Fashion 101: Where do Fashion Trends Come From?

A Spring Summer 2010 trend feature from online retailer Asos.com.

I’d like to do a Fashion 101 post about fashion trends and forecasting, since it’s an area that I work in, and find quite fascinating. In fact, I am going to write two posts on fashion trends, the first one will focus on how trends come about, and the second one about how magazines present trends. I feel bad for being so mean to the magazines, and revealing their dirty tricks, but in this day of absolute transparency (thanks to the internet), I think its only fair that the readers know how things work. But first, let’s talk about where fashion trends come from.

One of the questions I often get asked is “Why do designers have the same ideas at the same time?” and by answering this, I am sort of answering the question “Where do trends come from?”

A Spring Summer 2010 trend feature from luxury online retailer Net-A-Porter.com.

Designers don’t all have the same ideas at the same time, as we saw on the Fall Winter 2010 catwalks, not everyone was doing the same thing. But there were certainly a few things that repeated: there were a lot more curvy, feminine silhouettes, lots of designers were reviving 90’s minimalism, and there was a lot of sheepskin. So how does this happen? Do they all have a chat and decide what they are going to do? No, in fact its the opposite, designers are very secretive about what they do, until after their catwalk show. They have the same ideas at the same time because they are exposed to similar influences and they are looking for inspiration at the same time.

A Spring Summer 2010 trend feature from Topshop.com.

The fashion industry is small, and whether you are living in Paris, London, or New York, you are going to be exposed to similar inspirational influences as other designers. Firstly, everyone starts their research process after the shows, so in March while most of us were digesting the Fall Winter shows and wondering what we were going to buy come September when the collections were arriving in store, designers are off researching their Spring Summer 2011 collections. They will be looking at similar things, like art exhibitions, new creative work (design, architecture, fine art), new bands or other performance artists, interesting films, new books that have come out (and I don’t mean paperbacks, I mean visual books with creative work, like retrospective books or photography books), etc… Some designers will go off to foreign countries to get inspired, but they may have also been inspired by their last holiday, which was probably to some trendy holiday hotspot that many other designers went to as well. Everyone is exposed to similar ideas, and because designers have often been trained in the same ways, they just tend to move in the same directions. They “feel” things at the same time.

The images from the book Vacant inspired collections by Luella (punk styling), Sonia Rykiel (studs on shoes and knitwear), and Emanuel Ungaro (punk-style clothing.)

I hope this isn’t to vague, but I can give some examples. When I was in Paris in 2000, a book called Vacant: A Diary of the Punk Years 1976-1979 came out. It was full of photos from the punk years, and I remember quite a lot of designers bought it. At the time, studs weren’t that commonplace in fashion (not like today) but there were quite a few designers who were influenced by this book. At Sonia Rykiel, we added these fantastic studded shoes to our collection, inspired by the book. We also stuck studs to our knitwear. At Emanuel Ungaro, they featured punk and rockabilly looks on their catwalk, and blasted Billy Idol during the show. Luella named her collection “Daddy, who were The Clash.” So that punk trend was probably kicked started by the fact that everyone bought that same book.

The next step would be for the magazines to pick up on the “punk” inspiration, and they present it to their readers as the newest trend. I’ll explain more about that part of the process in the next Fashion 101.

Babyshambles and other London indie rock bands inspired Dior Homme.

Was it a coincidence that Sonia Rykiel and Emanuel Ungaro had similar inspirations, when in fact the design teams were friends? No. There is no doubt in my mind that the sharing of ideas between different designers contributes to the fact that there are similarities between collections, even if it is completely unintentional. I remember one season at Sonia Rykiel when we had put a very bright, brash yellow into our collection. we we were worried the the colour was bordering on tacky. Three days before the show, one of our fabric suppliers accidentally delivered a role of fabric to us, which was meant to be going to Louis Vuitton (whose design team, at the time, were very friendly with the designers over at Sonia Rykiel.) Louis Vuitton’s fabric was in the exact shade of yellow that we had put into our collection. The fabric suppliers begged us to return it immediately and not breathe a word about it, which we did. But we also breathed a huge sigh of relief that we weren’t off the mark with our bizarre yellow, because if Louis Vuitton were doing it, then it was definitely going to be cool.

