2035: WHAT’S IN STORE?

I gave a talk in The Netherlands recently which specifically asked for predictions for the year 2035. I love challenges like this, scary though they are. General rhetoric about shifts in behavior are not enough; you have to really put your neck on the line. So here’s a summary of my forecast for 2035:

Firstly, I call myself a Retail Futurist because that’s exactly what I do: I worked in retail design for over 20 years and now I track retail and consumer trends internationally to build a picture of how things are likely to develop. Shops, and consequently our towns and cities, are in a state of flux as never before. It’s such an exciting time: new technologies have given rise to new consumer behaviour and we are just beginning to see the manifestations of this.

Secondly, I must also declare that I am an optimist. So, to take the serious issues head on I believe we will largely overcome the threat of climate change and whilst terrorist groups will continue to multiply and become ever more dangerous, I believe, as the figures prove, we will continue to live in a more peaceful and less violent society than ever. Since the financial crash, I believe our towns and cities are experiencing a renaissance. Paradoxically, in this digital age we are rediscovering the importance of community and this has to be great news for the future.

I think it’s important here to point out the natural gravity toward the negative when it comes to prediction. We have good evidence of how different civilisations, across many centuries, reacted when they saw Halley’s Comet, for example. In 1066 they thought it was an omen for the death of Harold II at Hastings and before that this ‘sign from the gods’ was responsible for endless predictions of failing crops as well as thousands of brutal sacrificial killings.

Not one civilisation that we know of thought the comet’s bright tail in the sky foretold a better crop or more healthy offspring. It seems the power of portent lies clearly at the negative end of the spectrum.

Cities are ultimately places for the exchange of ideas. They are, and always will be, hubs for the young and ambitious who want to change things or simply feel close to the centre of the universe. In mature democracies our cities are at the beginning of an age of enlightenment: we are learning how to regenerate broken spaces, learning to love our heritage and history and coming up with ever more inventive ways to make spaces alive and vibrant. The good news is that retail is now seen as a catalyst for this. Architects and town planners who once preferred a purist vision of civic buildings and green spaces are learning that select retail can bring colour and life to a space. So, in 2035 we can expect our global cities to have many more communal spaces, urban parks, oases, event spaces and arenas where people gather for fashion and food shows, markets, theatre, performances and promotions of all kinds. The marriage of commerce and culture will be a much more comfortable one with big companies wanting to benefit from the warm glow of community. Parts of our city centres will be ‘ring-fenced’ and better managed with branded cleaners and security staff paid for by corporate sponsorship.

I may be a futurist and an optimist but I’m also a realist. There will be no shortage of issues to worry us. Health scares will increase in frequency and give rise to ever more niche, restrictive diets, which in turn will require niche food operators and diet specialists. For insurance purposes we will all be expected to monitor our own health much more closely with our personal devices and for those of us that can afford it medicine and healthcare will become highly bespoke with hourly monitoring.

Contrary to popular predictions we will not be commuting in our driverless cars, nor will the sky be thick with drones delivering toothpaste. Drones will be used mostly for surveillance, security, crowd control at events and for emergency deliveries. Driverless cars will only be seen in highly managed city epicentres, and even then they will be restricted to under 40 kph. Many of our major global cities are projected to grow by at least 20% by 2035 and no matter how small and eco-friendly our cars become, the infrastructure will simply not be able to cope with individual vehicles for the general population. Car sharing is a much more practical, and therefore likely, model for getting us all around, and we are already witnessing the beginnings of this with Uber and its contemporaries. On our motorways, driverless trucks will run constantly in a designated lane, only requiring human drivers to help them reach their final destinations.

Politics will continue to be a bumpy and reactionary road but the incremental move away from post war socialism will continue as we learn better how to manage our economies, reduce state dependency and harness corporate sponsorship.

After several decades that saw our venues for cinema and theatre gradually get smaller and more intimate, we will see the resurgence of big, communal venues of a thousand plus: the increasingly bespoke nature of our ‘inner worlds’ will see us cherish big, communal events again and enjoy feeling part of a big crowd.

