Why are we wearing what we’re wearing…?

I’m off to Paris on Saturday for a Trade Fair. I won’t see much of Paris as such; Gare Du Nord, the metro, then Paris Expo for the day.
My general preferred trade fair agenda is to get in and get out as fast as possible. Time spent at a trade fair falls somewhere in the middle of ‘not there long enough to see everything’ and ‘this is hell, get me out of here’.

So why do I go? Partly networking, but ultimately to go to conferences where industry experts share their thoughts on how the market and mood is changing and adapting, and what major trends they see are emerging.
There are also forums where laces, embroideries, fabrics and trims are laid out to quite literally scratch and sniff; we meet with suppliers and manufacturers and discover new ones.
In truth it’s always a good day in some way, especially if there is a buzz about new technologies, processes or thoughts taking off and that something as a designer, we can get our teeth into.

But actual trends – how ‘things’ end up in physical shops or online, how do buyers (the ultimate decision makers to what goes in store) know to buy what they do? As a designer it’s my job to help ‘feed’ the buyer to what they should be buying – to curate and edit the trends and design products that fulfil the range of garments they want in store whilst making the garments ‘on trend’.
It can sort of feel like there is some secret insider knowledge – because how did all of the designers/stores/retailers know to design/buy leopard print or sequins or whatever colour, and how come they all had it in store at pretty much the same time. Did they collude? Or was it a happy accident? No.

In my view, Trends work a bit like this.

High End/Luxury Designers work kind of in a bubble, I know, I’ve been there (it’s great). Inspiration or a theme can come from anywhere, an exhibition, a place; for SS 17 a major influence and theme of Alexander McQueen was from the Shetland Islands – the resulting garments and embroidery details were exquisite in replicating the landscape, sea, local industries. Why the Shetland Islands? Why not? – maybe someone on the team had family there, or visited, or it was near one of their factories or, or, or…
The ideas and garments from high end designers in turn often become watered down for the high street; who always take note of the major designers – this delicate sequin application – is this part of the reason we saw the high street awash with sequins in AW 17 then because it sold so well, it was ramped up even more for AW 18?

Alexander McQueen SS17

Trend Agencies – whether industry specific or say, WGSN (Worth Global Style Network – which is the largest trend agency) collate information from all around the world; they have offices in multiple locations and their teams gather information from EVERYWHERE. No country, music scene, food scene, stone is left unexplored… they see what people are doing, buying, wearing, eating now. They look from the street to high end luxury brands.
They see WHO is INFLUENCING us, they discover what companies we’re investing in, and why, who’s recycling the most, which generation is a leader in x, y or z.

Trend Agencies talk to, and study ALL industries and see what do we drive, how do we travel, where do we go, how do we communicate and stay in touch, what are we listening to, HOW do we listen to it. They find out what technologies are in development and when it will be released so they know what we (might) want, before we know we know we (might) want it. To know and develop what we want, before we even know we want it is big money. Seriously big money.

This happens across the board – with any product being designed. Washing machine product designers will be influenced by the fabric contents of the clothes we buy – what is the lowest/highest temperature they can with stand, what’s the least amount of water that can be used etc etc etc, everything is linked in some way.

day job; old school pencil & paper
Old School designing with pencil & paper

So in my day job; I work about a year or so in advance designing underwear – from the very initial idea that I draw in pencil on a piece of paper to an garment being in store takes about that long. (I’m working on December 19/January 20 products right now) – and I’m old school with pencil and paper. Computers come in later.
– So when I design, the lace or fabric I select to use in my initial sketches will have had to be been designed to fit into a certain theme/mood, tested, sampled so its also fit for purpose – this will happen about 6-12 months before my first scratchy sketch.
– Once my idea on paper (a pretty image done on the computer; not a scratchy hand drawn number) has been signed off, (ensuring that there is a cohesive theme and story, so when the garments go in store so they sit well together and draw customers to them) a sample is made (all components needed to be dyed the correct colours; elastics, straps, linings, hooks & eyes, main fabrics, bows etc)
– assuming the made garment looks good and actually liked, its put forward in a presentation to be Signed Off (after prices are agreed), checking again that there is a cohesive look offering choice and fulfilling difference price point options for the end customer.
– Then garment then has to be fitted, graded for all sizes, photographed for packaging and packaging ordered (collar cards, hangers, swing tags)
– bulk order fabrics ordered and dyed, with each fabric/elastic being tested, colour matched and approved
– and then the garments produced, checked and tested and packaged…
– then shipped from China, to arrive in warehouses, to then be distributed out to store.

This is just for pants and bras.

We’re not talking cars, or mobile phones or Alexa’s or other technologies of mind boggling proportions.

Some trend agencies publish a bi-annual physical book for the trends for (in my case) lingerie trends; new shapes that are coming through, fabric combinations and new qualities to work with, colour, prints and fabrics.

With WGSN, retailers, manufacturers, suppliers and brands pay an annual subscription to have access to regularly published digital reports – showing what’s happening, and what major influences and trends are on their way – be it lifestyle, clothing, make-up, beauty, interiors or technology.

It’s then up the to subscriber to use the information and adapt it so it’s relevant for their customer.

I’ve learned from experience about carefully interpreting a theme (but sometimes with baby steps). We’re all now used to the Sports Luxe influence (this started more from the street and moved up the design chain) – the fact we wear trainers for day/night not just for the gym, or trousers with a side stripe, sports bras/vests are designed to be worn all day and we’re used to seeing it.
But a few years ago when this trend was starting to emerge, we presented to our customers our interpretation which we called ‘Sports Illustrated’ – we showcased geometric and stripy elastics, air-tex fabrics, geometric laces… we loved the trend (it was new and fresh and exciting).

sports illustrated mood board

When we presented it to our customers – we saw their eyes glaze over… we’d gone too far and hadn’t made it relevant or understandable to how they could incorporate it their ranges. Despite that initial hiccup, this trend has continued and grown and now just become part of the main fashion look – we tempered the ideas and made it commercial by combining new perhaps sporty wide elastics but with a pretty lace; so it looked fresh but not scary.

Retailers and brands know what sells for them and they (should) know their customers; they have to tread a fine line of still needing to show and prove that they are relevant and current to entice new customers, but not alienate any of their mainstay customers who buy the bread and butter products.

So with this essay done (!). My predictions before having gone to the trade fair for underwear for Spring Summer 2020 leading in to Autumn Winter 2020?
Black and white will still be popular for underwear… so will big pants. And comfortable pants – a winner all round no?
Watch this space; I’ll report back so we know what to brace ourselves for next year in pant-world.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s