Trend Forecaster Haysun Hahn: The Queen of Cool

Section Articles:

Being True to Yourself in a World that’s Losing its Cool

Hip Hot Spots
15 of the hippest neighborhoods in the U.S and Canada

Let Them Eat Lifestyle
From hip to hype — the ultimate coporate takeover by The Baffler’s Tom Frank

Beyond Hip
Looking for something better than the Next Big Thing

The Queen of Cool
Haysun Hahn gets paid to be hipper than the rest of us

Are Black People Cooler than White People?
Dumb Question.

How I Escaped My Addiction to Hip
by playwright and screenwriter Eve Ensler

It Took a Village
There’s nothing new about business co-opting hip life

Somewhere in the darkest, coldest corner of Sweden, there’s a hotel made entirely of ice. Haysun Hahn, globetrotting arbiter of all things hip, wants to go there, but she has run into a problem. “I can’t get anyone to go with me,” she says with an exasperated sigh. “My assistants refuse to sleep on beds of ice. They don’t understand why I want to go there, but they will.”

How could a place so cold possibly be hot? Take Hahn’s word for it. As director of New York-based Bureau de Style, one of the world’s top trend-forecasting agencies, Hahn is used to being one step ahead of the pack. She’s in the business of predicting the latest hip trend, and she takes her research seriously.

Take cold and ice, for instance.

“Cold weather is really a lot more interesting to people right now than warm weather,” Hahn explains. “Alaska is important. Antarctica is a big issue. Winter sports like snowboarding are also hot. Any piece of art with a snowflake or an icicle in it right now sells for $10,000 more than one without. We’re on the verge of something big here, really on the cutting edge.”

It doesn’t matter that the rest of the world isn’t yet aware of Hahn’s ultracool new trend. In fact, it’s probably a good sign. The business of determining hip is an edgy one, requiring an open mind, a high degree of confidence, and a keen set of antennae. Hahn, now 40ish, has been sharpening her forecasting skills for 14 years, first as an art student, then in retail at Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, and Selfridges, among others. Before founding Bureau de Style, she was creative marketing director for Promostyl USA, a Paris-based trend-forecasting agency. “I have a hard time with people who think trending is all about sitting in cafés and watching the world go by,” she says. “People who are good at this business are not simply voyeurs. We are people who live the hip life, people who participate as well as observe.”

Just what is this trending? The way Hahn sees it, she’s facilitating the natural “trickle up” of trends–where versions of the music, activities, and fashions percolating in art galleries, on skateboards, in nightclubs, and in coffee shops eventually make their way to corporate boardrooms around the world. “I’m an interpreter,” she says. “I’m hired to explain what all the pieces mean when you put them together. This is something that happens naturally–to a degree–but people like me, we turn it all around much more quickly.”

During the company’s four-year history, Hahn and Bureau de Style have been hired to scout and interpret trends for “all of the big names,” including Samsung, Fila, Adidas, Nike, Converse, Sears, the government of Thailand, and many American movie studios. A client in the fashion business, for instance, may request a dossier on what will be the hottest new colors–two years from now. Hahn and her 22 employees gather this information by reading newspapers, visiting art galleries, walking the streets, watching the news–and then piecing the small bits of information they gather into one larger trend or set of trends.

But how can what Hahn reads in the newspaper help her predict what color will be featured on Paris runways in the year 2000? It’s all connected, she explains. World events affect how we feel, how we feel affects the art we create, the art we create affects the type of clothes we wear, and on and on. “The human animal is predictable,” she says. “Colors act as symbols of the larger culture. If we are in a prosperous spirit, then we wear bright, happy colors. During the Reagan era, a time of prosperity for many, the colors were simple, bright, patriotic, and flaglike: reds, blues.”

The prosperous late ’90s also feature bright colors, but with a twist. “We’re seeing computer-graphic, media-screened process colors, synthetic fabrics,” Hahn says. “The bright colors of today are still bright, but tweaked. It’s as if we’re enthusiastic about our future, but with an edge.” Trendy tweaked computer colors include the ubiquitous acid-infused citrus, spicy orange-pink, and anything with a metallic sheen. In the year 2000, Hahn predicts that the hot trend will be “interactive, transparent” fabrics in “natural metal colors” like gold, silver, and bronze. The switch from tweaked to shimmery natural is in line with a larger cultural shift toward spiritualism, humanism, and the supernatural, Hahn says.

“In the past few years, we have been watching the world become more emotional and moralistic,” she explains. “The current wars of the world are mostly based on moral or religious freedom and not on extra land or power. This is a gross oversimplification, but the spiritual attention we humans are giving to the good in us justifies trends like the desire for images of angels and gods on everything from dresses to pillows.”

Besides evidence to the contrary, Hahn argues that trending is not a superficial business. Rather, it’s a complex study of human behavior, one that’s best compared to anthropology or sociology or, for that matter, psychology. “You need a grounding in everything to be good at this,” says Hahn, who was educated at Fashion Institute of Technology, Parsons School of Design, and the Laboratory Institute of Merchandising. “It is an intellectual pursuit, and it requires a strong understanding of human behavior. It’s much deeper than people think.”

So it goes without saying that Hahn must be hipper than hip.

“Is she hip? It’s a strange question,” says Michelle Daniels, Hahn’s assistant. “She’s in the fashion business. She’s one of the top trend analysts. She follows everything. So it makes sense that she’d be a cutting-edge person.”

I suppose so, but still, there’s that Swedish ice hotel. And those reluctant assistants. Has Hahn ever been wrong about a trend?

“This is always a sticky question,” she says. “But the correct answer is: No, the forecast for trends is never wrong.” Because what Hahn wants, we’ll all want, sooner or later. It’s just a matter of time.

Part of Utne Reader cover story, November/December 1997.

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