The collision of global markets and social mood

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Socionomic Implications Of September Vogue: 2012

I happened to have my friends Josh and Dan with me during this year's socionomic read-through of September Vogue.

The cool thing was that, being film and photography guys, they didn't bat an eye when I pulled a 916-page fashion mag from my backpack.

In fact, Josh still has my copy of the 2008 September issue on his desk. That year's message was simple: "It ain't over," I had told him, referring to the bear market.

Dan didn't flinch when I explained how September Vogue could be used to gauge trends in the stock market. When I gave him a quick description of socionomics, he seemed to understand it immediately.

Ten minutes later they wanted to do a documentary film about it.

WHAT IS SOCIONOMICS?

Socionomics is the science of social prediction pioneered by Robert Prechter which states that changes in social mood determine the character of social events.

The next two paragraphs are from the Socionomics Institute:

Social mood waxes and wanes positively and negatively. Periods of positive social mood tend to be associated with a host of social phenomena, such as rising stock prices, re-election of incumbents, peace, increasing deregulation, and the popularity of brighter colors and shorter skirts. Periods of negative social mood also tend to be associated with a host of social phenomena, such as falling stock prices, rejection of incumbents, discord, increasing regulation, and the popularity of darker colors and longer skirts.

Although social mood governs social events, it fluctuates independently of such events. In other words, wherever mood goes, the character of events will follow.

My own shortcut is MOOD IS MODE. Once a copywriter, always a copywriter I guess.

For a bit of backstory about the methodology that I use, you can read last year's post here. This year is a deeper dive and was much more challenging. I also added some images for emphasis.


WHY SEPTEMBER VOGUE?

Anna's editor's letter provides an excellent answer:

"I am not entirely sure anyone realizes quite what goes into creating a shoot.  
It's much more than just choosing a model or picking the clothes; it's a quicksilver understanding of wherever fashion is at that particular moment, and presenting a sampling of life and culture as we are experiencing it at that time."

~ Anna Wintour


A sampling of life and culture as we are experiencing it at that time is what makes Vogue such an important source to study. Fashion may be the closest reflection of right now beside the stock market.

Fall kicks off the fashion year, and September Vogue is the biggest and best sampling there is.

For me then, the intersection of fashion and the markets is a perfect one. Fashion contains a glimpse of what the market anticipates. September Vogue is the lens.


LAST YEAR'S RECAP

First a recap about the hits and misses from last year's analysis.

The first thing to understand is that every word, every image, every detail counts. I second-guessed a single word last year and it weakened my entire analysis. An editor noted the following, and I thoroughly disagreed:

"Out with tedious black.  We're clamoring for scarlet, shamrock, and tangerine."

I should have realized that CLAMORING for color meant that it hadn't fully arrived and that its associated mood had yet to manifest. The same applied to the stock market: clamoring had yet to fully express itself as bullishness.

Socionomically it was a big miss (but I don't just close my eyes and trade on this stuff). The S&P 500 was roughly 1200 at that time.  It fell to 1074, but rallied as high as 1474, over 20% higher from when I did my analysis.

China, however, is 25% lower since its last year's cover appearance -- "MADE IN CHINA: explosive rise of a style super power."

Repeat: every word, every image, every detail counts . . .

Oh, and last year's conclusion that we're somewhere in the '70s headed for the unrest of the '60s still stands; it just may take a while.


THE SEPTEMBER 2012 COVER




One of the first things I did once I saw the record number of pages this year was search the web for September covers as far back as I could, and found them back to 1995. I also found page data back to 1996. The correlation to the stock market isn't perfect, but you get the idea.



I also noticed a correlation with cover lines too......

In 1995, as the stock market broke out to new highs, September Vogue had a bright yellow cover line that proclaimed FINALLY!

In 1997 it was THE THRILL IS BACK! -- right before the Asian financial crisis which was followed by the Russian default and the collapse of LTCM. It was a "blockbuster" 730 pages.

In 2003, after the lows of the bear market from 2000 had been put in, there was: STRESS & SKIN: CALM DOWN TO CLEAR UP. Vogue was already pointing higher.

2005 featured a gold Vogue logo, as the gold market broke out of its long-term basing pattern. Gold was also featured this year and last year.

