Profile: Li Edelkoort and Fetishism in Fashion

By Penny Craswell

I wrote this article following an interview with Li Edelkoort, one of the world’s leading trend futurists. The interview was conducted over a garden breakfast during the Milan Furniture Fair 2014, was commissioned by Kobe Johns (now of JP Finsbury) and was first published in the DesignEX catalogue 2014.

Left: an image from Fetishism in Fashion exhibition, Right: Li Edelkoort
Left: an image from Fetishism in Fashion exhibition, Right: Li Edelkoort

“My job is to anticipate what will be coming.” Lidewij Edelkoort, or Li for short, is one of the best known and most respected trend forecasters in the world. The list of brands she has worked with reads like a who’s who, including Coca-Cola, Lacoste, Disney, Siemens, GAP, L’Oreal. She regularly releases trend books that are sold to top brands all over the world, she started a number of magazines, including Bloom, which presents fashion, design, perfume and more inspired by horticulture. She directed the Design Academy Eindhoven from 1998 to 2008 and established a new design school in Poland in 2011 that merges design with humanities subjects like psychology or anthropology called the School of Form.

Fetishism exhibition at Trapholt Museum of Modern Art, Applied Art, Design and Architecture in Denmark. The exhibition is on now until 24 January 2016.
Fetishism exhibition at Trapholt Museum in Denmark

Predicting the future is hard, if not impossible. So how does she do it? “Intuition is my biggest tool,” says Edelkoort during a sit down breakfast interview at her hotel during the 2014 Salone del Mobile in Milan. “You have to trust your intuition blindly,” she says.

That’s not to say that Edelkoort does not analyse trends. On the contrary, she puts a lot of research into determining why something is a trend, looking at society – what she calls anthropology, but could just as easily be understood as philosophy. One trend she identifies for 2014, which is evident during the Milan furniture fair, is an emphasis on fun. She says we are all sick of the global financial crisis, and points to Maarten Baas’s exhibition for Ventura Projects as one example of a joyous expression, a fantasyland of design.

From Fetishism in Fashion the book by Frame publishers
From Fetishism in Fashion the book by Frame publishers

But this analysis of why a trend has come to be, and how it relates to society, all comes much later. It is the intuition that Edelkoort trusts first. “Often, when it comes to trends, people correct their intuition. I’m not correcting, I’m listening,” she says.

During the fair, Edelkoort’s project Fetishism in Fashion is being exhibited at Ventura Lambrate. The exhibition is accompanied by a beautiful book published by Frame publishers. In it, Edelkoort identifies thirteen key fetishes of contemporary society. She takes a wide definition of the term, including not only more well known fetishes like S&M and bondage, but also fetishes like a love of black, or shoes, or brands, or Japan. For Edelkoort, the word fetish, which comes from the Portuguese “feitico” meaning “a human-made object possessing supernatural powers”, can be applied to any object that we return to for comfort. So a childish attachment to a blanket can turn into a fetish for fabrics, the umbilical cord wrapping our bodies in the womb can turn into a bondage fetish.

From Fetishism in Fashion: Photo: Marie Taillefer, Styling: Sergio Machado
From Fetishism in Fashion: Photo: Marie Taillefer, Styling: Sergio Machado

There is even, again, an analogy with our contemporary society’s crisis – the more in crisis we are, the more we need some object to comfort us, whether it’s that new iPhone, or our new leather shoes. From this, the book extends to 50 fetishes complete with beautiful styled and photography images, texts by key design writers and design products that explore these ideas further. Examples were shown in the exhibition including Dutch furniture designer Pepe Heykoop’s chairs wrapped in patchwork fabric and Femke Agema’s Snowflake Creature, an experimental fabric garment which completely engulfs the wearer like an updside-down dressing gown.

The Fetishism in Fashion project has organically led Edelkoort to her next project, Embyronic. Also a book, this project explores the second coming of cocooning – the concept that we are the egg, cocooned and contained and comforted and waiting to be born. Again, she relates this to current society, arguing that we are all in a period of gestation, waiting for the renaissance to happen. Edelkoort says, “I believe it will happen in 2020. Others say it will be sooner, but I think it will be 2020. By then we will be able to let go of the last century.”

Edelkoort discussed Embryonic during her presentation at DesignEX on 28 May 2014, including exactly how this trend is going to manifest itself in the fashion world, and in our enveloping environments for interiors and architecture. “All design is spherical – it has an outer skin and an inner core.”

Absurdism by Femke Agema. Photo: Trend Tablet
Absurdism by Femke Agema. Photo: Trend Tablet
The book of Fetishism in Fashion
The book of Fetishism in Fashion



Trends in design, and especially in fashion design, tend to come and go, sometimes returning, but always refreshing, replacing. It is the work of trend analysts like Li Edelkoort that help us to understand, not only what is next, but also the why of trends. And it is the why that is the most significant and fascinating aspect of all.

Fetishism in Fashion is currently on at Trapholt Museum of Modern Art, Applied Art, Design and Architecture in Denmark until 24 January 2016. The book is available to buy from Frame publishers.

More on Li Edelkoort

More on Trend Tablet

More on the book Fetishism in Fashion

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