Normcore is defined by Wikipedia as “ordinary-fashion” and is a form of fashion statement where you dress down and pare things back to deliberately go against the grain of standing out; “finding liberation in being nothing special”, as Dazed writer Gorton Thomas puts it.
The Normcore look mixes the lowbrow with the highbrow, sportswear with tailoring and embodies the notion that how you look is less important than what you stand for. K-Hole, a young New York trends agency, described Normcore in its 2013 paper “A Report on Freedom” as: “An antidote to maxing out: where the markers of individuality are so plentiful and regenerate so quickly that it’s impossible to keep up.”
Normcore’s deliberate move of dressing down could be seen as a form of fashion palette-cleanser, a counter-culture movement where the normal becomes hardcore.
The recent Gap ad campaign “Dress Normal” shows Normcore moving away from the zeitgeist into the mainstream. As this trend proliferates, how might it infect interiors and design?
Fashion’s move from vintage to something more radical follows suit with interiors. After every recession, nostalgia becomes a big commodity, offering us comfort and refuge when faced with hard times.
The generation growing up with Starbucks and Friends had their illusions shattered and turned away from the big brands, favouring symbols of the independent and artisan which were symbolised in faux-rustic finishes.
Generation D – leaving college now – has experienced the internet sandwiching highbrow and lowbrow together and making one’s choice of brands not such a radical statement about what you are. Designer Nicholas Gardner says: “I think that this is at the heart of what designers and artists of this movement are exploring – we can’t stop capitalism, let’s just go with it.”
The pace of interiors is always going to be slower, by its very nature, than something as fast-paced as seasonal fashion. However, there is definitely a new aesthetic being explored in different areas of design that shares this “basic”, anti-statement aesthetic.
Nicholas Gardner, a furniture designer and recent graduate from the Royal College of Art talks about his Lumbar Chair: “This is a piece of 1920s Modernist furniture designed around a £1 lumbar support.
“It is an appendage – something to fix a chair to make it more comfortable. Purchased at Poundland it has reached its cheapest possible point. This is at odds with the Modernist vernacular, a style and symbolism that has undergone a rather forceful intersection with low design culture.”
A clue within this is the notion of readily available materials, cost and a sense of “newness” in discovering something exciting about a really ordinary found material.
Jim Walrod, mid-century Modern furniture connoisseur and interior designer from New York, links this idea of resource and reality with Normcore: “It’s the first time the kids have been shut out of the idea of collecting something that was under-appreciated. If you grew up in the ’60s or ’70s you could find things that were mid-century in thrift shops and cheap so you were able to furnish with it. No 25-to 30-year-old is going to be able to find pieces of Memphis in a thrift store or anywhere cheap so they’ve kind of been shut out from using it in their home and have to revert to the norm.”
Lizzie Fitch and Anne de Vries’ products for DIS Magazine re-purpose the mundane and ordinary to create interesting objects with a fresh aesthetic. They describe products such as “Functional mobile trash can for an idealised office world. The simple addition of the kinetic base increases the artificial intelligence of the static metal bin. Guaranteed increase in overall staff productivity. Boost workplace morale with the new recreational possibilities of the formerly inanimate object.”
Just like any other art form, interior design is a reflection of the culture we live in. We clothe our interiors to mirror our values and form the walls of our experiences. Just as Normcore has skewed notions of aesthetics and taste in relation to clothing, the translations of these values up a scale to interiors is ahead of us is inevitable. Normcore design is happening now and probably going to be one of the most challenging, exciting radical aesthetic shifts we have seen for a long time.
Howard Sullivan is a tutor at the Royal College of Art, London, lecturing in MA Interior Design, and co-founder and creative director of YourStudio.