When was that last time you used the word „beauty“?
Beauty is a term rarely used in the sports segment. Design and product development center mainly on criteria like functionality, novelty, competitive pricing, feasibility, time lines, sales numbers, minimum quantities, and making the whole process faster – from idea to delivery of the final product. Beauty is not seen as a key success factor for products and branding, rather it is regarded as superficial, irrelevant to performance products.
In a world of standardized products driven by numbers and codes and optimized structures, the very human desire for beauty and emotion has been deeply neglected, even beyond the sports segment.
Is the idea of beauty outdated?
Man & Beauty
The evolution of Homo sapiens is closely interwoven with the concept of beauty. In the early days of human history, the simple stone tools already reveal the will to design, to combine function and form. Many periods in history are characterized by the pursuit of beauty in culture and art. Already in ancient Greece, the philosophers Socrates and Plato tried to define beauty‘s general characteristics. Thinkers of the 18th and 19th century considered beauty as an ultimate value like goodness and truth.
The well known equation „beauty = good = true“ is often cited and links beauty with a noble and moral good. But what does beauty mean? What is good? Can beauty truly be good? Is beauty just a fleeting sensation or is it everlasting? Is beauty just a meaningless pleasure as we are told by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804) in the 18th century who wrote:
»That which gratifies a man is called pleasant; that which merely pleases him is beautiful; good is that which is esteemed by him, i.e. that to which he accords an objective worth.«
Ever since antiquity, it has been difficult to state a universally accepted conceptual meaning for such an abstract term as beauty. The definition of beauty has always been subject to controversial discussions. Beauty reflects time and culture – social conventions, value norms, and subjective feelings are the basis for our decisions regarding whether something is beautiful or ugly. Ideals of beauty come and go. In the 18th century, Scottish philosopher David Hume aptly summed up this constant change with the words:
»Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.«
The concept of human beauty (for both genders) has fundamentally changed multiple times over the course of history. Since ancient times, the desire for beauty has always played a major role in societies. Only with the beginning of the 19th century did the differentiation between the sexes become more pronounced. Men began to wear rather functional clothing in muted colors – self-adornment was considered unmanly. This value judgment is one that continues to this day. In modern times, we are flooded by beautiful images of beautiful people, wonderful places, marvelous food – nearly everyone seems to be concerned with their own physical beauty and seeks to portray an optimal outward appearance and a gorgeous way of life. No wonder that the word beauty today primarily crops up in the context of cosmetics and fitness cults.
Digital disruption & beauty
It will be exciting to observe how our understanding of individual beauty develops in the digital age. Science and technology continue their rapid development and can provide previously unimagined possibilities for optimization. Values and norms are permanently shifting. What will happen at the interface of the virtual world and the analog human body?
Nature & Beauty
By all traditional accounts, beauty is not reflected solely in culture and the arts, but also in nature. Picturesque landscapes, a sunset over the ocean, cherry blossoms that open against a blue sky are natural wonders that we admire and enjoy. It feels good to be outdoors, surrounded by a beautiful landscape and it has been proven to improve our health. Even the best photographs of a beautiful, pristine natural landscape cannot replace the feeling of being outdoors and experiencing nature first hand.
Sport has been called the most beautiful pastime in the world. So it is no wonder that we practice sports outdoors in nature – whenever possible, in the most beautiful locations in the world. Many sports are based on interactions with nature, for example, mountains and water have always captivated and motivated people to action, especially, since the end of the 19th century. Outdoor sports really took off in the 20th century. More and more people are drawn to nature, first of all, by the desire or need to recuperate in undisturbed surroundings. Since the 1980s, outdoor sports have become a mass phenomenon, developing numerous variations and clearly leaving an imprint behind on the most attractive regions. Life and work have become increasingly complex, constant accessibility via all possible channels of communication (always on), and extreme time pressures fuel this urge that most people have today for quiet and beautiful retreats, especially, in the outdoors.
How can we preserve the great outdoors as the great outdoors?
Sports clothing production is a cause of environmental pollution and is harmful to nature. Keeping in mind that most sports are tightly connected to nature, the sports industry has an obligation to practice sustainable production to preserve nature‘s beauty as free of pollutants as possible.
Sustainability & Beauty
Think of your most beloved belongings! How long do you keep them already? Of course they are close to your heart and have an emotional value for you. But why? Things we love and appreciate for their beauty, functionality and quality are by their general nature sustainable. They will last longer, they will be worth to be repaired (in whatever way) and they might be loved in the future by others who love to listen to the stories these things are able to tell.
Function & Beauty
French author Théophile Gautier (1811 - 1872) suggested:
»If something is useful, it stops being beautiful.«
The modern sports sector formulates it differently: „If something is functionally right, it does not have to be beautiful.“
For too long, this has been the guiding principle in product design throughout the industry. The focus of the number-driven development of functionality, the core value of sports clothing, was in the context of water-proofing, wind resistance, breathability, etc. and nowhere was beauty listed as a criterion. Mainly, this was because beauty is not quantifiable and could not be measured.
Do you love your sports clothing?
The rude awakening for many suppliers came only with the rise of athleisure wear. Suddenly, it was clear why so many outdoor collections were not attractive to women – lack of radiance. Functional perfection and excellent, efficient manufacturing methods seldom arouse the emotional desire „I want to have this."
No desire is created by store shelves that display masses of nearly identical looking jackets or by the usual images shown in online catalogs. The marketing for such collections is limited when the focus of the narrative is on the hard-core performers and must always be staged on the same sets featuring extreme challenges and, of course, shot in a perfect, pristine natural setting! The latter image is quite distant to many people who participate in active sports today – more than half of the world‘s population lives in sprawling metropolises and megacities. Sports activity poses quite a different challenge and the surroundings place different requirements on the equipment. What does the industry offer to the sports enthusiasts there?
