INFLUENCE: HOW NOSTALGIA IS SHAPING OUR NOW

Influence is a new regular feature that explores the power of influencers, micro-trends, and how social media is shaping the contemporary hospitality industry.

With its boomboxes and Radio Shack walkie-talkies, its pastel anoraks and Farrah Fawcett hairspray, Stranger Things has won the hearts and minds of the world over with its buoyant nostalgia and star performances; bringing with it yet another revival for cool ‘80s aesthetics. Back in 1733, though, those pangs of joy you feel when the loveable kids head off on their BMXs might’ve got you into some serious trouble… Buried alive, to be unsettlingly precise.

Courtesy of Netflix
Courtesy of Netflix

Considered a psychopathological disorder for centuries following it first being coined in a 1688 medical dissertation by Swiss physician Johannes Hofer, nostalgia saw some unlucky Russian troops take their last gasps six feet under as they came down with the ‘nostalgia virus’ on their way to Germany. French doctor Jourdan Le Cointe later cited this anecdote when detailing how the condition should be treated by ‘inciting pain and terror’. Let that be a deterrent to anyone giving thought to a revival for neon leg warmers.

With almost 16 million people watching the premiere of the Netflix hit’s second season, it’s good news that nostalgia is no longer a punishable offence – such is our desire to reflect on the soft focus style of evocative eras like the ‘80s and ‘90s. From Polaroid filters to VHS video apps, haute couture’s catwalks to cinema, we are caught in a never-ending cycle in which the future seems to be kept at bay. Perhaps that’s exactly what we’re trying to do when Trump has his a small hand hovering over the nuke switch.

It’s #Sunday. Put on your best suit and get cracking. #BackToWork

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Typically accompanied by a simple line like ‘mood’, or ‘squad goals’, retro shots – taking the form of everything from from movie stills to vintage fashion ads – have become a staple for Instagram’s most influential: Pacino as Tony Montana; Kate Moss sporting ‘heroin-chic’ for Calvin Klein’s iconic mid-‘90s campaigns; Dirty Dancing’s Baby; icons and obscure cult heroes; famous parents in their heyday… Luckily academics like Constantine Sedikides have now determined that dwelling on the past isn’t as problematic as it was once considered. Healthy, in fact.

Patricia Manfield (306k)
Patricia Manfield (306k)

“Nostalgia has remarkable implications for one’s future”, says the professor. “It strengthens approach orientation, raises optimism, evokes inspiration, boosts creativity, and kindles pro-sociality. Far from reflecting escapism from the present, nostalgia potentiates an attainable future.”

Sedikides suggests that our inability to let go of the aesthetic of decades gone by is entirely beneficial, which rather rubbishes notions that we’re seeking a way out from all the horrors of the modern age. A turn-up for the books for just about everybody as the grip of retro styling tightens – all and sundry seem to be getting in on the action.

Naturally, hoteliers with a fixation on the movements of millennials have a keen eye on the trend of looking back: from the 25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin channeling ‘80s nightlife with a roller disco (complete with shakes, leggings and on-point music) to Ace Hotel and their notably vintage Instagram account; and from the omnipresent revival of Ettore Sottsass’s Memphis design style to GIFs sourced straight from VHS, nostalgia is everywhere you look. There’s even a Stranger Things-themed hotel room – part of a host of partnerships for the show ranging from Eggo Waffles (obviously) to Playstation, Topshop to Louis Vuitton.

As neon reminiscence continues, nostalgia’s influence seeps deeper and deeper into the pop-culture zeitgeist. Rihanna’s collaboration with Puma, the eponymous FENTY, is a pastel-soaked homage to the inescapable high schools of the 1980s’ most iconic films. Big and bold logos are back in fashion and on the catwalk (millennial It Girls like Sofia Richie and Gigi Hadid regularly clad in boldly-branded sweats); cars from the era are becoming a common backdrop for photo shoots.

Key influencers like Veronika Heilbrunner (147k) are finely tuned to a style where nostalgia is the new norm – shot-on-film filters fuse with fashion’s retro leanings, and Instagrams shot this month could easily be the sort of iconic movie stills so regularly dropped on accounts like hers. It’s exactly the sort of of line-blurring that the hippest of hotels are embracing. The Freehand chain, whose aesthetic is so pleasingly retro that their Instagrams can look suitably aged and sans filter, have captured an essence difficult to pin down – their singular retro lies anywhere between the Summer of Love and the campness of Cruise’s Cocktail; while Paris’ Le Pigalle cultivates a quintessence that recalls the heady decadence of ‘90s nightlife.

Two shining examples that showcase the potency of assimilating trends like these well, proving there’s more to this than hosting an ‘80s disco or using the Stranger Things font on a poster for your next film night.

Coach Spring 2017
Coach Spring 2017

Take Coach’s Chloë Grace Moretz-starring Spring 2017 ad campaign for example. As the brand’s restless creative director, Stuart Vevers has an Instagram account that is every bit the public mood board for his next collection – a riot of pop culture references, retro research, and thinking out aloud. The end product, though? A cool and clever campaign that could be Pretty in Pink or Desperately Seeking Susan, but is equally entirely of the now. A lesson in assimilation that underlines the importance of making trends your own in an age of over-saturation.

Stuart Vevers (113k)
Stuart Vevers (113k)

Talking of making trends your own, it is worth noting that many of those engaging in this latest wave of nostalgia were mere twinkles in their daddies’ eyes when these styles were first aired. At 33, Matt and Ross Duffer – the twins behind Stranger Things – were born after many of the movies they reference were made; catching on “the classics” via the VHS tapes of their film-buff father. “We thought we would appeal to people like us who grew up on this kind of storytelling”, says Ross of the series’ success with a youthful audience. “We were just harking back to the classics. We’re beyond excited that it appealed to the younger generation, but we were not expecting it at all.”

Perhaps it is that: for all its references and attention to detail in prop sourcing, the show’s greatest success is in normalising the era. “It’s easy to pick a wallpaper or curtains that just scream 1980s”, admits its lauded production designer, Chris Trujillo, “and ultimately it can be very distracting to an audience. So we start with the characters, who they are emotionally, culturally, socioeconomically, and then we figure out how all of these factors would have been expressed in the context of the trappings of American life in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. I spent a lot of time pouring over the media of the era: everything from lifestyle magazines and newspapers to comic books and Sears catalogs.”

As is the case with these things, being influenced only results in a great end product if you are capable of seeing it through with honesty and belief. Trends are not be followed like an instruction manual – add your own personality, assimilate your reference points, and be yourself. By all means, look back, but don’t do it at the detriment of watching what’s going on in front of you. That’s how disasters happen.

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Lisa Davidson

A traveller with a nose for curiosity, Lisa Davidson co-runs online culture-led travel magazine We Heart and has an insatiable appetite for the hidden corners of cities, long empty beaches and well-crafted cocktails.