2007 featured FEARLESS FASHION and a record 840 pages at the all-time market highs. Bulls are never afraid at market highs.

In 2011, SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE was a cover line, while 2012 set another record -- 916 pages  -- and proclaimed FALL FASHION FOR ALL, perhaps echoing the shared prosperity promised by President Obama (Wintour is an active supporter).

2012 also appeared to be the first year that they've "messed" with the logo by putting a bright red banner behind it, as if to say WE'VE HAD A BANNER YEAR. But along with a few other clues I found, it could just as easily be seen as a warning.

For example, Vogue's publisher, Susan Plagemann, sounded wildly optimistic about their current success. “We’re not looking at this as a single moment—given all the investment and activity from September on, it’s really about celebrating and making September the beginning of a crescendo into our next 120 years,” she said.

It's human nature to extrapolate; economists do it all the time. But 120 years is a long way, especially when the magazine has gotten so large that the postal service is having trouble delivering it. There are even reports of people having to pick up their September issues from the post office itself -- and who knows how long postal service will be around anyway?

But there's more. From the Point Of View, page 763:

"What you have in your hand now is the biggest in the magazine's history. As we have grown in size, so our reach has expanded across new media, to the Internet and beyond. This month, we take you not only into the ateliers of New York but to a facility building spaceships that will soon carry passengers into orbit. Our voyage over the next horizon awaits."

That sounds like a "stratosphere" alert to me, however gas prices might head into orbit before people do. The Federal Reserve just launched a new round of stimulus after gasoline reached a national average of $4 per gallon for the first time ever. The next horizon could be an event horizon.

This is how socionomics can help businesses, individuals, even governments, stay on the right side of trends.....is it better to expand operations or take on more risk with the markets (and page counts) at highs or lows? Or perversely, is it a time to protect against a change in economic climate and attitudes? Socionomics can help answer such questions by providing a view of the big picture.

Pay attention to the use of pop icon Lady Gaga on the cover. Pop is for bull markets. Think Hanson. Think Spice Girls. Think anyone but Sid Vicious -- who was the socionomic tip off that the long bear market of the 70s was nearly over and ripe for a reversal.

Lady Gaga signed with Streamline records at the top of the market in 2007, and here she is covering September Vogue in 2012 wearing a pink dégradé off-the-shoulder patchwork dress by Marc Jacobs, which is also an interesting message.

Dégradé means gradation, a progressive transition from one color to another. Does it also suggest a balance sheet transition from red to black, or black to red?


COVER ADS

With the official ad count at 658 pages, I'll confine my analysis only to the main themes rather than presenting all my notes from each ad as I did last year.

Target, Clinique, and Ralph Lauren took the same three high-profile ad positions for 2012: back cover, inside front cover, and inside back cover respectively.

Target used much less color than last year and has omitted prices.

Ralph Lauren fragrance ran the same exact ad spread for Romance that was used last year.

Clinique said Stand out -- why not? with its high impact extreme volume mascara. Wildly ironic since there has been an extreme lack of volume in the markets as they've gone higher and higher.

FRONT OF BOOK AD THEMES

There were 78 front-of-book ads up to the first TOC (table of contents) page this year vs 67 last year. I pay more attention to front-of-book ad pages because they cost more. I want to see who is paying up. It's also the fastest way to see what the major themes are.

Last year's main themes reappeared with varying intensity. Reptilefur, and androgyny were on the increase while color, with some exceptions (that feel out of place), was muted.

If there was one set piece, it was the ad campaign for Ralph Lauren Collection.


I could write an entire post about this ad and what it meant to me. These women exude power, independence, and detachment. According to socionomics, women gain dominance in bear markets. Immediately this felt like an important image that was at odds with the high spirits of this banner issue.

Some of my notes: jodpurs, androgyny, layers, structure, wool, tweedy, plaid, herringbone, houndstooth, leather, reptile, bowler hats, derby, fur, "untouchables."

Recall that The Untouchables was about Al Capone during the prohibition period which lasted from 1920-1933. The stock market during that time went straight up and straight down. Boom to bust.

The Ralph Lauren campaign also seemed to echo last year's "Country Strong" sitting which featured Caledonian tweeds and heritage cashmere, and also echoed this year's Gatsby feature later in the magazine.

