“What’s trendy now?”. That is the first question I always get when I introduce myself as a fashion designer in front of new people. It is understandable, I do not blame them. Fashion changes so fast now. Trends after trends, must buy items season after season. Chasing that latest look, we all know why. Because the way we dress influences the way people perceive us. Simple.
But how did fashion trends evolved from pure society dream to a powerful manipulating tool for the masses? As a general rule, every opportunity starts in the name of creativity. Soon enough, it gets swallowed by the big business players.
The birth of fashion trends is no different. The beginning was simple: private presentations twice a year held in front of only the most influential and wealthiest people, who were privileged to see the latest and greatest designs. Outstanding masterpieces of the human hand. Designs that dictated the fashion times ahead. Designs so highly coveted whose influence was spreading from the richest to the poorest. Everyone dreamt to be part of this glamorous lifestyle. Designs what people used to call them back then. Trends as we know them now.
Then the mass-market fashion companies came. Their business model was completely on the contrary: where designers rely on large margins and small quantities, the mass market profits were based on numerous pieces and low markups. They had an incredibly difficult task - to wait for the rich to appear with the latest designer clothes, to simplify the design operations, to use low-priced fabrics and low paid labour and yet the product still had to resemble a lot to the original. However, once successfully copied, the “inspired designs” became an instant success. But after the design was mass-produced, its exclusivity to the richest was lost, and therefore its momentum was burnt. The big players were smart though, that's why they're so big in the first place. To avoid losing sales and win the battle with their cheap copies, they created a new product and a new trend every six months, thus closing the cycle.
Our story happened till the arrival of the Internet era, mainly from the '40s to the mid-'90s. The designers were relatively happy: they had about a year during which they would pick the fruits of their labour. A year was exactly how much it took the trends to move from the catwalks to the windows of their cheap competitors.
In the late 1990s, with the rising popularity of the World Wide Web, the first trend forecasting companies started to appear and they stirred up everything fundamentally. This new, cool service they offered predicted the trends to the smallest detail by analysing the runways and observing the early trendsetters in society. The collected data was gathered in thick folders with countless pages and then sold to fashion retailers. There, inside the pages were deeply described the clothes that will rule the market in the next year. Silhouettes, patterns, colours, textures, prints – everything people would want and wear. It was MAGIC. This was a synthesised formula for market success.
Some fashion designers refused the service. For them the forecasting was killing the genuine creativity. For most, however, this was like a map to the goldmine – follow the directions and you get to the treasure. But like any treasure map, there was a dangerous trap: the mass-market retailers. For them, the trend forecasting agencies were the tool to finally beat designers. They no longer had to wait. They could offer the latest trend immediately – right on time, while it was hot and cash on it enough before it cooled off. Orders of hundreds of thousands of pieces were being placed because this will be what the crowd would want to wear.
As you could imagined, the result did not delay. Brands, from high end to low markets, started to look the same. Their products started to look the same. Their windows became the same. And not much later on, people also started to look the same. Personal style surrendered as trends ruled the fashion scene.
See, we got to the root of the problem nowadays: trends are no longer natural. They became artificial. They are the business cash cow, a great marketing tool to shift stock and raise profits. They easily erase identities and make everyone LOOK the same. They dictate rules without considering our age and the shape of our bodies. They do not ask if they are suitable for us, because we have to ADJUST TO THEM. We constantly have to shop to keep up with their pace, of owning the latest and trendiest. This creates an anxiety feeling of being like on a constant marathon, whose finishing point is near but never reachable. And while chasing trends, our style disappears. And this is what the business wants – people with no style, whose taste is easily manipulated and shopping intentions programmed. So that is why we call trends “style killers”.
“What’s trendy now?” another person asks me. It doesn’t matter I say. What matters is what style you have. Style isn’t about clothes, fashion is. Style isn’t about erasing identity, it’s about celebrating your own identity. Style isn’t about a full wardrobe, it’s about a fully functional wardrobe. Style isn’t about questioning what I should wear today. The lack of style brings a dilemma.
Therefore, as Iman says, the famous model and wife of the singer David Bowie, "In a world full of trends, I want to remain a classic.". “I want to remain my style”, we add, “beyond trends and time”.