Wednesday, May 21, 2008

One of these things is not like the others

How times have changed.

Slowly but certainly, the need for things to match in how we express ourselves has shifted.

This is no small feat. The matching mindset has dominated for several decades across a variety of milieu in mainstream culture, from fashion and furniture to home furnishings. A table set with unmatching napkins and napkins rings upon unmatching placemats would have been unthinkable in our parents' generation, but now it is all the rage.

It's not just growing up with GrrAnimals that has conditioned people to adopt this way of patterning. Many evolutionary biologists believe our brains are wired to seek out sameness in the world around us, as something unfamiliar represents a potential threat. So too with symmetry: a better procreation partner is one without noticeable deviations from a symmetric norm (genetic abnormalities do not bode well).

There are also consumer behavior advantages to a bias for matching. It simplifies the purchasing process because an entire set can be confidently bought with relative ease. The ownership experience is also helped: there isn't going to be criticism from friends or acquaintances about incongruent elements because there are none - though the overall style itself may be disliked.

The reliance on the uniformity of matching comes from a lack of confidence and time. When we curate our own expression of style we inherently take a risk, exposing us to the possibility of criticism or ridicule because we dare to deviate from the safety of
ordained choices.

It was thus encouraging to see the trend of departing from sameness on show at ABC home furnishings in NYC this past weekend.

In a variety of living room settings, there was clearly one chair which in no way matched any of the others. In fact, so much did the chair not fit the color scheme of the rest that it seemed deliberately chosen, a suggestion that standing out by not fitting in has virtues.

The more observant will have noticed that the inclusion of beige colored cushions on the couch provides a connective thread that ensures the mis-matched chair is interpreted as planned and not an accident. The same tactic is used on the top photo with blue cushions. True, this takes away from what would be a much bolder statement - a chair that is completely orphaned. But it's something.

Appreciation for good design has gone through a similar evolution (and emancipation one could argue) over the last 5 years. Design aesthetics have filtered down and entered mainstream consumption thanks in large part to companies like Target that have made it an explicit part of their messaging and implicitly reflected in their merchandising.

So what brand will it be that takes a leadership role in helping mass consumers develop their curatorial capabilities and give them the confidence to abandon the blandness of matching for the bolder expression of their own richer, more eclectic style?

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