Mushroom lamps, trendy home goods, and the magic of desire.
In the hallowed halls of Design with a Capital D University, fast trends and knockoffs are frowned upon. There is a canon to be respected and it is historical and there are established rules, and if you don't know the rules or speak the language then you can take your bad taste all the way to Wayfair Community College and GTFOH. Though we here at Afternoon Light have, on occasion, been accused of being education snobs, we can't help but find Design's disdain for trends offensively exclusionary. Worse still, missing an essence and some of the fun of what's truly modern now, especially as it pertains to shopping for home decor. With an increasing perecentage of our time being spent online in a wholly alternate universe (or metaverse?), with images from history being thrown at us at lightening speed often faster than we can even absorb them, reality and authenticy become increasingly subjective, and trends are just a byproduct. Strap in.
A college professor with thick frames, intent on putting his 8:30 AM students to sleep, might scrawl the word "simulacrum" on the blackboard in squeaky chalk, dotting the "i" twice for emphasis. He might launch into a lecture about the entrance of Disney World, that 3/4-scale American Main Street that seems like a reproduction of something real until the visitor clocks the colonial dress of the cashiers, the swinging Wild West doors, and the vaguely Victorian shingles. It's just a copy of a copy - a muddy collection of diluted concepts. The real thing never existed. But what to make of the fact that for 155 million people who visit Disney theme parks around the world each year, the experience of being on Main Street is very, very real?
What's modern now? The mash up, the remix, the blending of references and the trickle down and trickle up exchange between high and low, seamlessly looping in an infinity symbol as fast as our best wireless connections. Fashion's known this for a few decades; thanks, Streetwear. While we're appalled by the humanitarian and ecological horrors that fast fashion and overconsumption have brought, we do find lots of things to be fascinated with, when it comes to the mystery of what people are into and why. Trend watching and historical fact checking become both endlessly more interesting and ridiculously challenging as things speed up. We're still stumped about the meteoric rise of Ugg boots from $36m to $120m in 2014 (was it Oprah, Pamela Anderson or Westchester Mall teens?). Add social media to the mix and you've got a veritable Kentucky Derby of products and styles competing on any given day for consumer love. Sometimes it's the advertising. Sometimes it's dumb luck, the timing, the maker, the implication, or maybe just the pure beauty of a wonderful product. Maybe desire arises from the collective unconscious. Desire can be magic - no matter the price, no matter the product. And we love magic.
In our Instagram, image-saturated era, knockoffs and imitations are a way of life. Copycats are no longer so cheap and obvious, like a slightly shiny Gucci bag displayed on a folding table on the sidewalk. And fakes aren't always a bad thing. Case in point: mushroom lamps. Mushroom lamps are currently all the rage on sites from IKEA to First Dibs and everything in between. The product is very real, in many forms. It is Venetian from the 1970s in blown glass from Murano or it is molded plastic and charged by USB, it is $12.99 and it is $5000. It is the centerpiece of your expansive living room or it is tucked amist a sea of tchotchke on a bookshelf. The mushroom lamp, in almost every iteration feels fresh right now; its hazy light is comforting and cool, it's feminine and masculine, it connotes the wild, unknown mystery and current fascination with fungi and psilocybin (mushrooms are the earth's computer!). Mushroom lamps speak to the trend toward foraging, earth trending and cosplaying pre-industrial, children-of-the-woods on weekends spent upstate, they're both e-girl sexy and vintage techno bro appropriate. But while mushroom lamps are everywhere, and images of them are ubiquitous and familiar, few could likely say where the trend originated, how they learned of it or even why they like it. Magic and desire. The next question being, of course, are they already over?
Here's what not to do about trends and knockoffs: worry about them too much. When haute couture is livestreaming, you can be sure that styles will be copied. Those copycat items will be different, yes, more watered down than the best vesions, but more people will be able to enjoy the creative thinking of the very few who have been given the opportunity to lead innovation in design. Opening up and leaning into the inifinity loop democratizes ideas and allows more people to learn and experiment on their own terms. Masters will be masters and history remains, but exposure paves the way for learning, transformation, evolution, and newness. So instead of keeping trade secrets, speaking in a language reserved for a select few, working in a vacuum, guarding the canon, or doing things exactly as they have been done for the past century, instead of praying to the same exalted gods in small circles, maybe it's time to blow the whole lid off of the design world. Embrace a new pace. Find the beauty and joy in the authentic alongside the copy, and the copy of the copy. The remix. The mashup. The borrowing and blending. Because let's face it, we barely know where we're going or what's next, and we all just want cool nests. Mushroom lamps for all. In any form and at any price point. Go ahead and light 'em up.
Words by Minya Quirk
Images courtesy of @simoneoe, IKEA, Urban Outfitters, First Dibs