The True Story About How Fashion Trends Are Born
Remember that scene in The Devil Wears Prada when Miranda Priestly schools Andy on how her "lumpy blue sweater" came to be? Although her monologue — in which she explains how what we wear is a direct result of the decisions made by designers and editors — is bitingly impressive, it's not actually correct.
Turns out, the next big trends for Spring 2015, which you're probably just starting to wear after they were revealed a few months back during New York Fashion Week, have been buttoned up for more than two years. A team of professional "trendcasters" used not a crystal ball but a highly tuned 10-step process to predict fashion's future long before a single trend took to the runway . . . and a single editor even knew of its existence.
How'd they do it? According to Sheila Aimette of trend forecasting agency WGSN, trends can take root in the simplest of ways. For instance, one particularly noteworthy installation from a small art exhibit can turn into a print that will be seen everywhere from couture collections to the sales bin at Target. "Little movements like that are pivotal to taking a trend from an idea to an influx," Aimette said.
If you've ever wondered how so many designers seem to simultaneously send the exact same trends down the runway days apart, how key styles are decimated across the globe in a matter of minutes, or how anyone is able to pinpoint what is going to still be relevant so far in advance, read on. This is the lifespan of a Spring 2015 trend. Source: 20th Century Fox
Experts Share Big Ideas
Early May 2013
A WGSN think tank of global trend experts — people from around the world and from all different backgrounds, including history buffs, cultural anthropologists, sociologists, and consumer marketers — meet in London to present research and discuss discoveries in every facet of culture. "They've been tracking the changes in science, politics, technology, the environment, and economic factors of the world around them, and they know what's happening in art, they understand the music scene, they experience food in different cities," Aimette said. "For us, it's not just what's now but what's next."
Additionally, they analyze street style and festival trends, which round out the design direction for each season. "We have editors documenting street style all over the world every single day," Aimette said. "It's a constant flow of information. In even the best fashion blog, it's a picture here and there. But we are constantly canvasing the streets for emerging trends."
For instance, they might be the ones to spot an Instagram-famous street style star in a captivating look. "It starts popping up more, then it becomes reimagined, then you see it walk down the runway," Aimette said, "and soon, everyone's wearing it."
They Research Raw Materials
Late May 2013
Meanwhile, other pros are exploring the latest in finishes, coatings, treatments, and technological developments that will impact emerging raw materials.
They Study Color Theory
Early June 2013
Such an important factor in fashion, a complete color forecast is essential before any major trends are officially set.
The Trend Is Determined
Late June 2013
This is when they locate the DNA of the season. "Our job is to gather all of this information and distill the common threads into what's most relevant," Aimette says of the official report that highlights three to four overarching themes. For Spring 2015, one such theme was "bio-dynamic," and it referenced how discoveries in biology have revolutionized the way we understand form and our own bodies. Another theme, "history 2.0," touched on how a return to artistry and craftsmanship is being juxtaposed with high-concept, almost sci-fi levels of precision.
Designers often look to these trends at this stage. "It's a good jumping-off point," Aimette says. "They may wonder, 'Is there still going to be this active techno thing happening or are we moving toward a back-to-essentials phase?' They too try to see major clues within the trends. And because fashion is a business, designers are most influenced by trends that are commercially viable and will translate into sales and revenue."
One example of this? The rise in activewear.
The Trend Is Applied to Fashion
This next phase is all about how these overarching trends sync up with fashion. "What would clothing look like when emanating those trends?" Aimette said. "It's amazing how much synergy there is." For instance, that bio-dynamic trend gets put into a fashion lens quickly, with researchers predicting that designers will have a literal fascination with botany, using tropical prints and "natural" silhouettes.
Fashion designers aren't the only clients clamoring for this intel, and at this point, manufacturers, product developers, retailers, and buyers are paying close attention. "They are concerned with how they are going to create an assortment, whether it's a fabric manufacturer or a department store," Aimette said. "They want to know what their high-volume drivers will be in terms of colors and materials."
The Fashion Trend Is Packaged
September to November 2013
Like a designer's lookbook of stylized garments on models, trendcasters put together lookbooks of their own. Essentially a paint-by-numbers for designers and retailers, the team creates a complete, accessible plan for the season ahead complete with mood images, print and color directions, and fabric recommendations.
In fact, further exploring the materials — from graphics, patterns, and prints to different types of knitwear and textiles — that will be used is a vital final step. Vendors specializing in trims and prints pay close attention here, too, and replicate those pieces that seem particularly directional. "If techno prints are important, that vendor can start creating fabrics with that exact look and feel," Aimette said.
The Fashion Trend Hits the Runway
September to October 2014
The job of a trendcaster takes on a whole new shape once the clothes hit the runway. "All the catwalk analysis is a huge part of what we do, where we dissect what's going on," Aimette said. "It's interesting to see how our predictions pop up on the runway and it gives clients a clear roadmap to what will be important to their consumer."
Case in point: this season saw key trends — safari influences and a subtle nod to the '70s — that seemed to be direct offshoots of the bio-dynamic and history 2.0 trends discovered back in 2013. But will they make it from runway to retail?
The Fashion Trend Reaches the Masses
September 2014 to June 2015
Because of the impact of social media, consumers have a global view of what is going on every second of the day.
"Back in the day, 10 to 15 years ago, the only way you were clued into trends was if you were in the city where it was happening," Aimette said. "Otherwise, our only windows to the fashion world were through JC Penney and Sears catalogs! There was nothing else. Now, with a click, you can see what's happening in Hong Kong, in Cairo, in Copenhagen. There is accessibility into every nook and cranny."
Trends can bubble up in an instant, and replication can be immediate and instantaneous. "Fast-fashion retailers can see trends on the runways, streets, or festivals and translate them for their customers in a matter of weeks," Aimette added.
The Fashion Trend Is Promoted
October 2014 to June 2015
Consumers not triple-checking their Twitter feeds after the Marc Jacobs runway live stream probably don't get their first taste of the next big trends until their favorite magazines and websites write about them. But aside from sites (like this one) that publish runway reports immediately after Fashion Week, most wait to cover Spring 2015 trends closer to the start of that season, in February or March, when their readers are ready to start planning.
"For the most part, consumer magazines deliver current trends and fashion news," Aimette said. "They are not so much forecasting as they are showcasing what is current . . . what is happening now and what is shoppable now."
The Fashion Trend Is Sold Out
Not until Spring 2015 has come and gone (and the trend is nearly yesterday's news) does the team determine whether they officially got it right, often best determined by looking to the sale racks at stores from Barneys to Kohl's. Still, they're never surprised at the outcome. "About 99.9 percent of the time, our mega-trends are always right," Aimette said. "From that first think tank, we know if they are going to happen, and there are so many ways to apply them."