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". 1
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 their 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”.
"Did You Say Normcore", www.luxuryactivist.com, 2014
The office of DIS Magazine, New York, 2014
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.
“In the olden days - if you’re not James Dean, as in ‘alternative’, you’re mainstream; there’s no middle ground, and Normcore totally revolutionised this idea; making ‘mainstream’ revolutionary.” 2
The recent Gap ad. campaign ’Dress Normal’ shows Normcore moving away from the zeitgeist into the mainstream but as this trend proliferates, how might it infect interiors and design?
Gap's 'Dress Normal' AW 2015 campaign, Shoreditch, London
Normcore: Bucking Shabby Chic
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, have experienced the internet sandwiching highbrow and lowbrow together and making one’s choice of brands not such a radical statement about what you are: “I think that this is at the heart of what designers and artists of this movement are exploring- can’t stop capitalism lets just go with it.” 3
Nic Gardner's Lumbar Chair, 2013,
"A piece of 1920s modernist furniture designed around a £1 lumbar support [...] A style and symbolism that has undergone a rather forceful intersection with low design culture." Nic Gardner, www.newfurnitureforyou.com
The generation that has grown up with information, brands, celebrities and everyday people homogenised through the medium of the internet have formed Normcore as a natural collage of new references:
“Hierarchies don’t exist; Kim Kardashian and Marina Abromovic, Fendi and Sketchers are all playing on the same field. All genres and entities are treated with the same respect, as information to be processed.” 4
So how does this attitude translate to objects, designed things and interiors?
'Office Space: DIS HQ', Invisible Exports Gallery, New York. Lizzie Fitch’s installation for DIS magazine to represent “just another day at the office”, a space that the magazine worked in for a month for the duration of the show. New York, 2011
Normcore homewares by Hood By Air, www.disown.dismagazine.com
Normcore in Art and Fashion
Walking aroudn galleries for the past few years, it's been exciting to see the likes of Helen Marten, Rachel Harrison and Adriano Costa to name just a few. Their works have made an interesting play on the ready made and re-interpretation of the everyday. I would defnitely not like to suggest that their work is Normcore, this would be glib, but it's definitely interesting to consier the frame of reference of artists taking lowbrow into the highbrow. Why make a scultpure when a re-branded Coca-Cola bottle speaks volumes about brand saturation and our generation?
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, London, 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.” 5
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.” 6
Lizzie Fitch and Anne de Vries’ products for DIS Magazine re-purpose the mundane and ordinary to create interesting objects with a fresh aesthetic.
“Functional mobile trash can for an idealized 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.” 7
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.
Lizzie Fitch’s 'Office Planter', 2013 "Increase chloroplast production while sprucing up a new corner of the office - it's a win-win for every organism!", Lizzie Fitch on www.disown.dismagazine.com
'Exchange Material’, shower curtain by Anne de Vries
Modern industrial finishes will influence the textures we see in contemporary retail interiors
Acne’s stores use plains of perforated metal sheeting, slabs of concrete and sheets of stainless steel to create fields of simple, anodyne finishes Reference:
1. Gorton Thomas in Dazed Retrieved, 2014.
2. Karen Chan, Writer and Studio Coordinator, via email, 28th Jan, 2015
3. Nicholas Gardner, via email, 30th Jan, 2015
4. David Toro and Solomon Chase, founders of DIS Magazine, interviewed in Apartmento Magazine, Issue #10, Autumn/ Winter 2012/13
5. Nicholas Gardner, extract from website, www.newfurnitureforyou.com
6. Jim Walrod, in conversation, 24th January, 2015
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, London