KEEPING IT SIMPLE: THE RISE OF HYGGE, WABI SABI AND SLOW MAKING

Giovanna Bataglia became the most famous bride in history after throwing her “Celebration of Extravagance” wedding party last year. Until then, Bataglia was a relatively unknown fashion editor of various Vogues. One thing stood out: she has been said to take her breakfast in Milan, lunch in London and dinner in Stockholm.

In this lifestyle, Bataglia is not alone. Being on the road has become the staple of fashion, business and art aficionados who take pride in living their lives at the speed of the Internet, together with the supporting Instagram and Snapchat evidence. 

While this lifestyle may seem glamorous, it is also rapidly becoming painfully old-fashioned. If the hobbies we amassed in the past ten years – from knitting, to cookery classes, to puzzle assembly, to pottery making, to board games, to flower arranging, to colouring for adults – are any indication, our modern lifestyles have nothing to do with our Internet-driven lives.

In fact, they are the exact opposite of the Internet.

Our craving for the pre-electricity lifestyle of simple pleasures, farm-to-table food, homemade meals, hand-woven items, comfort and contentment is a side-effect of lives that are too fast, too busy, too connected and too global.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BQ_-vvNhGZ_/

We don’t have to go Amish to have it. Reacting to the pervasiveness of modern technology, companies have figured out that they should invest in ‘slow making’, ‘wabi-sabi’ and ‘hygge’ – among other all-natural, organic, simple, humble creations dedicated to the lifestyle of being rather than doing or having.

Seemingly overnight, ‘wabi-sabi’ – the Japanese art of imperfection – emerged from the depths of the Far East’s fifteenth century straight into our living rooms. The most modern forms of leisure today, across décor, travel and hospitality, are wabi-sabi: raw, simple and pared down. Forget about the showiness and opulence of bygone eras; humble spirituality is where it’s at.

There are few places that are more raw, simple or humble in their surroundings than the Nevada desert – home of exclusive, invitation-only Further Future festival, which is built around the values of diversity, respect, creative expression and intellectual curiosity. A Burning Man spin-off (and according to some, its more modern iteration), Further Future’s mission is to take human connection to the ‘next step’ by discussing the far-away future of health, wellness, farming and life.

Blame the Internet. The endless reproducibility of Internet culture makes us long for experiences that are tangible, authentic and hard to replicate.

Enter ‘slow making’, a trend that doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Even a precursory research into the term reveals no less than 14K Instagram posts labeled with #slowmade, with all sorts of handmade objects, food and clothing on display. Etsy is in overdrive. Not to mention The New Craftsmen, Lusitano1143, 1stDibs, Soane Britain and other companies that have been launched in the past couple of years to feed our obsession with wood-carved items, hand-woven blankets and glass canisters blown in a trunk of a tree. We’d take anything imperfect, handmade, authentic, and hopefully hard to find. If it’s made just for us, even better.

The best expressions of ‘slow hospitality’ are found in Japanese ryokans. Take Kanazawa prefecture’s Beniya Mukayu, for example. Japanese breakfast and nine-course-dinner meals are all prepared with locally sourced food, and global food connoisseurs come in to stay at special times of the year, when the local crab is best or when the rare vegetable is ripe. Everything at this onsen is deliberate, unhurried and considered, meant to slow us down.

The best time for these Rock Oysters ^_^

A post shared by Beniya Mukayu (@beniyamukayu) on

Our drive to slow down is now cherished as a lifestyle. These days, a week can’t pass by without another mention of ‘hygge’, literally meaning ‘the art of cozyness’ in Danish. Until recently, Danes haven’t been known for much other than morose murder dramas. But that all changed with the onset of hygge, the activity of cuddling up at home with a select group of friends, farm-to-table food, homemade mulled wine and as many candles as one can light without starting the fire alarm. Hygge took Northern Europe by storm, generating endless how-to manuals and even making it into the top three most-used terms of 2016 (the other two being ‘Brexit’ and ‘Trumpism’), according to the New York Times. If the Internet is too accessible, our hygge nights are not.

Herein lies the new non-digital divide.

We may think that cozying up is our response to speed, uncertainty and the sheer vastness of the hyper-connected world around us. We may think that wanting to recognise the hidden, the unconventional, the humble and the simple is a reaction to the mass commodification of everything from culture, fashion and art, to political protest, social unrest and our own wellness and spirituality. We may also think that it represents our resistance to the digitalisation of our lives (to the point that it doesn’t make sense to use the term ‘digital’ anymore). We wouldn’t be wrong, but we would miss a much bigger point.

Slow making, hygge and wabi-sabi are indeed reflections of our emotional repertoire, developed as a reaction to the zeros and ones of the Internet. But they are also aspirations to be acquired.

Today we strive to have the simplest of pleasures – like comfort, rest and contentment – with the same fervour we once strived to accumulate material possessions or professional achievements. Our success in life is measured by the quality of our being versus doing or having.

A lifestyle of simplicity, modesty and humility is the new status symbol. Most of us hardly can or want to do things without technology; but being inaccessible, disconnected and able to unplug is reserved only for those who can afford to use technology at will and not as a necessity.

It’s ironic, that. The role of technology has become to provide us with a life with no obvious technological presence. That’s the ultimate hidden beauty of a deliberate, wabi-sabi, lit-fireplace lifestyle.

Technology transformed how we work, love and play. It made everything accessible, transparent and easily available. It compressed space and time, and allowed someone in Dubai, Tashkent or Minnesota to stay in the same hotels, travel to the same destinations and enjoy the same niche cultures.

But as it turns out, we don’t actually want that. We want to go places that no one else goes to. We want our trips to be imperfectly just so. And we don’t want to share them with a tonne of others. We may call it cozying up, but please.


Ana is strategist, writer and doctor of sociology. She works as SVP, Global Strategy Director at Havas LuxHub, where she guides fashion, luxury and lifestyle companies in adapting to digital economy. Ana was recognised as one of Luxury Women to Watch 2016 and one the top 10 digital strategists in the world by the Guardian. Her writing appears in the leading industry publications and she often speaks at the global technology, media and fashion conferences. You can learn more about her work at www.andjelicaaa.com and follow her on Twitter at @andjelicaaa.