verbal croquis

designer Q&A

Posted in opinions by verbalcroquis on February 21, 2006

This post is to answer questions posed in the comments section of “i need funding”. I felt it warranted a post of its own.

henri-v asks:

“I don’t understand the process behind designers simultaneously, collectively establishing trends anyways — e.g., how did this legging thing come about among so many runway shows in NY? Is it the work of stylists consulting for multiple design houses? Do designers share/copy between one another to create an easily-identified thing for the season? I feel completely clueless as to how these things evolve from idea to a force on the marketplace; I can sometimes trace a reference or quote from a high-profile designer as it filters through subsequent layers of the industry (and 3 years later it reaches Middle America in much diluted version), but the machinery that puts the idea in place is what? where? how? Just Anna W.? Who is really pulling the strings?”

Up until about ten years ago, the political and socio-economic climate of the time either dictated or influenced fashion. We designers are naught but slaves to the sway of the times. Forties’ dress were a result of war era shortages; the New Look springing from post-war boom. The women’s suffrage movement led to uncorseted styles. Visual rebellion comes in many forms after war and a conservative government–see grunge. Notice Marc Jacobs trying to revive grunge towards the end of the second Bush’s term.

The past ten years have been about nostalgia and uncertainty–the turn of the century brings the collective design front at a loss for their own look, their mark. Isaac Mizrahi said in an article a few years ago that nothing is new and as designers all we can hope to do is successfully re-innovate the inventions of the past. Also in the period that lacks a strong trademark look, we are in search of the next big fashion star. This is the reason behind Project Runway. This is the reason why every season there’s a new It girl. Every decade in the last hundred years had a few key designers that personified the decade. In the eighties, everyone wore Alaia. In the nineties, Calvin Klein’s minimalism. The big names in fashion now are yesterday’s big stars–see Prada, Jacobs, Lagerfeld.

One of the major factors that have influenced the cycles of trends in the last ten years is the media. The faster news spreads, the faster everyone wants something new. Two hundred years ago, fashion moved slower, much slower. Trends evolved–they didn’t flipflop like they do now.

To answer your question (in the most roundabout way possible), there are trend cycles already in place. There’s the trickle-down effect, but there’s also the trickle-up effect. Marie Antoinette was famous for her double-panier skirts. How did she come about this look? She saw poor women wearing enourmous breadbaskets on either side of their hips as they took their goods to market. They looked like skirts because they were topped with cloths to keep the bread warm. For centuries, the rich defined themselves with their pale skin, people who stayed out of the sun because they didn’t have to work. Now, all the rich fake’n’bake to get that look that says “all I do is sit around and work on my tan because I don’t have to work”.

Good designers understand trend cycles, watch the news, scour the streets, digest it all and ask themselves “what’s next?”. The fact that a lot of them produce a lot of the same thing is just a sign that that’s next. Now just because a lot of designers decide that that’s what their going to to peddle one season doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll appeal to the buyers or the consumers.

No, designers don’t gather at meetings like some exclusive version of AA. Most are rather tight-lipped about what they’re working on until it’s too late for anyone to copy them without looking like it. You notice I don’t post anything about my actual design work until it’s (very) near completion?

There are many fashion forecasting services that sell books, magazines, CD-roms of their ideas on what’s next, what consumers are going to want next, including color stories, fabric boards and visual concept themes like “Urban Jungle” and whatnot.

Major editors like Misses Anna and Carine do not set the trends. They point out things that are happening over and over again in the show season. The influence they foster is more about the designers they think are important. Miz W adores Prada so she’s going to keep pumping Prada and the trends Prada produces. Prada gets the editorial space, so that trend is pushed into a more prominent place in our minds when thinking “what should I wear from the SS06 collections?” To go back to the Project Runway analogy, so many people were wondering why they left Santino in. Yeah, he made for good TV, but that wasn’t everything. In the first couple of episodes, he did very well. The judges kept putting their faith in him that he would eventually do something amazing again. So if the Kaiser has one bad collection, Vogue will still sell the adspace because they have faith in him.

I hope that answered your questions. If not, pick at me some more and I’ll try again. 🙂 Or you can email me at verbalcroquis at gmail dot com.


7 Responses to 'designer Q&A'

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  1. henri-v said,

    Thank you for the extended response! : )

    “Good designers understand trend cycles, watch the news, scour the streets, digest it all and ask themselves “what’s next??. The fact that a lot of them produce a lot of the same thing is just a sign that that’s next.”

