Marigold-hued garments were all over the runways for Spring/Summer 2018, as were gloves. Yes, over-the-elbow gloves – for spring – were incorporated into the collections of Raf Simons for Calvin Klein, Osman, Erdem, Christopher Kane, Ryan Lo, Aalto, Off-White and Koche, among others. No shortage of designers put forth their takes on rain gear and windbreakers; there was nary a collection that did not make use of fringe; and both 90’s-era logos and interesting takes on ruching proved popular, as well.
Is it a coincidence, for instance, that a huge handful of brands – from the largely logo-less Sonia Rykiel and Lanvin to Fendi, Prada, Burberry, and Gucci – went overboard with the branding this season? Of course not.
There is a reason, after all, that we consistently see brands turning out similarly colored garments or similarly cut silhouettes or even like-themed collections (Philipp Plein, Kith, and Gucci used Disney imagery in their Spring/Summer 2018 collections; and Thom Browne included Jodi Benson’s “Part of Your World,” from The Little Mermaid soundtrack in his show), and that is largely due to trend forecasting and the significant role it plays within the fashion industry.
The trend forecasting cycle is part of a creative practice yet, paradoxically, its process is self-fulfilling and causes a uniformity of trends.
Hardly a novel tactic, trend forecasting generally refers to the calculation of what colors, fabrics, textures, textiles, prints, graphics, and other design elements will be most relevant for consumers in upcoming seasons.
The role of a forecaster is to analyze the market at any given moment, pin-point patterns in consumer behavior and ascertain the common thread, which will form the basis of the next “it” trends for consumers.
Synonymous with the practice of trend forecasting is WGSN, the New York-based company specializing in fashion forecasting and trend information. “What we do is distill this massive amount of information through our experts down to usable, actionable insights,” WGSN’s managing director Kevin Silk said a few years ago.
Such information can range “from how car shapes, architecture and nanotechnology will influence fashion in 2020 to the most popular width for stripes on next season’s Breton top,” and it is gathered by considering “what the stores that are opening, how are people dressing on the street, what the new apps everyone’s obsessed with are,” among other elements, Romney Jacob, a director for WGSN North America told the New York Times.
But, as we recently posited in connection with the work of color-categorizing giant, Pantone: Is trend forecasting really what is really going on here? It seems that WGSN and co. may – more realistically – be in the business of trend dictating given the rate with which brands take such trend-forecasted cues and run with them.
News site Fusion aptly noted last year, if you do not work in fashion, “you’ve never heard of [WGSN] but it likely picked out the clothes you’re wearing today.” And it is here that the work of trend “forecasters” – a space that has grown to include not just WGSN but an array of competitors, such as Editd, a UK-based, data-driven forecasting firm and New York-based Fashion Snoops – proves interesting.
The proliferation of such services and the reliance on them by nearly all brands – Fusion further noted: “In the fashion industry if you are not using WGSN, you are the odd one out.” – has created a type of uniformity across the board.
WGSN is, according to HighSnobiety, “without a doubt, the biggest player in the trend-forecasting industry, with more than 6,000 users subscribing to their insights. However, subscribers also have access to more than 70,000 design templates, as well as a database of patterns and colors, constantly updated to reflect the trends forecast for the upcoming season.”
According to Marc Worth, the British entrepreneur who founded WGSN, the system is not without its flaws: “People complain that everything looks the same today, but is it any wonder? Thousands of companies are signed up for trend forecasting services, looking at the same color forecasts, the same material swatches and the same silhouettes.”
Worth told Forbes in 2014 that trend forecasting “used to be a real source of inspiration for designers, but now it’s just doing their job for them. You can download CAD [computer-aided design] drawings of a garment and just tweak it. It has made life too easy for people in the creative space; it has made them lazy.” [Note: Worth’s Forbes interview coincided with the launch of his new business a more customized trend forecasting service, which is not affiliated with WGSN].
It is certainly difficult to ignore the common themes that run across the runways each season and the larger trends that are proliferated as a result, and pointing to trend forecasting as the culprit seems a proper move. But there is something else in play: The role of increasing risk averse brands.
As noted by Amsterdam Fashion Institute’s Nienke Adegeest, “Forecasting agencies determine the trends to come and fashion companies are reluctant to take risks and to deviate from the path that forecasters have set them as their main aim is to make profit.” With that in mind, many brands are increasingly opting to play it safe, so to speak, and align their collections with the forecasting agency-approved trends.
This is not terribly unlike brands’ recent fears surrounding sell-through rates. “Handbag makers are busy battling waning demand and markdowns at stores, and that may have diverted their attention from what could make them successful in the long run: creativity,” Bloomberg stated early this year. Affected by fears of being saddled with too much unsold merchandise, Michael Kors, Prada, LVMH’s Louis Vuitton, and Burberry, all reduced the number of new handbag styles introduced last quarter, notably during the holiday shopping season.
Such fears, which have largely been brought about by waning demand in China and a handful of other factors, including increases in interest rates, the unpredictable geopolitical situation in the world, currency instability, and new import taxes in the U.S., have thrown brands for a loop and reliance on trend forecasting has seemingly proved a popular option.
“The uniformity is maintained by fashion brands’ urge to make safe design choices as a consequence of high profit targets,” says Adegeest. “This results in the reconstruction of a trend-determining, uncreative industry.”
That is, of course, the argument that relying so heavily on trend forecasting cues is just the industry’s latest trend.