As part of “Influence Now”, a series exploring the role of the “influencer” on contemporary culture, we interviewed five people whose work has shaped and influenced their fields in various ways. “Influence Now” will appear in SLEEK 57; subscribe to Sleek here.
Emily Segal is a household name in trend forecasting. In 2011 she co-founded K-HOLE with Greg Fong, Sean Monahan, Chris Sherron and Dena Yago. The collective is known for fashion and style reports published as pdfs, and for coining the term Normcore. Today she’s also involved in branding, having been an art student and an intern at New York agency Wolff Olins, whom she collaborated with on projects for Ritz Carlton, Dreamworks and Target. Currently based in Berlin, her new ambition is Nemesis, a think tank she’s co-founded with musician and architect Martti Kalliala. Here we discuss her work.
So in layman’s terms: what does trend forecasting actually involve?
Forecasts are pdfs that corporate companies pay around $20,000 a year to access. In essence, it’s the ultimate pseudo-science – if you want to look at it in that way – but generally I think of it as future-focused critical intelligence that uses pattern recognition of personal and macro economics alongside social drivers. We [K-Hole] first got our hands on these documents in 2011 from a friend who was working in another ad agency. [Our versions of them] generally [try] to envisage pop philosophy and social theory, using a lot of neologisms, emojis and beguiling shots of interiors. They try to portray the consciousness of young people, like myself and my collaborators at K-HOLE, to the market.
What was the background to the formation of K-HOLE?
[At the time], we saw so many false binaries in our peers. [Artists] wouldn’t see their commercial day-to-day lives in their practice. So we thought it would be interesting to write one of these reports as a sort of fan fiction – hence the first K-HOLE was created. [This wasn’t] an Adbusters take down. [This was] taking a format that ad agencies had created and putting our own ideas into it. We were all in our early 20s then.
Can these forecasting documents ever manipulate the future? Is it possible to hack them in order to change business moves?
People love that idea. In K-HOLE we [used to say], “Did you report on the trend, or did you create it?” But this is really just a fantasy. Whatever intelligence I give to a company rarely ever gets purely transmitted back into the market. But I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t feel like it has the ability to be progressive. What I’m working towards is a more holistic platform for products that would otherwise not be articulated into the marketplace. At the same time, some ideas just hit the cutting room floor. A lot of it does nothing.
And what’s the story behind your new project, Nemesis? Has your experience with K-HOLE informed it?
Basically Nemesis is a think tank that looks at social and cultural trends, urbanism, technology and design. It’s different from K-HOLE because K-HOLE was really an art project. However, it does pick up on similar themes of consumer attitudes and socio-economic trends. Nemesis is really built on self-initiated research on how value is being re-coded as multiple domains. So we are looking at new forms of luxury, crypto economics, UBI [universal basic income] and alternate theories of value. We plan to release this research early next year but I can’t say much on our findings so far.