As for the mix of stores and shops, we are at the beginning of some big changes on the high street. I would expect to see a much more polarized picture: big, glamorous fashion flagships in our major cities, alongside niche independents. Many department store brands will have disappeared making way for ‘click & collect’ centres run by new brands to the high street that made their names online, including players such as Amazon. Rents will flex to encourage start-ups to join the fun and I’d expect to see shorter leases and increased turn around bringing new players to market more frequently. Stores will become brand showcases, arriving in a town for a few weeks at a time, before moving on. Technology will make stores much more informative showing us how and where things are made and how we can customize them. Out of town and edge of town supermarkets will have become value warehouses selling largely on price. Smaller, high end food brands will sell groceries in town but with a much greater focus on good quality take away meals. Banks will have gone the way of the dinosaurs.

Advertising will be highly targeted and individually bespoke. City billboards will be interactive, talking to passers-by in real time, offering us Minority Report style tailored promotions and opportunities. Our favourite stores and brands will be our personal ‘clubs’, inviting us to previews and events in return for holding all our personal information so that cash and credit cards will become obsolete. Payment systems will be invisible with fingerprint recognition widespread. Privacy will be bigger issue than ever before as we become a highly monitored society. ‘The internet of things’ will bring us bespoke service and better information…but at the price of much greater surveillance. Our mobile devices will be critical for us to access services and information of all sorts, but they will also dissuade and restrict us from ‘buying that last drink’ or eating unhealthily. In short, we will be both better served and far more restricted.

Voice responsive operating systems will see the end of the keyboard on our mobile devices but this may give new life to the Google Glass, or equivalent, as we will need to hear our OS responses from an earpiece or from the arm of a pair of glasses. We will continue to be ‘moths’ ie. screen focussed, but screens are likely to become ‘bendyware’ ie. soft, malleable, expandable and much more comfortable to carry and wear than today’s hardware. Information will be held remotely so that a screen I touch will reveal different information than when you touch the same screen.

Robotics is another subject that brings out droves of doom and gloom merchants. However, just as it took the digital age to help us recognise the importance of community, so the rise of robotics will help reveal what is great about humanity: emotion, empathy, hospitality and the human connection.

It is not difficult to imagine a world in which data ‘knows’ everything about us: our personal preferences, habits and tastes in fashion, food, film and music. This is already happening. The consequences for retail though are particularly exciting. If during a film your favourite star can be ‘clicked on’ to order her dress in your size and colour, then exactly what constitutes a ‘shop’ will change yet again.

All of this comes with huge issues of security and privacy but ultimately, as an optimist, I believe that we can look forward to a world where there will be no customers, no consumers. Finally, we will all be individuals.

Follow me @SaundersHoward

  Howard Saunders   Oct 14, 2015   Uncategorized   0 Comment   Read More

SAN FRANCISCO: The King is Dead!


San Francisco is getting a new king.  I know this because the battle for power has left a dark, gaping hole at its very heart, on the elevated corner of Union Square. For this was where the mighty Levi’s flagship stood as a mecca and monument to the garment that dressed the world and changed it forever. But now in the very city that denim was born, there’s a ghostly void, a chasm that tells a tale of how things have changed here, and so very quickly.


Poor old Levi has not had an easy time of late. In perhaps the most competitive and nuanced fashion market there is, his historic indigo cotton has lost much of its cool to younger, louder types. Levi’s is a brand that carries almost universal love. Everyone has stories and fond memories to share, but too few actually buy. To be relegated from its proud Union Square pedestal is humiliating enough, but to watch its beautiful home annihilated is surely a stinging slap in the face for such an iconic and famously indigenous brand. So now, the busy cranes and earth movers dance upon poor old Levi’s grave to make way for a shiny new shrine; a palace made of glass nonetheless, designed by the world’s finest maker of glass palaces, Sir Norman Foster. Only the richest company on the planet would have the audacity to dethrone the old King of San Francisco in such a public manner. Yes, it’s Apple.


You can well imagine the board meetings at Levi’s that spruced up the language of this deposition as ‘bringing it’s flagship back to the people’, but it’s not convincing anyone. This was a battle of the icons, and the richest and cleverest won. It seems this new age of retail has turned everything upside down. Denim, the ultimate symbol of cool, has been out-cooled by the nerds that made technology trendy. Marlon Brando would be appalled.