Tommy Hilfiger continued the tweedy, country thing, too.



Gucci picked up where last year's Asian-influenced Ralph Lauren imagery left off. There is a saying in the stock market that resistance, once exceeded, becomes support. This concept replaced the proverbial glass ceiling with a glass floor.



Then I started noticing an entirely different pattern.

Nina Ricci . . .


Maje . . .



Hermes . . .



Cesare Paciotti . . .

Is he offering her smelling salts?


The sum is more disturbing than the parts. Viewed together, I interpret confusion, hesitation, loss of memory, detachment, a lack of desire to face "reality" (or perhaps an inability due to hypnotic trance), disorientation.

Sure I'm reading a lot into these images, yet it's a related theme from four completely separate brands.

Think I'm overreacting? Here are some others that weren't in this issue but I found elsewhere.

From the same Maje campaign . . .



Gucci . . .



Vogue Netherlands fashion spread . . .


Confused? Maybe that's the message.

Compare and contrast these concepts . . .





with these concepts . . .





Which feels like a more accurate depiction of current social mood to you?

I call this bifurcation, and noticed it throughout the entire issue. Mood feels split, polarized, divided, confused.

The design team at Rag & Bone seemed to agree. "Divide and conquer. That's our motto."

Prechter has stated "colorful clothes, short skirts, and diversity in appearance are typical of social mood peaks. Dull colors, long skirts, and uniforms are common at social mood troughs." While we seem to be seeing a bit of both, we are seeing diversity in appearance as opposed to uniformity.

Notice also the diversity of message (bifurcation) which suggests confusion or indecision.

Last year I felt that the word CONCEAL was the most socionomically important word in the entire issue. This year it has returned with its counterpoint.

Throughout this issue I found examples of what I describe as see through & cover up . . . conceal & reveal.

Most often concealed: the high heel. Legs were also "concealed" using lace and slightly see-through fabrics to "reveal."

This year, chains, chain mail, rivets, gauntlet gloves, armor, grommets, studs, spikes, quilting, padding, and layers made their appearance as physical or perhaps even emotional insulation. Leather, reptile, fur, feathers, animal prints (mostly leopard and tiger) echoed last year's animal spirits.

For the ultimate in insulation, notice these goggles featured in the Alexander McQueen campaign, and in Vogue shoots here and elsewhere.  They look like sensory deprivation goggles.
Vogue US . . .



Vogue Netherlands . . .



Burberry accessories in particular felt like an homage to the 1975 film Rollerball, and seemed to telegraph an outer hardening or toughening. (This is a close up that did not run in September Vogue)



Wedge heels seemed to replace platforms. This filled-in heel look, often hidden or sheathed by pant legs was another example of concealment or cloaking, and also seemed to be a preferred form of stronger foundation for more support than a skinny stiletto heel.

Diverse themes of androgyny and femininity competed for attention. Biker chic competed with baroque flourishes. Many more instances of floor-length dresses than short skirts prevailed.

Lancome mentioned "endless perfection" while a Target spread contained the words "The writing is on the wall."

The bold brooch was big this year, conspicuously protecting the thymus which controls the immune system. Do people unconsciously sense a need to bolster their immunity? Socionomic research links long bear markets with an increase in epidemics. The markets have gone sideways since 2000. Yet while some may be sick and depressed others dream of outer space.

How often does black and white become a trend? Longchamp, Escada, White House-Black Market, The Limited ("limited....unlimited"), and even Cover Girl were pushing it: "Any color you want, as long as it's black or white or bold."

Versace offered mesh knee-high boots for "dark glamour" and a "gothic glamorous attitude." I found the Versace campaign to be the darkest of all.


Meanwhile Kate Spade suggested we "live colorfully."

Last year's "cheap chic" and "utility dressing" became this year's "subversive chic" -- down the mood scale as the stock market has gone up. In technical analysis, that would be termed "negative divergence" and would suggest caution.

Fontana handbags said "outsiders are in."  Diesel jeans also ran an "outsiders" theme and even featured a guy wearing a t-shirt that said "LOST."

Even fragrance was in a bifurcated, contradictory mood with Flowerbomb, by Viktor & Rolf. Don't just smell great. Blow their head off. 

