Explore & master

The nostalgia revolution

Marie-Cécile Cervellon , Professor, Head of faculty - Marketing

Marie-Cécile Cervellon, Professor of Marketing at EDHEC Business School, discusses in this article the return of nostalgia in the air.

Reading time :
5 Nov 2019

At the beginning of February 2019, the Decathlon website was overloaded because of the craze for the re-release of a 1985 model tracksuit.

It’s an era of nostalgia: Re-releases, reissues, reconstitutions, remakes, restorations,
retrospectives, reincarnations, reorganisations, re… REVOLUTION (in the etymological sense of
the word). Candy bars of our infancy, absinthe whose production was banned, retro
advertisements selling hamburgers across the ages, slogans referring to our revolutionary past
(“Gilets jaunes, sans culottes. Eh bien donnez-leur du biocarburant !”) (“Yellow vests, sans
culottes. Let them use biofuel!”). In the fashion world, nearly all the houses are revisiting their
archives (e.g. Yves Saint Laurent) and relaunching models inspired by the past. In the world of
automobiles, cars that combine a retro look with 2.0 comfort are the trend (Fiat 500, Mini, Alpine). For more than 20 years, nostalgia has been the dominant culture.

Voir l'infographie en intégralité

In a published work about nostalgia entitled “Revolutionary Nostalgia”, Marie-Cécile
, professor of Marketing at the EDHEC Business School, and Stephen Brown Professor of Marketing Research at Ulster University Business School, show how this collective turn towards the past, far from being regressive is a source of inspiration and of creativity and renewal. Nostalgia is not a solitary melancholic state or a return to a fantasised past leading to depression, as it has been described since the beginning of the 17th century. On the contrary, the nostalgia of the 21st century is healthy: it is collective and communal, and it resists. Nostalgia is a revolutionary critique of the present. The past gives us keys to understanding our era and inspiration for the future.


Le livre met en évidence les traits correspondant à ce mouvement.


Dans un monde dominé par les réseaux sociaux qui isolent les individus, la nostalgie du XXIeme siècle, « la neostalgie », est salutaire ; c’est un phénomène collectif qui encourage l’émergence de communautés autour d’une passion (les 60’s, le Bauhaus, la photographie argentique ou les cupcakes) ou d’actions politiques (démocratie directe, assemblées citoyennes). La neostalgie se partage. La nostalgie des XIXe et XX siècle est plus intime.


Elle est présente dans tous les secteurs, du cinéma, la musique, l’électroménager, l’automobile, et même la politique avec les manifestations de Mai 68 revisitées par les Gilets Jaunes cinquante ans plus tard.


De Shanghai à Dubai, de Paris à Berlin (l’Ostalgie ou retour sur l’Allemagne de l’Est), le passé est cultivé à travers commémorations, artefacts commerciaux et même parcs à thème (Puy du Fou)


Probablement née à la fin du siècle dernier (le film Titanic), comme une manière de conjurer la peur du passage à l’an 2000 en se rattachant à un passé rassurant, la tendance collective à la nostalgie perdure depuis deux décennies et prend de l’ampleur.

Cette vague de nostalgie a des accents de résistance qui consiste à dire non au conformisme et à une image androcentrique imposée de la femme, dire non au jeunisme Botox-French Manucure, dire non à la dictature des réseaux sociaux, dire non aux diktats de la mode actuelle, slim-fit, Kleenex et McFashion. Les générations les plus jeunes (Génération Z) sont à l’origine de la renaissance de marques comme Fila ou Champions.

Voir l'infographie en intégralité


Cervellon and Brown identify a variety of reasons that might explain the persistence of this

The aging of the population and the will to transmit what is “good and beautiful” to younger

The book series “Quand papa/maman avait ton âge” (“When mum/dad was your age”) is a good illustration of this idea.

The 2008 financial crisis, the European crisis triggered by Brexit, and the migrant crisis all
encouraged a turn to the past to find keys to social and financial reconstruction. 

The terrorist attacks, the shadowy war with the Islamic State, and the apocalypse of global
warming, provide glimpses of a darker future and have us searching for a light at the end of the tunnel. 

The feelings of isolation ins our hyper-connected society, the anxiety generated by the tyranny of the “Like”, the cult of the image and the presentation of the self, the speed at which news and fake news travel, all push us back to the golden age of the dolce vita, in praise of slowness and authentic relationships. 

The virtually unlimited stocks of photos and audio and video archives, the instant and mostly free access to internet offerings facilitate a return to the past. Thanks to these online aides-memoire, the past has never been so present, so real.

Voir l'infographie en intégralité


Relics: Antique and vintage objects with a history or a heritage, like the 1947 Lambretta scooter

Reproductions: modern copies of old objects, slightly adapted for our era (e.g. a Lambretta that
uses unleaded petrol)

Rebirths: iconic objects like the Polaroid camera, slumbering brands such as Suze and the
Orient Express, that have been dusted off and given a new look.

Replicas: Completely new products or brands that invent a pass or imitate the style of another
era (e.g. the Benefit Cosmetics 50’s style brand).


During Cervellon’s inquiry into nostalgia she immerged herself in the Neoburlesque community,
“a community of women who campaign for an uninhibited vision of feminine beauty , in all its
diversity by reappropriating retro feminine codes and putting them front of stage, in their leisure
activities and at work

Through these women, the authors draw a portrait of 21st century nostalgia, unifying in the face
of solitude 2.0, resisting conformity of taste and ideas, and revolutionary.

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