An Interview with Mikel Cirkus: Trendspotter Extraordinaire!

On my recent trip to Europe, as per the usual airport shenanigans in New York, there was a delay with our flight due to the fact that they switched to a smaller plane, displacing about 30 passengers. The worst part of this mess was that United announced that EVERYONE needed to get on line to rebook their seat. Well, you can imagine everyone’s excitement at the prospect that they might get bumped from the plane. I trudged to the back of the line and furiously dialed United to see if there was anything else I might learn that the unhelpful staff at the counter wasn’t telling us. After being assured that I did in fact have a seat, I continued to stand online for fear that something might change. I began chatting with my neighbors who seemed equally as stressed out as I was. As a blogger, these days most introductions and people I meet are on line. But on this chilly Friday evening I actually made a connection on line at Newark International airport with quite a fascinating individual, Mikel Cirkus. Mikel was kind as can be and we immediately bonded over our dissatisfaction with United Airlines–clearly the basis for a solid relationship. After getting to know him, I learned that Mikel had one of those mythical jobs–his job is to identify key industry and consumer trends, combines them with on-going analysis of competitive environments, and creates a proven means to encourage and enable the Clients to embrace, adapt and even create changes that have added value to their brands while also strengthening their relationship and increasing sales with Firmenich (where he works). What does that mean to me? He gets to travel and figure out the upcoming trends around the world. I thought, what a cool guy! So I asked him if he would be kind enough to do an interview with me so that I could share more with my beloved readers. He obliged and here is what I found out:

Trendsetter Mikel Cirkus

Here Mikel is at Burning Man!

What is it that you do exactly?

My professional position is the Global Director of Conceptual Design for Firmenich’s Flavors Division.

So, my next question – What the heck is that?

There is an aspect of the future that is predictable. Those who understand trends have the ability to influence what actually happens – seeing relationships that lead to new ideas, making connections of things seemingly unrelated, perceiving smart re-combinations. Firmenich, the largest privately owned company in the fragrance and flavor industry – where creativity is both an essence and a guiding principle, has developed and are employing a strategic tool — Trenz® — for identifying and interpreting socio-cultural events and forecasting the next important industry and consumer trends. Understanding this new methodology and how it helps us to focus on the long-term is an important aspect of the innovation process and integral to new product development. Part of my responsibility is as one of the observe and forecast Trenz® team members who then brings these global findings to life as new ideas for consumer package goods that Firmenich will flavor (or perfume) for the world’s most recognized brands.

How does one go about spotting trends? 

We don’t exactly ‘spot’ trends, so much as we look for ‘change’. You have to have a frame of reference of course, and once you do, it becomes easier to notice what’s new, what’s the same, what’s not here anymore that used to be here, and so on. It’s identifying these changes by doing constant reality checks in the areas we go to where the “trends” themselves are being born. The areas we refer to as ‘the edge’.

What do You look for when you travel?

Primarily, I’m looking for the street art scene. The areas where the artists live. The freewalls for graffiti writers and the shops and cafes in the neighborhoods where you’ll find them. As we say, “we go where the fun, action, danger and pain” are. These are quite colorful (pun intended) parts of the cities and change happens there on a regular basis. Inevitably, and ultimately, gentrification takes place. Good, bad or indifferent, the idea that “Artists Use To Live Here” is prime opportunity of the future.

What cities are the biggest trendsetters? 

We keep a regular list of about twelve “trend kitchens” globally. London has consistently been number one for us. In London, it’s the East End, Shoreditch area. It’s currently the most inspiring place for us to regularly observe change with a more global perspective. New York is right up there as well. Again, we’re not in Times Square or even SoHo, we’re moving further out into the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. Other cities include Seoul, Bangkok, Los Angeles, Sao Paulo, Tokyo, Istanbul, and Amsterdam of course – which was where I was headed for an update, when we met. All the cities have their special reasons for being trend kitchens, but they all also have a common thread of change coming from the streets.

Where is Your Favorite Place you’ve visited?

My favorite place, that I’ve had the privilege to visit, is always that place where surprise happens. I’m a sort of cultural anthropologist on a cool hunting safari and even though I know what I’m looking for, I never know for sure that I’m going to find it. So, it’s the thrill of turning that corner in some dingy area and discovering the end of the rainbow there. It’s a secret world that reveals itself and it’s a goldmine that few are digging in. These ‘mines’ are not only in our trend kitchens – they’re in Miami, Toronto, Vienna and Copenhagen too. It’s a truly global thing.

UFOs Trends Mikel Cirkus

What are the hottest trends there?

It’s a little complicated to just answer this question. When I find myself in these areas, as I said, I have a mental ‘Rolodex of Change’ that I’m constantly working with. A network of photographic images that represent hundreds of scenarios that might develop into trends over time. For Firmenich, as these scenarios gain a global momentum and form a so-called trend – we bring it to life with our Trenz® toolbox. The “things” I’m looking at now are “pre-Trenz®” and have yet to be defined, but may become a part of something bigger in the next year or two. For an example, I’m currently shooting a lot of images of outer space, astronauts, aliens, UFOs, robots and gas masks. I’m also shooting a lot of the colors violet and purple. You see, out of context it sounds crazy, but once put into perspective they actually become quite prospective. Whether a macro-trend or the Pantone® Color of the Year, one never knows for sure, but the methodology does have its merits.

What are some of the upcoming trends in general? 

As part of our global Trenz® toolbox, we’re about to launch three new branches or macro-trends: Disruption, Prismatic, and UpCycling. This isn’t really the best format for getting into the nitty-gritty of these, but know that they’ve been in development by our Trenz® team for about three years now. We connect these to Flavor and Fragrance inspiration for new product development to assure we’re on-trend, but honestly, they can be applied to just about anything.

What are some of the upcoming travel trends? 

Travel trends isn’t necessarily any part of my expertise, although I guess as someone who travels as much as I do, I can certainly apply the same thinking of observing change to the travel industry itself. One thing I’ve definitely noticed is the sheer volume of travelers. People are clearly on the move. The internet has made information and social networking accessible to the masses, but now the masses want to go out and see it, feel it, touch it, smell it and taste it. The multi-sensorial experience is alive and well out there and people are hungry to be a part of it. Some as curious tourists, some acting as locals and trying to just blend in. Whatever the case, there’s truly an experience economy going on. With that in mind, pay attention to the importance of the airport of the future. Most are already becoming “mall-like” and, as with all trends, this is not a coincidence.

Thank You, Mikel, we truly found learning about your life fascinating!

We hope that you enjoyed learning about the latest trends and process of how they are spotted as much as we did. Here is a bit more information about Mikel and his career.

Mikel Cirkus

Mikel Cirkus has spent his 25 year career in creative thinking. As a designer, photographer, illustrator and writer, he has a unique perspective on the rapidly changing world of trends, content creation, and execution. He is currently the Global Director of Conceptual Design for the Flavors Division of Firmenich, the largest privately owned company in the fragrance and flavor industry – where creativity is both an essence and a guiding principle. He has worked personally with many of the most innovative people in marketing, R&D, technical applications and brand management, for hundreds of products in nearly every category of consumer package goods, worldwide. Mikel is a graduate of The Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California and makes his home in the Princeton, NJ area.

As a founding member of the global Trenz® team, Mikel identifies key industry and consumer trends, combines them with on-going analysis of competitive environments, and creates a proven means to encourage and enable the Clients to embrace, adapt and even create changes that have added value to their brands while also strengthening their relationship and increasing sales with Firmenich.

Follow Mikel on his website or on Twitter: @MCirkus


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