There was even a new treatment of the Givenchy logo that was fractured, bifurcated, and echoed the wider polarity/duality theme. The campaign used foreboding clouds as a backdrop, as if a storm was coming. While only the first ad ran in the issue, other examples tell a more complete story.







I had flipped a TON of pages until all of this hit me. Finally, on page 619, there it was:


"LOOK BOTH WAYS"


My gut had been telling me something. If I wanted to know what this issue was saying, I had to look both ways.

It's not unusual for editorial tone to be more upbeat than the advertising. The purpose of the editorial is to "get them in the mood to buy," as one of my bosses once bluntly admitted. Everything is presented in the best possible light. But this year definitely seemed to be about prepping for the "voyage over the next horizon."

Gilt Group p. 568
A golden age for jackets with baroque flourishes and ornate embroidery

(In modern usage, the term "Baroque" can refer to works of art, craft, or design that are thought to have excessive ornamentation and noisy abundance of details.)

Love Is All Around p.570
Five chic brides walk down the aisles . . .

Otherworldly p.576
Stars are gravitating to space-age silhouettes and futuristic prints (just like "Our voyage over the next horizon awaits")

Look Both Ways p. 619
Why choose one look when you can wear two? This fall designers take fashion to another dimension. 

All That Jazz p. 648
The newest film adaptation of The Great Gatsby opens this Christmas.  Back in 1925,
"F. Scott Fitzgerald was mad about all things modern," says Australian director Baz Luhrmann. "During the twenties, there was this attraction to the decadence and luxurious sophistication of Europe," says costume designer Catherine Martin. Luhrmann describes the story as an American Hamlet. "It's a New York story, as well, about the dazzling promise and lost hopes of the metropolis." (more bifurcation)

Queen Of Noise p. 654
Music director Mimi Xu sets the tone of the fashion season

This article listed ten of Fall's loudest trends with the music she pairs with them -- I was thankful for both. First, they're are great concepts. I divided them into two groups: darker and lighter. The bifurcation continued.

Darker:
Equestrian
Edwardian Dandy
Heavy Embellishment
Street Warrior
Gothic Romance

Lighter:
Neoladylike
Supersize Shapes
The Working Woman
Nineties Redux
Global Traveler

Second, I discovered some great new tunes. Xu gets her inspiration from "iconic tracks from the 70s and 80s that only Swedish people would have heard." New Lands by Justice was my favorite.

Writing Style p. 661
Inspired by fall's Equestrian Chic, Emma Straub conjured a young actress who gallops away from stardom. (where would Apple be if investors did the same?)

Soul Groove p. 685
Canadian music sensation Grimes found a nineties club-shoe revival afoot. "A few years ago everyone was wearing black; now it's all about crazy neon hair and platforms." Reissues of John Fluevog's iconic Munster shoe "are selling better now than ever." Grimes has been impressed by the dizzy new heel heights at her shows. "I spotted a girl wearing ten-inch-tall white platforms with a bathing suit and blue cornrows," she said. (bullish extremes don't get much clearer than this)

Scent p. 696
Gucci Premiere, their newest fragrance, evoked the golden age of Hollywood

Rebel Romance p. 700
Fall's edgy new look "It's not quite Goth -- it's much prettier than Goth." "Dark but beautiful." "Subversive chic." "A powerful woman." "Fall beauty is feminine with an edge."  Twilight-influenced dark romance. (women gaining dominance)

Raising the Bar p. 712
Fresh soap company, after 21 years in business, used artist R. Nichols to update the company's three most iconic scents. Nichols obliged by amping up the color on the brand's signature wrapping.

Nails p.716
Jin Blossoms
The much awaited line from fashion's favorite nail whiz. 24 years since arriving from Seoul, nail stylist Jin Soon Choi is finally coming out with a new line, cleverly timed to the height of the nail mania. (truly clever timing would be when "nails" were considered "over.")

Fitness p. 730
Virtually Fit is the exercise studio of the future inside your laptop? Plug into the anytime anywhere workout.

Talent p. 733
Damian Lewis, the 41-year-old British actor has a knack for playing ambiguous anti-heroes. His costar says he's got a talent for "revealing and concealing so much." "The hardest role to play is an outright hero," Lewis says.

