It sounds like a dream — spending your day prowling fashion capitals looking for the Next Big Thing in fashion. But for a select few, it’s not a dream; it’s a dream job called coolhunting. Thousands of companies depend on these fashion spies for their marketing.
It’s nice work if you can get it. Coolhunters — or trendscouts or trendspotters are normally university students or young professionals between 20 and 25. They work for middlemen international research centres, such as Future Concept Lab (FCL) in Milan, one of the fashion capitals of the world. FCL has 50 coolhunters spread out over 40 locations worldwide, in cities like Tel Aviv, Sao Paulo, New York, Sydney, and Buenos Aires. A coolhunter must be young because in later years one starts to lose the freshness that comes natural as a young adult. Coolhunting is never their only job. The idea is that it becomes compatible with other creative tasks for which they have studied, such as communications, creative design, photography, journalism and even marketing and business. Always on the prowl, these coolhunters do three or four reports each year.
Twenty-five-year-old Valentina di Francesco is Milan’s premier coolhunter. She has a degree in industrial design, but she has also studied interior design, fashion and photography. Her day job is being an editorial coordinator with the international magazine LOTUS. During her studies, Valentina made contact with FCL and was told to research the relationship between a watch and its owner. This meant going out on the street, stopping pedestrians, interviewing them and taking their pictures.
Nowadays FCL gives Valentina a brief without revealing their client. She spends three or four days on “pre-research”. She walks kilometre after kilometre through Milan and surfs the internet. Once she finds what she is looking for, she interviews and photographs her subject. “A stolen photograph most likely will not come out right,” she says. Next, she spend two or three days selecting the best shots. She then presents her work to FCL with images, comments, pictures, best-sellers and advertising along with anything else that has captured her attention. For each report she is paid up to 1,500 euros. Seeing her photographs published in the FCL book is definitely a personal high!
After receiving reports from different cities around the world, FCL forwards this information to clients such as NOKIA, Coca-Cola, Ikea and Max Mara. As a result, these companies grasp the differences between one culture and another and identify what people are looking for in different cities. They can incorporate these observations into their new designs. FCL, with its headquarters in Milan, has correspondents in 25 countries around the world.
You can find a coolhunter lurking just about anywhere. In streets, public transport, bars, parks, museums, parties, shops and even churches, they scout for whatever is new and trendy. As Valentina embarks on her hunting, armed only with a camera, the world is reduced to black and white and only what is of interest to her appears in colour. Valentina is quite conscious that she sends a message with each of her photographs. FCL has been astonished at her results. “This cannot be Milan, people are smiling on the street. This is impossible!”
Valentina’s family life helped her to prepare for a job as a coolhunter. As the youngest of six children, she is used to observing behaviour, expressions and attire. Her siblings are divided into two groups. Three are technical — a surgeon, a biologist, and a paediatrician — and three are creative — a sculptor, an architect, and a coolhunter. When asked about her plans to form a family at some point, Valentina’s response was, “Absolutely… I want ten kids!”
The artist-hero of Chaim Potok’s novel My Name is Asher Lev is given some advice early in his career: “You should make the world pretty”. With her enormous global marketing influence, the coolhunter and her camera are in a great position to make this a reality.
Adela Lo Celso and Alegria Duran-Ballen are freelance journalists in Europe.