To the left, Sonia Rykiel, other images, Louis Vuitton. All Spring Summer 2000. The yellow looked a lot more garish in real life, in these photos it looks a lot milder.

It is really interesting to track trends through fashion, because you can usually tie trends to something visually exciting that impacted the designers at the time of their research: The Memoirs of a Geisha film came out before Dior did their spectacular Spring Summer 2007 couture show, which was heavily inspired by traditional Japanese kimonos. Chloe’s 2001 horses collection came out shortly after the publication of a book called Rodeo Girl, which featured photographs of cowgirls. In 2005, Hedi Slimane was inspired by the sleazy indie rock bands of Camden Town, like Pete Dogherty and Babyshambles, for his Dior Homme collections.

The Rodeo Girl book inspired this Chloe collection, with images of horses.

So that’s why I tell people who are interested in getting into trend forecasting to be on the ball about…everything. Especially things that are visually interesting. You never know who or what is going to inspire the next major fashion trend.

Memoirs of a Geisha inspired Christian Dior Haute Couture.

One important issue I didn’t explain is the role of the trend forecasters, who generally tend to be inspired in the same ways as designers do. It is rare that a luxury brand designer will get their trends from a forecaster, high end brands have their own ideas, and those ideas will in turn affect the fast fashion trends. Trend forecasters usually sell fashion trend concepts to fast fashion brands, or companies who don’t have strong enough design teams, although some luxury brands will use trend forecasters for ideas on colour and fabric.

All catwalk images from Style.com.

Read other Fashion 101 posts:

Fashion 101: Designers with Two Jobs

Fashion 101: How Haute Couture Works

Fashion 101: Magazines and their Advertisers

This entry was posted in Fashion 101, The Fashion Industry and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
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  • Mica

     Hi, what about fashion forecasting agencies? I thought all the designers had the same ideas because they were getting them from the same source (someone you pay to make the research).
    I don´t know but it sounds a bit silly to me that it just because of the books, movies etc. You can see the same trends collection after collection, same colors, same silhouettes and same atmosphere. And What you said about travelling… So the huge trend inspired by ethnic and “back to the roots” we are seeing a lot these days would be because a lot of designers travelled this year? Do you mean that is some kind of coincidence?
    I´m sorry, but i don´t think so.. There has to be something more to it..
    I love your post by the way, specially that you are not afraid to criticize!

  • Anonymous

    Designer brands definitely do not use trend forecasting agencies. Some may use colour forecasting, but trend agencies are for mid level and fast fashion brands, the designer brands come up with their own ideas! I know this because I have worked for both designer brands, and trend forecasting agencies.

    And also, a lot of what you see in the media about trends is fabricated by the media themselves, and has nothing to do with how the designer was inspired. The magazines do presentations to all the PR’s each season, after the shows, and tell them what trends they will be featuring in the magazine. The PR’s then scramble to find product that will fit into these trends, for example, if the magazines say “gothic’ then PR’s will pitch all that is long, black, and lace as “goth”, even though the designer may never have been inspired by goth.

    To make my point, I went onto Style.com and looked at the Fall 2011 trend reports. If you look at their Sixties Minutes trend (http://www.style.com/trendsshopping/trendreport/072511_Trend_Report/) you’ll see that none of the garments they chose actually look like they are inspired by the same thing, but they have vague sixties references (and I mean VAGUE) whihc the magazine now sells to us as sixties. But did the designers all get inspired by the same thing? No. The magazines need to sell us a story, and they do this by selling us “trends.”

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    some luxury brands will use trend forecasters for ideas on colour and fabric.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, you are absolutely right, but they don’t use them for designs!

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  • Milx

    Goddamit, nonsense! They all change/repeat the trends just to get income from the sheeps like you who buy all the new stuff! And it’s devilish thing!

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    I’ve worked as a forecaster and as a designer, and I can attest to this. That is how it works. And I certainly do not buy into all the new trends.