Lush Life p. 736
Studded with rhinestones and coated with bright enamel paint, the painting-collages of Mickalene Thomas seduce and inspire.

New Terrain p. 738
25-year-old Shani Boianjiu's searing debut The People Of Forever Are Not Afraid. Draws from the author's own experiences to render the absurdities of life and love on the precipice of violence. (PRECIPICE really jumps out at me.)

The Rise Of The Asian Model p. 750
Angelica Cheung, editor in chief of Vogue China, likes to joke that in her lifetime China has gone from Karl Marx to Karl Lagerfeld and recalls that “when I was growing up in the seventies, everyone wore a blue, gray, or green Mao suit—there was no chance for women to be glamorous or different.” (notice the nod to the uniformity rather than diversity in appearance.)

Alexander Wang/Untamed Youth p. 838
I didn't find an Alexander Wang ad in the issue, which is probably a good thing. Here's one from the web that kept popping up each time I did a search for someone else's campaign. What's it say to you? It seems to be saying don't answer.

Wang refers to his label as a lifestyle brand. Which lifestyle?



Alexander Wang: "It's a lifestyle brand."


El Dorado/mario testino/peru p. 764
For a trip to Peru, model Stella Tennant packs a richly embellished wardrobe as luxe as the fabled treasures of the Incan Empire. (echoes the earlier Baroque reference ... excessive ornamentation and abundance of details.)

Art and Craft p. 780
Designers took a modernist approach to fall by borrowing Bauhaus concepts of functional forms, graphic color combinations, and geometric patterns.

(ironically, the Bauhaus school was founded in Weimar, Germany in 1919 -- the birthplace of hyperinflation. With the latest actions of the Federal Reserve, Weimar is a popular buzzword these days. But few are talking about what the Fed is really afraid of: deflation.)

Space Odyssey p. 788
Military and equestrienne influences are as old as fashion itself -- but this season, they're blasting into the future, with molded shapes, sci-fi accessories, and jedi-warrior attitude.

(Interview magazine ran a nearly identical feature in their September issue called BACK TO THE FUTURE that one observer said was reminiscent of Barbarella (from the year 1968 -- the top of a long bull market from 1942). Those spooky Alexander McQueen goggles are featured as well.)

Dream Girl p. 802
Whether touring the world with a groundbreaking extravaganza or launching a new fragrance, Lady Gaga is meeting the future on her own wildly inventive terms.

"I don't want to settle down just yet," Gaga says. "I just want to keep riding this rainbow."

I liked this well-written story, and gasped when I got to the part where Gaga gives the fragrance folks at Coty an ultimatum to develop a fragrance that transforms from black in the bottle to clear when sprayed on your skin.

When they asked if they could just make it clear so they wouldn't have to explain that it won't get on people's clothes, she said:

"No. The fragrance is called Fame; it must be black. It must smell enticing. You must want to lick and touch and feel it, but the look of it must terrify you."

Quite possibly the most interesting description of the tragedy inherent to the dizzying heights of fame that I have ever read.

One Enchanted Evening p.872
Dolce & Gabbana present their first couture collection in heady, extravagant fashion on the island of Sicily.

Dolce & Gabbana have been cranking out great fashion since 1985 but have waited until 2012 to do a couture collection. Take note. Why now? "It's not ready to wear; but it's couture that's more light; it's like today." (amid all the chain mail and studs and confusion, today is light. bless these guys.)

PUNK'D p.884
Shock meets chic in the season’s most deliciously daring, blindingly bold new hair. Early adopter Harriet Charity Verney talks color, way outside the box.

OMG, this girl can write!  There was so much great stuff in this story that it was hard to cut anything out. It was a great wrap up that brought the issue into sharp focus.

Punk'd: Fall's most fearless hair trend (remember FEARLESS FASHION in 2007?)
"whimsically wild"
"way beyond blonde"
"grunge has been updated; it's lighthearted." (what would Kurt think?)