The traditional, very rational approach to product design is still valid, if only for a small percentage of today’s users. Sport has changed from being purely for physical fitness to being a lifestyle choice; and, sport products, in particular, sneakers, have long since moved away from traditional places and now appear even at the opera. The consumers of sportswear appreciate the practical features (easy-care, robust, functional) of the clothing and want to enjoy them in other everyday activities and while on holiday. Of course, wearing sporty clothes should also help to convey the image of being athletic, active, healthy and strong – as we are all expected to be in these times. Yet women, especially, want something more: attractive styles with form fitting cuts, pretty colors or color combinations, materials with a pleasant feel and perhaps even an attractive pattern – in short: a garment that you cannot resist. Particularly, in over-saturated markets, standing out in the crowd while supplying an attractive and persuasive product is essential.
The Beauty of Function
»Beauty is the harmony of purpose and form.«
– Alvar Aalto, 1928
Clothing of a particular brand – even pure performance wear – needs more than just a logo to be recognizable. It should be obvious that performance wear provides the right functionality. But, what about added value? What else does the consumer look for? We know that people do not always make rational decisions – emotions influence decisions, too. Simply providing an overloaded hang-tag with a lot of number-based information about the fabrics is not of much use if the look & feel of the garment is not attractive.
Sport emotionalizes beyond all boundaries, sporting events fascinate people around the world. When we are active in sports ourselves, we feel better and are happy about what we achieve. We do things for our physical well-being, but what about the clothes we wear? Do they make us look good? Do they support our well-being?
Responding to these changes and the different requirements it is still a challenge for the sport sector. New scenarios and exciting visions for multi-faceted sport clothing, are (still) few and far between. The high caliber expertise on materials and technology is available, guiding concepts for collections geared to contemporary lifestyles have yet to be developed.
In addition to the functional and attractive design of crossover clothing, we have to tackle new segments like health sports, sports for an aging population, and eSports. The issue in all segments is innovation: the definition and implementation of new and/or additional functionalities, the development of new aesthetic design approaches (for example, cutting patterns for older bodies!), and fresh ideas for communication and marketing are demanded.
Design should always be implemented in the context of space, time, and socio-cultural developments. There must be confidence to try something new and to deviate from the norms. To give beauty and emotion to a garment or a collection requires a creative process, accurate observation, and empathy for the target group.
The continuation of what already exists on the basis of numbers or algorithms is not effective over the long term. What is required is beauty to support function, arouse emotions, and stimulate the senses.Over the last decade the world has been changing at unheard-of speeds and that must be taken into account. The idea of beauty is a dynamic living concept that knows no standstill and thrives on constant change.
Umberto Eco’s book „On Ugliness“ published in 2007 provides a quote:
»Beauty is, in some ways, boring. Even if its concept changes through the ages, nevertheless, a beautiful object must always follow certain rules … Ugliness is unpredictable and offers an infinite range of possibilities.«
If the sunset were to occur every day in the same perfect form, wouldn‘t we soon find it boring? Are we not today, constantly
searching for something new and unpredictable? Do we not find something wondrous in the imperfect, the unfinished, the raw, original, fresh, and the transgressions that break boundaries today? And we like these findings – even if they are not functional at all and just a reflection of useless beauty.
The coming Winter 2020/21 and Summer 2021 seasons are shifting and pushing the boundaries. While material development continues to follow a function-oriented thinking, we increasingly see a new openness that brings together contemporary methods, technologies, functions, and aesthetics. The season’s Focus Topic „The Beauty of Function“ was well received by the exhibitors of PERFORMANCE DAYS with various beautiful and, for sportswear, sometimes unusual fabrics being developed in an exciting triangle of fibre, feel, and color.
Particularly striking are the many metallic and iridescent finishes – either in gradient dark tones or in bright artificial shades. Lustrous sheens discretely create movement and provide a fleeting dynamic (Jury‘s Pick n° 06: LMA, 8313/PH747-Holographic Foil; Jury‘s Pick n° 23: Pontetorto, 287/571; 2Layer n° 23: Carol, T107229). Reflective patterns and glow-in-the-dark features complete this visually intriguing concept.
A big question of our time is:
»How do we as human beings interact and communicate with the world?«
Our hands are not made just for clicking and swiping. We want to get back in touch with our surroundings. We want to feel what we wear and have contact with things we use. One of the most important trend topics centers on „Tactility“ – whether a 3-D knitted jacquard, a soft corduroy, or some grainy irregular structure (Jury‘s Pick n° 02: Brugnoli, Br4/124; Midlayer n° 13: Labtex, k09382A0; Softshell n° 21: ISKO™, ARQUAS.6-02).
High performance functionality and colorful beauty are not mutually exclusive concepts: stunning prints work well with excellent 3Layer fabrics (Jury‘s Pick n° 17: Tohei Tsusho, STORM-FLEX; 2.5&3Layer n° 04: Hyperbola, C3011; Highdensity&Lightweight n° 20: Onechang Material, 2019-008-PS0). Lush motifs highlight a key topic for the Summer 2021
season: Plants & Nature. People have an overwhelming desire to be outdoors and, if that is not possible, we just decorate the skyscrapers with flowers and plants to break the monotony of modern steel & glass architecture!
Discover this and other trend topics at the PERFORMANCE FORUM – let yourself be inspired by the beauty of the fabrics and accessories on display!
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© 2019 Nora Kühner fashion design consulting
© 2019 Design & Development GmbH Textile Consult