Surreal Magic: 5 Visual Trends for 2016

After years of Instagram’s cozy, vintage, filtered warmth dominating the visuals for beauty and lifestyle brands, what’s next? From early indications, it seems that the needle is swinging towards the futuristic and fantastical. In a world of big data, hyper connectivity and transparency — the unknown becomes increasingly intriguing.

The visual trends department at Getty Images examines image searches to spot upcoming trends. In their visual report for 2016, director Pam Grossman reported an increased popularity of “images that have a sheen of the fantastical, the surreal or the speculative” as a reaction to years of realism from user generated content and social media.

Here are five upcoming visual trends particularly relevant to beauty and lifestyle brands.


Pantone’s announcement of Rose Quartz and Serenity as the colors of the year reflect a growing interest in the metaphysical.

Pantone’s color of the year

Pantone’s color of the year

Wellness and beauty industries are early adapters to alternative spirituality. Once the domain of crunchy hippies, crystals, astrology, sound baths and tarot are making an unironic comeback. This time in sleek, stylish, urban packaging.


Left: Imagery from Herbivore Botanicals. Right: From the Marc Jacobs Beauty Instagram feed.

Scientific proof — at one time the holy grail of beauty brands — is now taken for granted. Consumers are embracing products based in more abstract esoteric concepts in ingredients, copy and imagery.

AHAVA’s Crystal Osmoter Serum.


Fantastical escapism and impressionistic dreamscapes appeal to hyper-connected consumers. Often revealing a dystopian universe, they are unworldly, futuristic and surreal.

Journey to the Stars window display, Selfridges.

By Instagrammer CityofSkies.

Unlike casually composed photos.


Above: Fairy Tale Fashion from Comme des Garçons, The Museum at FIT.

Technology is blurring the line between fantasy and reality. For millennials who grew up on Harry Potter, Twilight and Lord of the Rings, there is a keen interest in more imaginative fantasies and fairy tales. Now, iPhones capture short moving photos reminiscent of the paintings on the walls of Hogwarts. In fashion, the Museum at FIT sponsored a special exhibit examining fairy tales in fashion, and Claire Danes’ gorgeous fairy-tale-inspired dress for the MET Costume Institute’s “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology,” from Zac Posen, involves organza and fiber optics — it’s a perfect blend of technology and imagination.

Above: Fairy Tale Fashion from Comme des Garçons, The Museum at FIT.

By Instagrammer Viktorija Bowers-Adams.

Claire Danes in Zac Posen at the Met Gala, Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology.


Continuing the blurring of technology and reality, video-game inspired avatars are making their way to the mainstream.

FFXIII protagonist Lightning is the new face of Louis Vuitton.

In high-fashion, Louis Vuitton employed a Final Fantasy avatar as a model for their spring/summer 2016 ad campaign. “We’re all confronted by the digital world in a good way and we’re influenced by cyber, influenced by the images that make us a dream or judge,” said Ghesquière. “But at the same time we have this real life. And we’re all managing to have this real dimension. And that’s exciting. It’s a real reality influenced by the virtual world.”

Avatars greet viewers at Kenzo’s fall/winter 2015 show.


The dystopian visuals of artists like Pussykrew, a Polish duo, who create dark, eerie, psychedelic imagery and 3D dreamscapes for music videos and other art installations, can feature various forms of control dominating the landscape. In our own lives we’re often tethered to devices once touted to free up our time for more leisure, but in fact dominate all of our time. In turn, meditation, yoga and mindfulness are becoming antidote to our alienating focus on devices and screens, which are often used, in a form of tragic irony, for “social” networking. As the dystopian representation of our possible future increasingly resonates, so too do New Age remedies to ground us and revitalize.

Left: By Instagrammer Victoria Siemer. Right: Unicorn Fur from Instagrammer Nina Ojeda.

Svedaliza’s “The Other Girl,” with art and 3D renditions by Pussykrew.

Floating drive-in by Tim Walker.