Reality Sucks

by Lisa Desforges on 02/10/2021 | 3 Minute Read

From hallucinated chessmen carving up the ceiling in the Queen’s Gambit to the Return of the Jedi in the form of “Baby Yoda,” from the outlandish wigs of regency found in Bridgerton to the even MORE outlandish wigs of RuPaul’s Drag Race, our appetite for the fantastic has rarely been bigger. Trapped in the numbing familiarity of our homes and restricted from travel, sociability, or sensorial experience, we are craving escapism—and TV has delivered.

But are the brands we turn to every day creating similar moments of imagination, pleasure, and delight? 

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As always, fashion delivers first when it comes to creativity, and Gucci’s characteristic flights of fancy are becoming an increasingly significant inspiration. The house’s penchant for rich symbology and elaborate details has long been a tonic in a landscape of mindful minimalism and authentic realism, and we’re now seeing its influence infiltrate new categories—from beverages to beauty.

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Glossier, a brand known for its transparent and fuss-free approach, has recently launched a limited-edition trio of lip balms presented in a highly embellished and gold-embossed box inspired by a deck of cards. Featuring a Glossier joker card and decorated with a mix of magical symbols, from the traditional four suits to modern-day emojis, it’s a drastic departure in aesthetic but perfectly pitched for the moment.

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In the world of food and drink, the growing category of adaptogen and nootropic-spiked products is now paving the way to a more fantastical approach to branding and design. Subtly suggesting the mood-altering effects of these products, brand worlds range from the psychedelic gradients and otherworldly landscapes of Kin Euphorics and Recess to the goddess iconography and astrological communications of Droplet Drinks. Alcohol is picking up the beat, too. Brands like Signature Brew create hallucinatory and psych-tinged dreamscapes inspired by music, and the sentimental feels that can come from our record collections.

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We’re seeing a whole wave of nostalgia surging its way through branding. Whether it’s established brands turning back the clock, like Burger King rejigging its old school logo or growing brands cementing their purpose as Dalston’s did when they launched its 80s-inspired beatbox packaging. Even emerging brands use remembered experience to drive innovation, such as Dream Pops’ plant-based ice cream lollies. 

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An outstanding case in point is OffLimits Cereal, with its adult-targeted but kid-inspired cartoon characters. Embodying grown-up need states, from anxiety to depression, they tackle functional food in a way that makes us feel safe and comforted—returning us to a time before work-related stress and social-media-induced loneliness.

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And while that return to safety is critical to nostalgia’s appeal, it’s the combination of nostalgia and fantasy, as evoked by, say, Baby Yoda, that feels particularly relevant right now. The joy of returning to our childhoods is more than simple comfort—it’s about returning to a time when fiction and fantasy were encouraged and celebrated. In our desperation to reach adulthood, we can leave so much of value behind—imagination, play, and the gift of believing in the unbelievable.

Seriousness, we’ve learned, can take its toll. So after more than a decade of signaling worthy ingredients, mindful processes, and earnest philosophies, is it finally time for brand design to have a bit of fun? Let’s hope so because right now, we all need a bit of magic in our lives.

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