The king chose well. Apparently, Steve jobs personally called Sir Norman Foster to ask for help a few years back, and the first results of their little chat opened in Istanbul in May this year. From the top of the brand new Zorlu shopping centre the new Apple store looks like a giant MacBook. He didn’t let them down.


Foster is also busy on what must surely be one of the most difficult design jobs ever: none other than Apple’s HQ in Cupertino. This will truly be the home of the world’s greatest superpower. The colossal spaceship that sits at the centre of its 170 acre site will house 13,000 bright young things. Steve Jobs wanted the space to reflect the Californian landscape he grew up in. Now there’s a brief.

So, while San Franciscans await the imminent arrival of their new king they are at least allowed a glimpse of some deliciously tantalizing artist’s impressions of the new royal residence, and magnificently minimalist it promises to be. The toughest taskmaster, the world’s greatest architect and a mind-blowing budget must surely give us the eighth wonder. Watch this space.

The King is dead, long live the King!



  Howard Saunders   Aug 28, 2015   Apple, Brand, city, Levi's, Retail, San Francisco, shopping   0 Comment   Read More

Meet PAM


Don’t hate the hipster. The much mocked, sock-free chap who scoots around town on his gear-free bike with his razor-free chin in the air is changing the way we look at the world. He dresses like a pioneer-pilgrim with a big beard and rolled up denim because that’s what he is, and we have a lot to thank him for. He is reshaping our towns, shops, restaurants and brands for a generation sick of the mass produced and the mediocre. He is an ambassador for a new retail world, one that is stripped of fakery and corporate bullshit. The brands he loves emanate the very essence of what he stands for and he is never, ever seduced by marketing rhetoric and glossy advertising. At least, that’s the theory. Of course, as Peter York points out in his new book ‘Authenticity is a con’ it’s all fakery anyway, which is about as nihilist as saying ‘we’re all going to die anyway’. Absolutely true of course, but perhaps not very helpful.

The hipster, as all cultures before it, is simply the extreme expression of our new view of the planet. When punk pioneered its irreverent attitude to music, art and authority we did not need to stick safety pins through our nostrils to join, and ultimately enjoy, the powerful groundswell of change this reactionary culture brought us.

So far from being a just a quirky fashion subculture the hipster is spearheading the way the majority of us feel right now about our retail landscape. The hipster is Post Apocalypse Man (and woman, of course) that grew up after the financial crash, at its epicentre here in New York. To be precise, PAM was born in Brooklyn, just a few yards across the water from Wall Street, and spread quickly throughout our angry urban centres including Pearl District in Portland, Mission in San Francisco, Shoreditch in London, Fitzroy in Melbourne and Kreuzberg in Berlin.


Actually, the earliest sightings of the species just preceded the turn of the millennium. Perhaps he was born out of an impending sense of a new era emerging, but it was the crash that really launched PAM into the world. In 2008 we all knew things would have to change and PAM was there to take the helm and direct us towards a new landscape of aspiration.

New York’s PAM wants his local stores to sell local produce, he wants his clothes to be made in his own country, the place where denim was invented after all. He wants his beer to be brewed locally, preferably next door to the guy that fixes the fixie bikes and the barber shop that manages all the town’s beards. (And, of course, he wants his knives handmade by Cut Brooklyn too: http://www.22and5.com/the-knifemakers-tale/) A Trumptonesque retail utopia? Perhaps not. Look how swiftly the big brands have attempted to showcase their local credentials, their sense of community. Then consider how your own attitudes to the big supermarkets, burger and coffee chains have changed. However cynical you may be, do you not find yourself more attracted to limited editions, the artisanal and the bespoke, whether it be beer, bread, cheese, chocolate, coffee, handsewn leather goods or handmade bicycles? You think this is a coincidence?



There is pretty good evidence that locally produced food is better for you as well as the planet, but this misses the point. Buying locally made stuff gives us the warm glow that comes from investing in our own community, nurturing the very thing we have neglected for the last half century and seem to be rediscovering in the digital age.


