The inventor of normcore on viral internet culture

Emily Segal talks normcore and how Genius’s trippy new webstore is her latest venture

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A shoot inspired by fashion's fascination with normality, taken from the Autumn/Winter 2014 issue of Dazed'sPhotography Charlie Engman, styling Emma Wyman

Emily Segal is a digital native, in the truest sense of the term. Founder of art slash trend forecasting agency K-HOLE and creative director of online knowledge base Genius, she is, in her words, “a big nerd.” And there’s another word she’s synonymous with: normcore. Why? Because she coined the term. Normcore entered the public consciousness in early 2014, following an article by Fiona Duncan published in New York Magazine. It became associated with a mode of dress described by Duncan as “the kind of dad-brand non-style you might have once associated with Jerry Seinfeld, but transposed on a Cooper Union student with William Gibson glasses”– see Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes.

However, according to Segal, normcore is actually about “about adaptability and being able to go into a lot of different communities at once.” Despite the media’s erroneous interpretation of the term, normcore became a verified global phenomenon – and the year’s most Googled fashion trend. While Segal and her team at K-Hole aren’t mapping trends in the same way anymore (sorry if you were expecting to read about the new normcore), she is turning her hand to different projects. Including Genius’s latest venture: an online printshop. Segal speaks to Dazed about the normcore, this new venture and the everlasting appeal of GIFs.

What was it like to witness the explosion of normcore?

Emily Segal: I think it’s fascinating to see how it’s travelled. When we came up with it, it wasn’t supposed to describe a look. That wasn’t what we were thinking about. We were thinking about an approach to the world that was about adaptability and being able to go into a lot of different communities at once. That had some ramifications for fashion and it came to describe a particular aesthetic. But the most interesting thing about the whole normcore viral phenomenon was that it gave us a somewhat harrowing but very educational front seat to the way information circulates on the internet.

“The most interesting thing about the whole normcore viral phenomenon was that it gave us a somewhat harrowing but very educational front seat to the way information circulates on the internet” – Emily Segal

We got to see how journalism works – the “copy and paste” of it all. We got to see enthusiasms and backlashes and all that goes with them. We got to travel internationally and see our work show up in languages we couldn’t read, let alone know existed, because it had travelled so far. So, we had to hear from friends about people in tiny towns of China that have seen t-shirts that have said “normcore” on them. It taught me an enormous amount about how information travels digitally and how that digital information takes place in real life too.

Where does your interest in the internet stem from? 

Emily Segal: I’m a big researcher and I’m always on the internet to sate my curiosity about things. My own interactions on the internet when I was younger didn’t include making friends from far away, but I’ve always been inspired by the type of connectivity that the internet can bring, especially for young people. I’m also a huge sucker for the idea that we are building a utopia – a connective and social utopia – by using technology and the internet. Though I think that we are seeing that less and less in the way that social networks and big companies are sort of colonising the web.

What do you think Genius brings to internet culture?

Emily Segal: Genius makes good on the promise of the early web that was about bringing people together from all over the world to share knowledge. It’s a place for people to pool their knowledge, mainly about music and rap but lots of other things too. It’s one of the only places on the internet where song lyrics are taken seriously – because song lyrics are not only really important to people emotionally but also makes up two per cent of Google’s search traffic. It’s a huge deal on the internet. And also it elevates rap to the level of the super important cultural text that it is. 

And now Genius has launched a printshop – genius.to.be

Emily Segal: Yeah, so I’ve known the guys who run to.be because they’ve worked with a couple of friends and I always thought what they did was really cool with these online canvases where you can draw and paint with really grungy, demented-looking graphics. Then it really became about the t-shirts they were letting users print with the images. You can sort of fuck with it and express your creativity. And this totally sits with my philosophy about branding – we shouldn’t be trying to create a brand that we can completely control because really it’s our community that makes up what our brand is.

Where did the initial idea come from?

Emily Segal: The initial idea came from me, I was just trying to think of ways introduce an element of creativity to the way we created merchandise and also come up with something that would express the creativity of our community. Something that I love about our community is that they make really crazy GIFs and illustrations that they use in the forum. I was incredibly tickled by them – even when they were kind of throwing shade at the Genius. So I thought that if we could bring that into the way our brand in the form of t-shirts and merchandise, so that was the beginning of the idea.

Visit genius.to.be to create your own t-shirt. 

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