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Has fashion become 'strange'? Surrealism aesthetics and Gen Z's escape from polycrisis

Has fashion gone "strange"? WGSN
Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY
Aug 23, 2023 By WGSN Insider

The estrangement you are feeling when looking at some of the latest fashion trends and campaigns has been purposefully created. Why? It has come from younger consumers' interest in Surrealism, especially Gen Z, who are embracing digital content that is intentionally ridiculous or bizarre.

Having grown in a global scenario of disruptions and discussions around the environment, social policies and economics, Gen Z has been supporting the growth of the Surrealism movement to escape polycrisis and what they see as a harsh reality.   

Despite its beginning seeming fairly close to how the Realism movement started in the 20th century, Surrealism now, especially when it comes to aesthetics, is conceptually different. In 2021, WGSN predicted the growth of the Culture of Chaos and last year saw the rise of weird aesthetics, such as #WeirdGirlcore and #Clowncore. These are evolving to Surrealism, with many brands already paying attention to the movement, like Collina Strada, whose models wore prosthetic animal masks for its catwalk, and even Kim Kardashian's brand SKIMS, which featured ‘alien models’ in its latest campaign.

The fact is we are living in a moment of attention recession where it’s getting harder and harder to get and keep consumers' focus, so brands are having to appeal to these absurd, striking aesthetics to not only get their attention but also their engagement.

Surreal but Nice / Ahluwalia
Surreal but Nice / Ahluwalia

Alongside the attention economy, another important factor propelling Surrealism aesthetics is the rapid growth of technologies such as AI and machine learning, enabling the creation of otherworldly scenarios. This can be from unrealistic images, such as the Pope wearing Balenciaga, to real brand campaigns, as seen at Jacquemus, where giant bags were driving through the streets of Paris.

These technologies will force us to question what is real and what is not as a much larger number of people create Surrealist scenarios, opening up an opportunity for even more bizarre creations. Fashion will use this concept as an escape tool for this generation. We will begin to see the growth in optical illusion prints as well as other creations that appear to be one thing, but are actually something else, such as Loewe's pixellated items. Unusual materials or ones that mimic them will appear, like grass and even hair in jewellery collections. 

Consequently, this aesthetic completely leaves out the functionality of products. A great example is something the majority of designers and consumers have already read about, Astro Boy's Big Red Boots, created by MSCHF, who also made the smallest purse in the world, literally microscopic.

This feeling of estrangement will be purposefully sought after as Gen Z look for ways to deal with polycrisis. We will see Surrealism impacting not only the creation of products for the fashion industry but also many other markets such as beauty and interiors. 

For more on Surrealism aesthetics, request a demo and access all WGSN forecasts that cover its rollout into the creation of new products.  

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