PAM has revolutionised our bars and restaurants too. Barely a decade ago we were quite content with a mood lit, heavily tableclothed establishment with an encyclopaedic menu and an invisible kitchen. Not any more. PAM style spaces are stripped back with open kitchens and a focus on food rather than furnishings. Menus are getting shorter too, so short in fact that we are learning to love the set menu again. On a recent trip, after a terrifically on-trend dinner at the buzzing Bullerei restaurant in Hamburg, supercool TV chef Tim Malzer whisked me away to his Off Club. He passed me a menu that was blank apart from the words ‘Fuck Off’ tastefully printed in varnish onto the thick black paper. Was Tim trying to tell me something? Well yes, you get what you’re given here you see.

You can also thank PAM for the single dish restaurant (The Meatball Shop in New York, Johnny Casserole in Chicago, Cereal Killer Cafe and Blacklock in London etc) as well as for the meteoric rise of gourmet street food in all our major cities. PAM expects you to be an expert now and if it ain’t niche PAM just ain’t interested.


As I’ve said many times, trends don’t come from above, from big, clever, corporate think tanks: they are brewed inside us. As our aspirations and emotional needs twist and turn, then so does the world around us. So remember, when you next raise a single eyebrow behind the back of the hipster in the coffee queue as he asks about a particular bean’s provenance, this guy is changing the world for the better. He’s a goddamn hero.

  Howard Saunders   Jul 22, 2015   Blog, city, Food, Retail   4 Comments   Read More

NEW ORLEANS part 2: A Taste of NOLA

The first thing I did after landing in New Orleans was to dump my bag in the room and head out onto the streets. On the basis I travel at least a couple of times a month this was actually rather unusual. Most of the time I’m feeling tired, a little post-airport-security-sensitive and I’d normally spend some time unpacking, adjusting and trying to fathom out how to switch on the TV without accessing the 90s porn. Not so in NOLA. The streets emit a constant energy that induces a state of FOMO (fear of missing out). In fact, I’d only been here five minutes when I stumbled upon a mini Mardi Gras that had broken out in celebration of…well, no-one seemed quite sure. Any excuse to party must be the city’s motto.


The humidity here puts you immediately into a drinking state of mind, so you actually have a practical task as you explore the cobblestone streets of the famous French Quarter: that is, find a suitable spot for a drink, a snack and maybe a lowdown on places not to be missed. We quickly made ourselves at home at the oyster bar in Royal House. Lauren, the gap-toothed shucker was exactly who you want on your first night. A bit of a local character that could shuck ’em as he shared a few stories and chatted you through the must-haves. This is the place I watched the waitress knock back a dozen chargrilled (topped with melted parmesan butter) as she gossipped on the phone during her break. The shrimp ‘n grits is excellent too but our favourite was the blackened shrimp jambalaya. There is nothing fancy about the place or the food here. It’s just classic, good value creole cooking and I actually preferred it to the guide book’s sweetheart, the Acme Oyster House, probably because the latter is so goddamn crowded.

Avoiding bawdy Bourbon Street becomes an art here, at least if you’re over 25 it does, so next stop we settled for a gentler, cleaner, trendier looking bar called Kingfish (named after the controversial ex Governor who was assassinated in 1935) just around the corner on Chartres Street. Don’t let its somewhat swish interior put you off, the cocktails and food here are both elegant and well considered. And Justin, the mixologist (showing off below) was charming: humble, quietly hilarious but very serious about his liquor. Under ‘libations’ on the cocktail menu you must try the French Pearl, a delicious mix of gin, lemon, mint and, of course the local favourite, herbsaint served in a cute little antique glass.The ‘Lil’ Eats’ menu is particularly creative: crab claw lollipops with a smoked remoulade, Louisiana sportsman’s gumbo with crowley popcorn rice or the BBQ shrimp and waffles served with Hopitoulas cream made with locally brewed IPA. Oh yes, we tried it all.

