Inspiring editorial from MIX Magazine
Part of the forecaster’s remit is to sense what is rising and what is falling, acknowledging ebbs and flows in popularity. When it comes to trends, what goes around nearly always comes back around.
People’s ability to read meaning and intention into what is essentially a giant mass of water vapour has ensured that clouds have enjoyed an uninterrupted trend ascension over the centuries. From childhood games to the expressions ‘head in the clouds’ and ‘silver lining’, clouds have been synonymous with dreaminess and reverie since the beginning of time.
The importance of weather systems to early agrarian communities also meant that clouds, as harbingers of rain, were imbued with mystical qualities. Gods, from Christian and Buddhist to Ancient Greek and Mayan, are all placed reverently on powdery piles of clouds.
China has a long history of cloud symbolism; highly stylised lucky clouds grace Zhou dynasty bronze vessels, a motif that continues today. In Japan, Edo period woodcuts depict clouds draped around mountain tops, while in the 18th and 19th century, delicate wisps adorn everything from birdcages to sword hilts. In India, where monsoons bring welcome relief from summer heat, clouds feature prominently in art and sculpture.
Cloudscapes, popularised by the work of British artists JMW Turner and John Constable, were popular throughout Europe and America in the 18th and 19th century, a tradition continued into the 20th century by Georgia O’Keeffe with her series of cloud paintings seen from above.
Clouds had also been busy informing surrealism; Magritte and Dalí both loved cloud symbolism. By the ‘50s, the growing affordability of air travel saw poster art filled with planes rising above billowing clouds, a shorthand for holidays and escape.
Yet these painterly versions aren’t what is chiming right now. The current iteration of cloud motifs seems to owe more to classic weather channel pictograms and Toy Story than classic representations.
Arguably, clouds are just one in a long line of millennial favourites that include the avocado, rainbows, cacti, and cats. Clouds, like cacti and other inanimate objects, lend themselves to cutesy, cartoon smiley faces. There’s a self-aware kitsch message going on here, with just a hint of ‘80s nostalgia, hence pictogram representation rather than Renaissance print. This approach is embodied by Cloudcore, a social media-driven aesthetic, that celebrates all things fluffy and cloudy.
From a designer’s point of view, clouds work well for prints, small accessories, fashion and jewellery, not so much for bigger items. This approach is ably illustrated by Fluff Wax and Silkiere (Australia); both have come up with cloud candles in soft pastel shades, while D’Amour has a ceramic mug that sits on its own little cloud tray.
Likewise, Primark’s pale blue jumper has this quality, while at Urban Outfitters, cheeky cloud lights come with little winking cartoon faces. It’s all very cute, unthreatening, and reassuring. Like so many recent motifs, including the rainbow, the cloud in its current format harks back to childhood and comforting certainty. No wonder then that this trend trajectory is currently riding sky high.
MIX Magazine is a quarterly print and digital publication by our creative agency, Colour Hive and is available as part of Colour Hive membership.
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Credits from top:
Billy Huynh | Laurence King Publishing | The Met Museum | The Met Museum | Leliévre Paris | Smithsonian American Art Museum, Bequest of Mabel Johnson Langhorne | Choi Nikolai | Clark van der Beken | Lights4fun | Primark | Lights4fun