Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, or The Past, the Present and the Future?
At this time of year, fashion and style people are looking both at what's coming into the shops and stores to buy for this season, and at what will be shown on the world’s catwalks for the following season. Then many people will be busy decoding all this into trends, balancing the edgy against the commercial, and the micro trends against the major changes.
Retailers as well as magazines, blogs, Twitter, and every format will be telling you about the " statement coat" the "oversize sweater" or the "versatile shirt”. The trends are often item-led; this is for clarity or it might simply be a seasonal colour or fabric which updates less extreme pieces. At the same time as all this is happening, the industry looks ahead, with many people who have long lead times to produce materials and finished products working two or more years ahead. This means trend forecasting to plot the future of fashion is an indispensable tool. For many, trends hold the season together, make life simpler and send out clear messages. Or do they? And, can trends mean more than we might at first think?
Originally the key seasonal statement came from Paris, and only couture. The silhouette, the skirt length, the colour was dictated. Vogue was the key proposer and stores used this as a "Vogue says" endorsement of forest green or whatever the colour of the season might be. Then came the post-war shifts in culture and lifestyle - and the 1960's. The young decided they didn't want to look like their mother or father, listen to their music or even eat their food; breakaway styles and small boutiques sprang up, blasting out the new music and serving up coffee, sparkling drinks, and fast food. The teenager was ‘born’.
At the same time, ready-to-wear became the key fashion revolution. Instead of following one trend it launched variations of street and music inspired looks, creating a fast turnaround rather than a single seasonal look and often at a much lower price point. ‘Investment’ dressing was not where the young were looking. Daniel Hechter, Sonia Rykiel and many others launched labels which were younger, easier, and relevant to the men and women of the time. Menswear shifted from dad wear to clothes for young men out and about from new jobs in media and advertising to coffee bars and nightclubs.
forecasting the future
Since fashion was becoming more complex, with layers of trends and styles, as well as looks appearing at greater speeds, many people felt they couldn't follow the endless shifts, changes and looks. At the beginning of the 1960's, a new form of Fashion Forecasting sprang into being. By the early 1980's London had Design Intelligence, Nigel French, Design Direction, Derick Healey, and many others. However, stores resented having to pay huge fees to these companies and quickly realised that editing, creating a mood board, and learning how to decode and read trends at a commercial level wasn't that difficult. Forecasting became everybody’s game. The breakaway styles and small boutiques of the 1960s, when fashion became focused on variations and therefore became situational, also now relates to a present in which young or solo designers pursue independent working patterns.
"Much of fashion now is in fact based around items of clothing, not overarching fashion trends"
Today one person holds the key to new ways of reading trends beyond the usual catwalk and fashion basics. Trend Union and Li Edelkoort use everything from androids to Amazon and from vinegar to Valentino to work their seasonal stories, inspirations of genius which often seem off-kilter of plain mad. With a clairvoyance that is extraordinary, Li speaks and the world of business listens. Li has never used the conventional mood board, and was one of the first forecasting people to commission all original work for her stories and themes, plus multilayer the elements within her forecasting books, from a sample of linen to antique postcards or coloured silk threads.
As an example of how Li and her team pick up on a theme and offer it, many years ago she talked about Voodoo as a theme with the Voodoo object as a fetish piece whose magic means it stands alone and is adored and feared. Guess what she was driving at? The cult of the handbag, when the Fendi Baguette and the Dior Saddlebag required their own chair in a restaurant. At the time for many people the entire concept was outside their comprehension. Indeed, many clients use Trend Union a year after its appearance when it is easier and more commercial for the team. Voodoo became the “It Bag”: this is how the tangential mind of Trend Union and Li Edelkoort transforms concept into reality.
plundering the past
The great designers of recent years make no secret of the fact that their trends are based firmly in the past. Marc Jacobs and Alessandro Michele use vintage, ethnic and every available source to create collections of clothes which are like a new dish cooked with old ingredients; we can detect the flavours but they taste even more delicious in the new combinations. Part of this is attributable to the need for product, pieces, hot items, and sales figures. Much of fashion now is in fact based around items of clothing, not overarching fashion trends. Basics or entry-price-pointed items lure the customer in, and pieces that are easier to wear are the bread and butter of a brand, rather than the catwalk pieces. There is a vast difference between being able to buy a strongly seasonal piece, wear it and either store it until it becomes vintage, and selling it off at the end of the season.
Today it is hard to be 100% original and run a thriving global business, yet that may be one of the biggest shifts in fashion at the moment. Many young or solo designers do not want to become huge global brands and attract all the pressures this brings. Blanketing hundreds of stores with the same product worldwide is a nightmare and today many brands are remaining controlled, working with a selection of appropriate stores across the world who stock their clothes in a sympathetic environment. The huge old juggernauts rely a great deal on cosmetics, fragrance, and accessories to underwrite the clothing. Prices at the top most level of ready to wear have spiralled up so that some designers’ pieces are stratospheric.
"The breakaway and small-scale reflect new uses of the concept of curation"
Local versus global, limited edition versus huge quantities. Everyone has downsized the quantities of a style they produce, but at high street or multi retail outlet level fairly large numbers must be made. The great trick now is for a brand such as Zara or H & M to distribute across several stores so there aren’t rails and rails of the same thing. They also look at fast turn over limited-edition pieces, which in Zara’s case they can respond to very quickly, and sell out. Vetements’ brilliant strategy - apart from all the others they had - was to produce 500 of the hottest items and only have a limited number of stockists. Demand over supply leading to fewer mark-downs, more reasons for the consumer to stop shopping online and visit the shop or store: this is exactly the same as in the 1960s boutiques, stocked with unusual, small or quirky labels that can be sold with confidence since the buyers know the clientele.
The breakaway and small-scale, against standardisation, reflect new uses of the concept of curation, and the idea that everyone is an ‘editor’. Also reflecting the 1960s is a return to customisation; ethnic as the spice in a fashion wardrobe; and vintage now encompassing many decades and looks.
This is the first in a series of articles from fashion and trends expert and writer Tony Glenville. Tony is Consultant Creative Director to London College of Fashion (LCF), University of the Arts London. He is Couture Editor for Luxure magazine, and his prolific career in fashion journalism has seen him covering the major fashion scene, haute couture, and London and Paris Fashion Weeks, as well as working with NOWFASHION, Schön!, Antidote, Lash, Narcisse and Renaissance magazines. He is author of the books Top to Toe, a guide to men's grooming and New Icons of Fashion Illustration. He also works closely with Fashion Scout and is a judge at Graduate Fashion Week.