Xydrobe, launching later this year, is a pioneering experiential luxury retail concept that aims to give brands the tools to engage consumers with “storytelling that’s on a similar level to big blockbuster Hollywood movies.” Shoppers will step inside a mysterious black “one-person experience pod,” a physical portal to transport them to virtual realms using “stunning visuals, scent, surround sound, and temperature control.” xydrobe CEO Nell Lloyd-Malcolm revealed to VML Intelligence: “In testing we've had people crying. We've had people laughing. We've had a whole host of emotions coming out of it. And almost every single time they say: That was probably the most intense thing I've ever experienced.” Awe-inspiring and thrill-inducing to say the least.

Whether numbed by pandemic isolation or shocked by the 21st century horrors of politics, war and climate crisis, people are yearning for intense experiences like these that stimulate a sensation of awe, wonder and even a frisson of fear, craving the magical, the spectacular, the surreal and otherworldly. Data from a soon-to-be-released VML Intelligence trends report shows that this is now something that people want more of: 58% of people in the US, UK and China agree that “life feels less exciting than it used to” and 77% say they “just want to feel something, to feel alive.”

Appetite for such transcendental triggers are evident in the Future 100 2023, our annual compendium of bite-size trends for the year ahead. Multiversal Design highlights a new dreamlike aesthetic in retail and leisure that channels escapism and the absurd to transport customers to imaginary and otherworldly realms. Inspired by new digital realities, this trend alludes to the unlimited possibilities of spaces untethered to physical reality. Bringing this to life, a spectacular collaboration between Louis Vuitton and legendary artist Yayoi Kusama sees the brand’s flagships all over the world overrun with larger than life physical, virtual, and even robotic replications of the artist and her famous dots.

In travel and hospitality, Absurdist Stays champions Airbnb’s $10m OMG fund, which will launch 100 new fantastical and immersive guest experiences in 20 countries, allowing guests to wake up in a giant cereal box, a floating avocado, or a blossoming flower. Meanwhile Intrepid Dining showcases jaw-dropping experiences for jaded diners, like Bompas and Parr’s tasting event featuring dishes cooked over molten lava, set in the volcanic lunar landscape of Saudi Arabia’s AlUla region.

This urge to rediscover enchantment sees people exploring darker thrills too, perhaps to make sense of a troubling world. This season’s fashion shows are exploring the gothic and grotesque, while a wave of dark and dystopian thrillers are delighting viewers, from HBO’s The Last of Us to ZDF Studios’ The Swarm. Dark tourism to destinations including Ukraine, which is explored in the Dark Zones trend, can often seem morally ambiguous, but studies show that the need to see places where unthinkable tragedies have taken place is often motivated by a need to understand difficult events.

Elsewhere Visit Sweden is tapping into the growing interest in the supernatural with its Spellbound by Sweden campaign featuring Kiln, a “chilling audio story” written by internationally renowned horror writer John Ajvide Lindqvist. The audio adventure, designed to accompany jaunts into nature, brings traditional mythological forest creatures to life, but can only be heard if you are in Sweden.

What links all these trends is a craving for fascination, enchantment and intense experiences that, perhaps, helps us transcend ourselves. There are opportunities for brands to re-enchant the world with products, environments, spaces and campaigns that jolt people out of a long-standing malaise and elevate their sense of being.

Yearning for more? Download your own copy of our macro report, The Age of Re-enchantment, where we dig deeper into this fascinating and transformational trend.

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