Role models are getting younger as the world is embracing its inner child

From Greta Thunberg to children’s drawings: what’s next? The foetus?

by Tim Fraanje
02 July 2020, 9:00am

Left: Chanel bottle via Instagram, right: Man en Appels by Karel Appel (1948), via Instagram

The Second World War was one of the biggest catastrophes in human history. How to start again after five years of destruction and genocide? For a European group of artists called CoBrA (short for Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam), it became clear that humanity had to go back to the drawing board. As Karel Appel, one of the founding artists said: “We wanted to start again, like children.” The artists started to make paintings that were inspired by children’s drawings. Only by becoming a child again, they were able to imagine a new future, its manifesto read. It is no wonder that in fashion, childhood is coming back en vogue, as adults are having more and more trouble dealing with the severe challenges of 2020.

The child-as-role-model had been on the rise for a while. Last year, 17-year old Greta Thunberg successfully took the role of inspirator upon herself, championed by the likes of Vivienne Westwood and Leonardo Di Caprio. “World leaders are behaving like children, so it falls on us to be the adults in the room,” she said at a climate protest this February. As adults failed to see that acting upon climate change is just a question of science, they needed schooling by Greta. But a reminder from a 17-year old is not enough anymore. Now that the pandemic has caused total chaos and the people demand a new system without racism, adding to the still existing challenge of tackling climate change, we might need the borderless fantasy of even younger children.

At least, this is what we can conclude from a cute cover-series Vogue Italia released last month. They let children create a series of covers for their issue called: “our new world”. The children drew a happy and colourful world, where everyone was dressed in the latest Chanel collection. It was very much in line with Chanel’s mother’s day campaign in which children drew a bottle of perfume. The children's’ drawings were very comforting: in their fantasy, the future world is doing well.

In the latest Gucci campaign (for their eco-friendly recycled nylon collection) shot by Harmony Korine, Lil Nas X and Jane Fonda (among others) built a treehouse. The collection is called off-the-grid, and it’s ambiguous. They seem hinting at an escape to the dreamy world of childhood memories, as well as reminding us of the playful way children can work together on an improvised construction. And why not do both? People need coping strategies as well as new ideas.

The London-based designer Ka Wa Key made clear that you don’t even need wood and a tree to build a new fantasy. He showed a greenscreen fairytale world at the city's first digital Fashion Week. For his collection, he drew inspiration from nursery rhymes and The Little Prince. The novella is written by the French aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in 1942, who crashed in the desert during, again, the Second World War. Essentially the book is about the lack of imagination that grown-ups develop. When the narrator in the book shows some people his children’s drawing of a boa constrictor eating an elephant, they think it’s a hat. “Then I would never talk to that person about boa constrictors, or primeval forests, or stars. I would bring myself down to his level. I would talk to him about bridge, golf, politics, and neckties. And the grown-up would be greatly pleased to have met such a sensible man.”

Reading The Little Prince helps both children and adults to get in touch with their fantasies again, and Ka Wa Key is turning the shawls from his winter collection into colourful knitted boa-constrictors. The shawl-snakes inhabit the magical digital planets Ka Wa Key has been creating in his isolation on a greenscreen along with all kinds of other characters. Even when stuck at home during a pandemic, fantasising like a child can save you from boredom and sadness.

Let’s hope that the imagination of the adults gets stimulated enough, so that all the crises we are facing can be solved. If not, I predict only the foetus is left to inspire us for our next move as humanity.