    This is where part of my mystification was focused — how designers come upon similar answers to “what’s next?” at the same time. I guess if they are picking up on the same cultural cues and are keeping to the rhythm of trend cycles PLUS feeling the pressure of creating “newness” in the awake-24-hours information age, I can see how overlapping themes emerge. (Assimilation is hard work, and it is amazing when someone pulls off something modern and original.)

    “No, designers don’t gather at meetings like some exclusive version of AA. Most are rather tight-lipped about what they’re working on until it’s too late for anyone to copy them without looking like it.”

    Hah! My instincts told me, “No, this doesn’t happen. There aren’t secret societies of designers who come to a seasonal consensus, dude.” But I had to ask anyway … there are hidden agencies that regulate seemingly every other industry, so why not fashion? For ease in determining what big box stores produced or what department stores bought, I thought maybe, just maybe, there was some committee or something. Mostly, my reaction is one of annoyance at this “continual newness” fixation. I don’t have the attention span of a flea, and actually, I get fatigued at trying to keep up with, or more likely *avoid*, the Hot New Thing. I can appreciate good design exclusive of the where it resides on the current trend continuum, but I guess until the whole system implodes and splinters (sigh), the cycles will only get faster.

    (One more outsider question: Do those fashion forecasting products really sell? And do they have a significant rate of accurate predictions?)

    Thanks again for taking the time to answer my long-winded questions. Let me know when you are hiring studio lackeys after you get your funding … ; p

  2. I don’t know who really uses those fashion forecasting services. A lot of smaller companies either can’t afford them or find more immediate uses for their cash flow. My guess is larger, but not quite designer label houses use them–like Target or the Gap. If enough people use them I guess they could have a good chance at accuracy–but it’s more like the companies make them accurate by using them instead of the other way around.

    I’ve sat in some forecasting presentations while I was at school, and quite frankly, they present so many different groups, it’s easy for them to pinpoint a current trend and say “see! we forecasted that!”. Honestly, I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to those things. Be a real designer and figure it out yourself! Sure, it’s handy to pay someone to put together some nice color stories, but isn’t that just as bad as knock-off designers like A.B.S.?

    Hey, henri-v, what city do you live in, if you don’t mind me asking? If that intrudes on your blogging anonymity, feel free to ignore my question. I figure if you want a job when I get my funding, I should know…;P

  3. Emily said,

    Hmm. My dad was in the French Diplomatic Corps and part of the work that he did was in the “luxury” commercial sector. I know he mentioned to me that there were annual meetings – not of fashion designers but of textile designers and forecasters that would decide on the general trends for the coming year. But that was in France where the old guard rules – I can’t see anything like that happening in NY. Doing a really quick google search didn’t come up with anything though – I’ll have to ask my dad what the name of the conference was.

    On the other hand, big companies do have trend researchers on the payroll. The likelihood that all those people know each other and chat about work over drinks and coffee is probably pretty high – so it might not be as obvious as a full blown “conference” but might just be chaulked up to the clique-iness of the fashion industry.

    Anyway, great blogs both of you!

  4. Thanks for your input, Emily.

    Deep down, I secretly want there to be some whacked-out FashionMasons order, but with better outfits.

  5. Almost Girl said,

    Great insights again Verbal croquis!

    I just love love love your blog. Everytime I pop in you see to have written something great again. Sorry to be such a fan but sometimes I stop trawling blogs for a week and then once I get going again I get all excited about seeing the good ones!

  6. henri-v said,

    Hey VC! I live in Iowa City, Iowa currently, but not for long … actually I will be in SF from May – early July while I get my life on track. We (boyfriend, bird, and I) could end up on the West Coast for a while, or we might end up in Texas. Life is going to be upside-downsy from April onward (in a good way!).

    I’ll email you with more details in case you are interested in getting together in San Fran … no pressure, though! I don’t want to intrude on your personal space either! : )

  7. AG: “Sorry to be such a fan…” No way! I love comments like this! Ego boosts are always nice! heh. Thanks for reading. And of course, you know I’m a huge fan of yours. Sorry I’ve been slacking on the commenting. You’ve got some real smartypants visitors and sometimes that can be a bit intimidating.

    h-v: There are eco-friendly fashionistas in Iowa??? Will wonders ever cease. Definitely email me about visiting SF! It would be great to meet you.

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