In 1987 the Los Angeles Times ran an article titled “The Essence of Cocooning: It’s a Desire for a Cozy, Perfect Environment Far From the Influences of a Madding World.” The story profiled Orson Mozes and Christen Brown, a couple who used to hit the clubs, dine out almost every night and take in every movie remotely worth seeing. Yoga classes, meditation groups, horseback riding, scuba diving- you name it, they did it. But then they discovered cocooning, the term coined by New York trend forecaster Faith Popcorn in 1981 to describe the growing popularity of what used to be known as simply staying at home. Instead of visiting restaurants, they began dining in. Meditation and yoga were also performed at home, where the couple confined movie going to viewing videocassettes on a VCR, and also reorganised their businesses so they could work from home two days a week. “This is how we regenerate,” Brown told the Los Angeles Times, “and make time for our careers, for our family and for ourselves. It’s a very loving thing to do.”
Sound familiar? Thanks to the ongoing impact of COVID-19, cocooning, defined by Popcorn as “the need to protect oneself from the harsh, unpredictable realities of the outside world,” is once more central to our lifestyles. “The current lockdown, and the possible repercussions of these preventative measures over the next few years, have given rise to cocooning, a trend that makes the home the centre of all our activities, from leisure to work,” proclaimed design and lifestyle magazine FINSA. Add in the political turmoil and rioting in the US, and fires, cyclones and environmental disaster globally, and it’s hardly surprising a sense of being unable to control the world around us has led us to once more seek sanctuary from it.
“Cocooning continues to drive cultural shifts, expressing the desire for safety, comfort and privacy as the outside world proves wearing-and-tearing and un-navigable,” writes Popcorn on her BrainReserve website. “Our civilization is looking for more and more protection as political divisiveness grows; rogue germs…that don’t respond to medications spread; and crazy weather surges.”
COCOONING IN 2020
This time around, cocooning is not confined to the yuppies of the Los Angeles Times article – it is an overreaching trend permeating all demographics of society as we grapple with disturbing phenomena beyond our control. As we shift to cooking, working, exercising, socialising and unwinding at home rather than out in the outside world, an entire industry has sprung up to facilitate cocooning in 2020. Staying in is the new going out, and the opportunities for savvy purveyors of products and services are immense.
“More individuals will make purchases that provide control, comfort and security against what they perceive as a harsh outside world,” writes Popcorn. “Brands and businesses that can provide sanctuary in an unsafe world will thrive.”
A FASHIONABLE RESPONSE
For a visual snapshot that encapsulates the pivot to at-home industries, look no further than the doona dressing on the runways of Milan Fashion Week in September, where looks included an enormous white continental quilt coat by Italian brand Fendi. The collection, inspired by relaxing and reflecting with family at home, included house coats, ethereal tunics and oodles of comfy silhouettes that were emblematic of the broader trend to lounge and leisurewear dressing for stay-at-home style. In Australia, think the chic linen pyjamas that double as loungewear by Sydney brand In Bed, and the velvet monogrammed slippers by Melbourne’s Monte footwear that will take you from the couch to Coles with ease. St Agni and My General Store in Byron Bay provide plenty of easy-breezy garments in natural fibres such as cotton, silk and Merino wool that allow you roll from the boudoir to answering the door. Other designers are marketing statement jewellery and tops and jackets with eye-catching details to turn a Zoom call into a fashion moment from your living room.
With our focus firmly on the home environment, interiors are also being recalibrated with a retreat lifestyle in mind. Softer carpets and rugs are being rolled out to take the edge off floorboards and stone; couches and beds are drifting to larger and more comfortable styles and sales of tactile textiles and homewares – from cushions to table-top – are on the rise.
Giving purpose to those new purchases, restaurants and cafes are serving up chez-moi cuisine via new home delivery services that offer elevated takes on the usual pizza and pad Thai courtesy of Uber Eats and Deliveroo.
Sydney chef Josh Niland has struggled to keep up with demand for his Fish Butchery At Home Service since he started it in March, selling ready-to-cook dinner packs that run from Balmain bug dumplings with black vinegar, cucumber and sesame to king prawn bucatini with chilli, lemon and black garlic bread. Easily assembled in just one or two steps, all that’s left for you to do is open a bottle of wine and enjoy the smug satisfaction of an “I (kind of) made it myself” superior dining experience within the comfort of your own casa. In Melbourne, fine dining restaurant Vue de monde has taken its silver service experience to epicureans ensconced at home with Vue to You. For $140 you can order a three course repast running from French Onion Soup with a Cheese and Onion Brioche Bun to Confit Duck Legs with Braised Lentil followed by Pear Tarte Tatin. Should you require a matching beverage, Vue de Monde’s head sommelier Dorian Guillon will take you inside his wine cellar to select the perfect pairing for dining in.
But while home products and services are booming, the downside of cocooning is that the sharing economy may be coming to an end. A recent article in Monocle magazine asked: “Is that the sound of a door closing on Airbnb? Will anyone ever want to ride in an UberPool again?” The rise of the peer-to-peer economy has been one of the biggest trends in recent years but as we seek spaces free from strangers, Monocle suggests cocooning could spell its demise.
“In an age of pandemic anxiety, these assumptions (about the sharing economy) have all but evaporated,” Monocle observed. “The sharing economy was meant to represent the commerce of the future, the perfect fusion of technology and reality. That destiny now looks shaky at best.”
NOT WORKING FROM HOME
What of workplace? After many months of working from home the early benefits of not commuting and spending the day in your PJs appear to be wearing thin. Organisations are mapping the path back to the office and many employees are comfortable with stepping back into the fold, perhaps on more of a part-time basis. After initially welcoming the WFH transition, it has transpired that many domestic set ups are not configured for productivity for sustained periods. Others simply miss the camaraderie and creativity that bubbles around the water cooler.
The reimagined office will inevitably embrace the concept of “Together Apart,” incorporating spaces that are shared but zoned for privacy, safety and security. “People are understandably more cautious about communal spaces and are less keen to work in crowded open plan settings,” says Paramount by The Office Space co-founder Naomi Tosic. With just 22 private offices spread over 300 square metres including communal areas and a dedicated concierge service, The Office Space exemplifies the trend towards smaller and more secure workspaces that still allow for social interaction. “Smaller serviced office environments are highly managed and curated spaces, so they can actually be safer, cleaner and more co-ordinated environments than the traditional workplace,” says Tosic.
FROM COCOON TO BALLON
As we reassess everything in 2020, from the way we live in our homes to the way we work and socialise, perhaps cocooning 2.0 will evolve into ballooning – larger community-focused bubbles to cushion our emergence from the pandemic. With positivity and shared purpose, good ideas will surely float, ensuring we move forward with a stronger foundation to live our best lives, at close quarters with family and out in the wider world with colleagues and friends.