A few of choice bits:

Wild hair has since spread like a forest fire—cropping up across the runways and dominating global street-style blogs

Alex Brownsell, 24, co-owner of Bleach in London, believes the recession triggered the trend for dip-dyes. Three to four years ago, as the financial crisis smothered London, she noticed people on the street wearing “recession roots.” Women could no longer afford the maintenance that highlighted hair required, so they let their roots grow out—resulting in a cool look copied around the world. “It’s a generation thing now, not a trend,” she says. (no, it's socionomics, baby)

Marie Antoinette was the original French punk,” says hairstylist Sam McKnight.

There are no boundaries in beauty anymore,” explains Guido Palau, who wove clashing orange-red, black, and white-blonde extensions into the ends of models’ hair at Prada’s fall show for a dramatic color-blocked effect. (no boundaries! the next horizon awaits!)

In L.A., actresses of all ages are unleashing their inner risk-taker, mixing up otherwise boring red carpets as they go. (fearless fashion)

The Upper East Side is not immune, either. At her salon on Fifth Avenue, Rita Hazan (Katy Perry’s colorist) notes women coming in for chunks of temporary color hidden “in the back or under their bangs. That way, they can go to the office,” she says.

Manhattan entrepreneur and socialite Julie Macklowe says “People do a double take when they see me dropping my daughter off at school,” she admitted a few days after the party. “I look like I’m from outer space when I walk down the Upper East Side. I love the attention.” (space odyssey, over the next horizon, diversity in appearance...)

Back at Bleach, they’re currently pushing Post-Apocalypse Hair, which roughly emulates “how would you wear your hair if the world was to end tomorrow.”

Notice how fall's most fearless fashion trend comes full circle from whimsically wild, deliciously daring, blindingly bold, lighthearted grunge to how would you wear your hair if the world was to end tomorrow.

It's the crux of 916 pages of bifurcated advertising and editorial that implores us to LOOK BOTH WAYS if we are to understand the socionomic implications of it.

But how?


THE SOCIONOMIC IMPLICATIONS OF SEPTEMBER VOGUE

The stock market is the most widely followed barometer of social mood.  If social mood is bifurcating and becoming polarized as the market goes higher, is the market giving us any clues?

It is.

Lately, "look both ways" is manifesting throughout the news landscape in the phrase MIXED SIGNALS.

Daily Breakdown: Mixed Signals (New Republic)
Voters Get Mixed Signals From The Market (Salon)
USD Index Clouded With Mixed Signals (Daily FX)
Mixed Signals On Apple (WSJ)
US Gave 'Mixed Signals' On Egypt: Romney (Herald Sun)

What could generate such mixed signals?

Money. Or actually, the debasement of money.

The Dow Jones Industrial average may not have made much progress since 2000, but prices have. Take gas, for example, which recently hit $4 per gallon nationwide for the first time ever. The price of gas has steadily risen because the price of dollars has steadily fallen. Confused? Again, maybe that's the message. Or the intent. Or the unintended consequence.

How do you make the price of something stay high or go higher? You debase its denominator.

What would the Dow Jones Industrial average look like if it was priced in gold instead of dollars? This is a question that Prechter has asked several times over the past several years, and it's been a fascination of mine ever since.

The answer is revealed in the chart below. It impels us to . . .

LOOK BOTH WAYS


The black line is a chart of the Dow Jones Industrial average. The red line is what it would look like if it was priced in gold, otherwise known as "real money" for thousands of years by being difficult to produce and therefore difficult to debase.

Notice that if the Dow were priced in gold, there would have been no rally into the 2007 top and no rally since the 2009 low.

Nominal values have been held up through debasement. Meanwhile, the real market, the real economy, the real value of paper money has crashed with very few realizing it.

Yet each time you reach for your wallet, you know.

Therefore, to understand why society is so confused, so polarized, so divided, so bifurcated, you must ignore the invitation to "pay no attention to that man behind the curtain."

You must be an active (rather than passive) participant when you consume media.

You must understand (to paraphrase Marshall McLuhan) that social mood is the message.

You must realize the truth about "money."

You must look both ways . . . up and down.

These are just a few of the socionomic implications of this year's September Vogue.

_______________________________________________________________
Special thanks to Robert Prechter for pioneering the groundbreaking science of Socionomics, to the Socionomics Institute for creating the Dow/Vogue chart, and to Paul Macrae Montgomery of Universal Economics for creating the Magazine Cover Indicator.



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