French Pearl cocktail at Kingfish, New Orleans

One of the coolest new places to eat in N’awlins right now has to be Cochon. Not the posh Cochon but the hipster-friendly Butcher nextdoor. If you or your partner has a beard then this is the place for you. If you both have beards then it’s definitely the place for you. As the name makes pretty clear, Butcher is all about the meat. This is post-apocalypse man’s mecca with a primeval passion for dead pig served in a no-nonsense environment. Everything is made in-house: the pickles are pickled here, the smoked meats smoked, the cured meats cured and the sausages sausaged. We barely spoke as we bore down on the delicious hot Boudin, the charcuterie plate with spicy fennel pastrami and country terrine, the extraordinary Muffaletta and the clever (and very tidy) Le Pig Mac. This was all washed down with a gorgeous local IPA by the name of Lil’ Smack. (Thankfully, when ordering a couple more I was spared the eye-roll)



Cochon and Butcher are part of the Donald Link empire that includes the famous Peche seafood restaurant. He’s won endless awards and if you can only try one thing from one of his posher establishments go to Herbsaint for the Banana Brown Bread Butter Tart with Fleur de Sel Caramel. It’s wonderful.



Next morning was all about finding THE coffee. The two places we picked out were Spitfire and Arrow Cafe. Both were friendly in that laid back hipster kinda way. Arrow gets extra points by being part bike shop. Cool coffee shops are like a litmus test of a city and tell you whether or not there’s a new food culture emerging. No question about that here. We followed coffee with an eggy breakfast at Envie on Decatur Street which felt like a proper locals hang out.

The perfect NOLA hidden gem has to be Killer Poboys. Set right at the the back of a dark and dingy Irish pub, KPB is a tiny hole-in-the-wall standing-room-only space serving gourmet creole sandwiches. Do not miss the seared Gulf Shrimp with an Asian twist, or the Glazed Pork Belly Poboy with a rum and ginger syrup. The Grass-fed Beef Meatloaf is exactly what this place is all about: high quality meat served the way you least expect it. Brilliant stuff.

By contrast, that evening we had a gentle meal at Coquette on Magazine Street. It opened just after the crash in 2008 but still has the feeling of settling in. The big dining rooms are stripped back elegant, successfully finding that delicate balance between posh and trendy. Firstly, the bread here was unforgettable. Important thing, bread, just like coffee. It sets your expectations and we weren’t disappointed. The vibe was a tad stifled but the roast chicken in the silky vadouvan French gravy was sublime, as was the smoked catfish.


The best night we had, for an all-round atmosphere and food combo, was at Paladar 511. Just opened in a cavernous warehouse on the edge of Marigny this place is set for great things. We sat at the bar overlooking the kitchen and were instantly at the centre of all the action. Head Chef and owner Jack Murphy was everything you want from a hip young chef: super busy but able to laugh with his team and wear his hat back to front at the same time. He selected a fab bottle of Grenache for us to go with the fried arancini and lamb sausage, followed by blueberry pie and honey lavender ice cream. A very decent night.

Time was limited but we fitted what certainly felt like an awful lot of food and drink into our four day stay. If you want classic, Creole cooking at a place that feels like it’s been there for a thousand years, served on a crisp linen tablecloth, head for the Commander’s Palace, August, Antoine’s, Galatoire’s, Mr B’s Bistro, The Court of Two Sisters, Mother’s or K Pauls. For something a little edgier, the list is long and getting longer every day: Toups Meatery, Brown Butter, Ursa Major, Balise, Cellar Door, Boucherie. I couldn’t try them all but I know a man who has.

Finally, and only because I can’t not mention it, pick up a pound of Mississippi Mud from Laura’s Candies. ‘She’s’ been making it on the premises since 1913 so not only is it a local icon, it’s ridiculously wonderful.

Every good city has a thousand restaurants. What makes New Orleans feel special is the mood that lubricates it. I learned that the hip young chefs relish having the established places just up the street and will recommend that you try them. They talk enthusiastically about new competitors opening too, like they feel they’re part of a new momentum. I guess it’s a kind of harmony that can only be achieved in a place that’s more of a non-stop party than a serious city.


  Howard Saunders   Jun 18, 2015   Blog, city, Food, image, Uncategorized   0 Comment   Read More

NEW ORLEANS part 1: The film set


So it’s around 9pm and I’m sitting at a bar chatting to the friendly mixologist when a crashing clap of thunder interrupts us. As we turn to watch the downpour we just about make out the thump, thump, thump of a jazz band approaching. ‘Oh, it’s a wedding party’ explains the barman in a relaxed tone. Sure enough, a parade of two hundred or more drunken revellers dance past us, led by a well-drenched bride (pun intended) enthusiastically conducting the band with her sodden lace umbrella. This was my welcome to New Orleans.

