Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Fashion Cycle

Inspiration can come from all over the place.  I got inspired a few weeks ago from a business report I ran at work!

So Lacoste launched a shoe collection mid-December called the Legends collection.  12 artist from different genres were given the chance to design their own sneaker.  There was a lot of creativity infused in nearly all of them.  I kind of had an intuitive sense which shoes would be one the top and bottom sales-wise.  After nearly a month of data, I decided to check the numbers Monday afternoon...

The top three shoes were all sturdy looking, leather high tops.  The bottom three were all based on the same model of the super flexible, canvas shoe...  Think Keds.

Does that mean shoes that look like Keds are poor design?  Ugh... Yeah right.

Does that mean the designers that selected this shoe model to use as a base didn't consider a KEY part of fashion design?  I would venture to say one of the top, if not THE top thing to keep in mind is the context the creation is to be used in. While context is crucial in any design discipline, the right product at the right time is 100x's more important in fashion.

In my opinion, there's a macro and micro component to this.  I noticed something around New Year's when I went shopping with my darling girlfriend Rachel for some snow boots when she was in NYC during our monster of a snowstorm...  Almost all the places we went were sold out of a good amount of their snow boots!  Can you believe it?  Several feet of snow and people buy snow boots en mass.  Meanwhile, tucked cozily away in SoHo were Christophe Lemarie's white canvas sneakers being outsold 20-to-1 by a pair of brown leather high-tops.  
Christophe Lemaire is a great designer and now designing for Herm├Ęs, by the way.  But low-top, white, canvas sneakers in December in NYC is blatantly rebelling against context.

Even if you're selling super high-end where your customers regularly travel to warm places in winter, my perspective right now is that it's still not "the right product at the right time."

Besides season, the "right time" also includes the right moment in the culture for something.  
They say you can tell who's gonna win a November Presidential election by which candidate sells more parody Halloween costumes.  I thought it was interesting that with Snooki's notoriety being mammoth at that moment, many retailers not only stocked unusual amounts of leopard print dresses around the holidays, I remembered a few like Express running subway ads featuring them as well.

Then there's also a little more zoomed out view of this when a trend hits.  I'm sure looser pants on guys will be more common as the trend of skinny jeans is in Wal-Mart and thus in the bottom of the decline stage of a trend.  People will still wear them (like me), but the notion of it being on trend will pass.

So even more zoomed out from a specific trend is a new LOOK.  One example that comes to mind is Tom Ford.  One of the contributing factors in his exploding Gucci is because of the breath of fresh air he provided to the atmosphere at the time, which was 90's grunge: sleek, sexy clothes dripping with luxury.

Finally, the most macro sense of "right product at the right time," doesn't really have to do with a specific product, but rather a way culture moves as a collective.  We have "Hippie" fashion in the 1960's, Disco and Punk in the 1970's, electric, vibrant colors in the 80's and Grunge in the 90's.  More or less, none of these were dictated or started by any specific designer or company but were rather a reaction of a certain group of people to what was happening in the world around them.  In a lot of ways, these "trends" are reactions against what is popular...

I think punk was a reaction against disco, and grunge was a reaction against new wave fashion and the shoulder-pad, power-tie wearing suits that characterized the 80's.

So where's fashion going next?  As someone super-wise advised me, fashion is cyclical so it's not a matter of where things are going to go next.  The question is, "Are the distribution channels consumer's buy clothes going to stay the same.  The answer is no."

While the exact types of style movements change, the pattern I've noticed is a struggle between two groups: those that want to show other people that they care and those that want to show people they "don't" care.  Of course, I'm MASSIVELY oversimplifying things, but there is definitely an element of that. 

Poodle skirts and Leave-It-To-Beaver style was rebelled against by free-loving, thrift shop-wearing hippies wearing tattered bell bottoms.

Glittery disco wear with shimmery and silky fabrics was rebelled against by snotty, spiked leather wearing punk rocker style.  

Vibrant, loud and vivid style of the 80's was followed by grimy grunge with baggy flannels and torn jeans.


From where I'm standing right now, it seems like the characters may change but the plotline stays the same.