.

Another example of casual might be an entryway bench/ wall unit for storage, multifunctional but sleek and simple in design…very clubby and more masculine in feel. Three of the biggest home catalogs — Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, and Crate & Barrel — have built huge businesses on “casual” decor.

When something becomes a classic, it defies the test of time. When I was a buyer for upscale decor cataloger/retailer Gump’s, we used to describe our everyday basic best-sellers as “classics.”

The interest in classic looks may explain why tapestries are hotter than ever. Tapestries give a sense of luxury, and luxury is back in a big way. Yes, we all want to seek out the finer things in life, and that’s what catalogs are for: They’re meant to be aspirational as well as inspirational — hopefully to inspire readers to buy!

More than anywhere else, classic is reentering the marketplace in the apparel industry. Barbara Barry, who has designed fabulous contemporary furniture for Baker, is now designing classic tweed fabrics for Kravet. In the fashion industry, we are definitely going back to the ’60s, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of this look reinterpreted into the home by next year.

Classic lighting always softens a home, and the candleholders shown in the top right photo capture the classic look par excellence. Added to this look, in the same shot, is an oversize chinoiserie mirror as well as a hit of chic with the elaborate table topper bordered in fur.

Cool might be represented by classic swag drapes with an oversize panel mirror and contemporary sofas in a neutral shade, offset with a brightly checkered rug. Cool signifies a sense of adventure amid a great dash of style. Designer Kaffe Fasset’s bedding line, for instance, uses bold splashes of color and a mix of stripes, giant floral pillows, and patchwork. Cool is also Toyo Next’s collection of ceramic bowls, vases, and platters designed in a “soft modern” palette with a geometric and floral motif.

The attraction of the urban lifestyle centers on a contemporary and creative statement. Defined by a minimal amount of carefully chosen pieces, this trend can be called playful, curvaceous, metallic, eclectic, soft modern, abstract, funky — and cool.

Another buzzword is “alternative.” In home furnishings, we have been referring to any unusual decor treatment as alternative. This term has frequently appeared in the past few years in the wall decor area, as we started seeing metal wall grills, plaques, and funky mirrors replacing traditional artwork on walls.

Speaking of walls, wallpaper is hot again, and even fabrics are back on our walls. Now we are seeing the next chapter of alternative in window decor, with fabric panels everywhere — over a bed, over a bookcase, even over doors!

Understanding current trends is key to offering unique merchandise. But a great buyer must have loads of intuition and be able to listen to it without fear; it also helps to have years of experience. The merchandise should evoke some sort of emotional reaction — especially in a veteran buyer. You need to be able to walk down a trade show aisle and sift through the miles of mediocre goods to cull out the crown jewels. Perhaps this is when a buyer graduates to a merchant.


Kathy Revello is president of Kathy Revello Associates, a catalog merchandising consultancy based in Sunnyvale, CA.