Secrets. They’re not supposed to exist, are they? We’re supposed to tell it all, share it all, let it all hang out, preferably online. Mental health types talk about the corrosive effects of secrets. We barely tolerate the notion that some state secrets should remain that way. And TMZ’s created a $100 million empire on spilling celebrity secrets that readers lap up then lean back to savor, purse their lips, feeling smug that no secret should be safe from the public.
As goes the broader culture goes the material, consuming world. “Authenticism” is the thing where every live edge table or industrial makes clear its material roots. Function is form and form is function (and nothing else.) Radical transparency is the by-word of companies like Everlane. And we’ve come to expect to know exactly where the vegetables we’re eating are from and one day soon we’ll no doubt know who picked them. And on and on.
It’s all a bit boring.
There’s something about having a secret that can be a rush. You feel more alive, more vital, more powerful and because of that, more seductive. And oddly, you might even feel more you. There’s the constant whiff of discovery which adds that edge of danger we each crave in small doses. The irony is that the more we want to be seen, the more we also want to preserve something of our selves that we can choose to share. Or not.
Well, in the search for a little more of that feeling in life, perhaps it’s time for the pendulum to swing back in favor of more secrets, perhaps not fully, but at least a little more in that direction.
This desire for secrets and mysteries explains the continuing allure of spaces and things that contain secrets. Who wouldn’t want, in their home, a secret passageway or closet, that swiveling door in your library that reveals a hidden bathroom, bar, or matryoshka doll collection? Who doesn’t thrill to a desk, which, if you were to push just so, just there, you’d find a secret compartment for secret missives, keepsakes, collections, your forged passport, and just that book of stamps?
Or perhaps more subtly, it’s the tattoo on the lower back (in Jane Austen’s days, it was the locket with the lock of your intended’s hair), or the T shirt made of a luxurious material. Denim (particularly Japanese denim) is one of these areas where secret flourishes charm the denim fetishist or secret hunter alike: the jeans with the extra internal pocket, hidden rivets, the orange stitching only on the inside under a flap, or the denim itself created with the beige-dyed weft and the rope-dyed indigo. Or it could be the bag with the secret message engraved within (thank you Anya Hindmarch). It could even be the high street jacket or bag with the secret pockets and features you don’t discover for weeks after you buy it (North Face is genius at this, as is Tumi).
It’s not just the subtlety that’s alluring, it’s this insider knowledge that is your little secret – yours (and your fellow denim fetishist’s) alone. It’s also your little secret that the person designing or making the piece thought about putting that in, perhaps even considering your delight in finding it. It’s that sense of connection over time and space that can be intoxicating … again, a special little relationship that you can reveal if and when you want.
These kinds of secret objects hint at what we all say about ourselves: that we are more than what we appear, that our lives have a hidden, and of course, deeper dimension.
Designers and makers should take heed: while being authentic and transparent is lovely, creating a little mystery, seduction for your customers is no bad thing.
And unless you’re already living on the edge with some real, big, dangerous secrets (you’re a Russian spy, have a lover on the side, have a thing for The Real Housewives franchise), getting some thing with a secret might be a little way of giving you a way to smile mysteriously and feel that jolt of pleasure you just may need. Just try not to tell anyone about it.