I’m here because New York’s food fanatics can’t shut up about the place. New Orleans regularly comes top of the ‘best cities for food’ lists and its influence is impossible to avoid. There’s a new wave of Creole cooking emerging, apparently, and I don’t want to miss out.


It doesn’t take long to get a grasp on NOLA’s place in the US. It may be one of it’s oldest cities but it has never really belonged here. Locals like to say that the ‘deep south’ is well north of Louisiana and it’s easy to see why they’re described as the northern-most point of the Caribbean. They don’t even speak with that slow southern drawl we all like to imitate, probably because the place such a cauldron of cultures, having ping-ponged between the French, English and Spanish for about two hundred years.

N’awlins is in many ways an island, an enclave that has barricaded itself from the rest of the US. This is one place that can never be called a clone city. Sure, Starbuck’s, H&M and the rest of them are here, but very much in the background. At the epicentre, in the famous French Quarter, people are permanently primed for celebration. As if at any moment a street party will burst into life, tuba players and marching bands appearing from nowhere. And they do.

With buskers, beggars and banjo-ers at all hours of the day and night the streets are alive with music. But the sound that so evocatively reminds you of exactly where you are, is the slow, haunting whistle of the mile long freight train as it makes its way alongside the Mississippi. This city really is a living film set.

Too many cities pay homage to their history and heritage. Not so here; they live it. The gas lamps that light the streets are the real thing and you can visit the workshop where they’re still made. The local char-broiled oysters (grilled with cheese) are not some tourist bait, it’s what they eat, everyday. I watched as a young waitress knocked back a dozen on her break, standing at the counter whilst chatting on her cell phone. The masks and hats you see are (mostly) made locally and on a Sunday, Royal Street looks a little like Ladies Day at Ascot. Everyone smokes handmade cigars here, even the babies, and you can watch them being made, and smoked, at the Cigar Factory on Decatur Street. Even the touristy Voodoo stores are a clever distraction from the real Voodoo stuff that goes on underground. But that’s way too dark for this blog.

I’m not sure that the architecture in say, Hamburg, Rome or Madrid tells us much about the local cuisine. Maybe I’ve just not noticed, but here it’s blindingly obvious. The ‘shotgun’ symmetry of the French and Spanish style cottages all dressed up for the parade in their fancy finials and crocheted cast iron, the wooden shutters lacquered in clashing Caribbean colours. This, just like the food, is pure Creole.

In the same way, the history of the food is a crazy French, Spanish and Caribbean tale written by those that had to make very little go a very long way. Seafood is the focus but poor man’s seafood, crawfish not lobster, mixed in a giant pot with sausage and chicken. It’s fried oyster po’boys with pickles and rich French style gravy. And there’s a natural rhythm to it with dirty rice, (rice mixed with chicken liver, beans and lots of pepper) always on Monday’s menu. Everything, of course, is served with a respectful splash of hot sauce: there’s an obsession for it. Stop by The Pepper Palace to witness the thousands of tongue-numbing flavours, if you don’t believe me.

But away from the touristy areas, bright young restaurants, bars and coffee shops are popping up to make sure the city doesn’t lose its cool. This is where hip, reverse-cap wearing young chefs strip Creole food back to its roots in their stripped back warehouses and brick barns. There is no food-truck culture here to speak of, simply because the rents in the suburbs are still affordable enough for start-ups. Just. That nemesis of cool, gentrification, has spread ever faster in the aftermath of Katrina. Probably because all those Hollywood volunteers told their friends what they were missing.

It’s much clearer now why New Orleans has become the foodie’s latest crush. It not just vibrant, it’s authentic. There is nothing wannabe about New Orleans and it’s happy with its peculiar place on the planet. And that’s the urban obsession at the moment: authenticity. As the fast food chains and big brands struggle to reinvent themselves and convince us of their authenticity, here is a city steeped in food culture that never once thought about it.

Coming soon, Part 2: The Food

  Howard Saunders   Jun 01, 2015   Blog, Food, Gallery, Retail   0 Comment   Read More