3 Questions for … Stéphane Hugon, sociologist and co-founder of Eranos

Stéphane Hugon studied under sociologist Michel Maffesoli, whose work focused on interculturality and imagination’s role in society. Mr Hugon began his career at the University of Paris V in the fields of design, photography, and art history. In the 2000s major luxury  houses and trend agencies called upon his working group for help understanding social imagination. In 2005 he co-founded Eranos, a consulting group specialised in identifying and interpreting contemporary social imagination.

 

You founded Eranos in 2005, what is its mission?

The concept is to explain to our clients in the luxury, cosmetic, and other industries the world they live in. To do so we identify different cycles of behaviour, attraction, and repulsion to big groups such as Pernod Ricard, LVMH, and l’Oréal as well as designers such as Armani and Balenciaga.

We look at very large cycles (some are over 160 years), a reason our method is different from that of trends agencies. Our mission is to help brands understand that while the product is important, it isn’t all that counts. Consumers today have become surfers. For example, they like to put together inexpensive vintage pieces with ultra-luxe pieces. And the way they consume changes according to the social interaction.

 

How do you view fashion today? What is its future?

Fashion is everything except a way to stand out; it’s rather a way to gain membership in a small group. Take the example of the Longchamp leather goods brand. The French house’s Pliage bag lets clients choose the colour, style, and details. To sum it up, creating a unique design is the ultimate personalisation service. But in reality, the bags are never completely original. Even if we think each bag is really different, it sill lets members in a small group with a common  social imagination identity each other. Fashion is a powerful language; it’s a group of rituals that lets you take your place in a cocoon with others. It’s a way of responding to the western society we live in.

 

The future depends on how the public understands it. Take cosmetics as an example. In Korea, where we’ve opened an office, men’s care product ranges are very developed. The daily use and ritual of cosmetics is becoming an important part of men’s lives. The result is that it will increasingly influence the way people interact, both culturally and through the product offer. The issue is heavily based in how people create identity and build self-confidence. And brands should take a central role in this area.

 

Let’s talk about the Millennials. What is their relationship with fashion and luxury goods?

For the past 15 years we’ve lived in a society formed by major schisms. It’s clear that parents can no longer understand their children. And that’s not just because of digital technology, the reason is primarily societal. Fashion has become central, even vital. It’s a reconstruction of a core identity that crumbled at the end of the 1990s.

 

But the end of fashion isn’t the end of the world and fashion will play a role in rebuilding society. What’s new is that young people consider themselves on par with brands. The relationship has been transformed and brands should no longer play the elite card. This generation is determined that others not think for them nor decide what’s good for them. There is no longer a subordinate hierarchy.

 

Young people are no longer frightened to enter luxury boutiques. They now even use those spaces as a place to meet up with their friends! What do they want? To participate in creating meaning. Millennials don’t seek to direct. In the 1970s the mood was clearly provocative (remember, for example, the punk movement). Today the attitude is to simply observe.