Thursday, 3 November 2011

TRENDS - The StyleSight Fashion Debate

An invitation to sit in on a fashion debate hosted by Paula Reed is definitely not something you politely decline, so when asked to attend the Style Sight event at the Fashion Retail Academy I was there in a flash.

On the panel were: Paula Reed – Style Director of Grazia Magazine, Gordon Richardson – Creative Director of TopMan, Tim Soar - Menswear Designer, Navaz Batliwalla – blogger Disney Roller Girl, Alexis Knox – T4 presenter and stylist and Isham Sardouk – SVP of Trend Forecasting at Stylesight.

I moved into a role in the fashion industry over 2 years ago and it's in dealing with our buying and design teams that you realise how far ahead people are looking at trends. Most major trends can be linked to wider events and mindsets which include the political climate, music, architecture, art and much more. It's the bigger picture that really allows these predictions to take place. The evening started with an intro from Isham about StyleSight explaining what they do and how they go about it. Big name clients rely on them to provide foresight into what the key trends will be moving forward and they are already looking at 2013/2014 while we probably haven't even finished filling our AW11 wardrobes.

One of the major topics debated was whether identifying trends is about analysis or intuition and I think by the end of the debate the panel had proven that it is most definitely a bit of both - one doesn't really work without the other and StyleSight have both methodical and intuitive forecasters working for them. In order to support research, teams build 'walls of evidence' that back-up the megatrends and sub-trends for a particular time period. A wall of evidence will include cuttings, art and even music playlists - it's not just about identifying prints, colours and key pieces.

Tim Soar explained how high fashion design has to work differently to the high street citing uniqueness of thought as really important rather than just following trend foresight. He also raised an interesting point in that designers should be willing to repeat themselves more than they think they should to build brand identity. One thing that popped up repeatedly was the talk of the East of London being the place where trends emerge before they are fully adopted. Alexis in particular was vocal on this point suggested that the early adopters often wear a trend with a touch of irony or sense of humour.

TopMan's Gordon Richardson admitted that retailers can and do get it wrong from time to time. One such example was the rise of the skinny jean for guys. After seeing men wearing them in 'hip' London areas for years, TopMan were convinced that the time was right to buy big. It turned out that they were too early, but now they are struggling to encourage men to buy anything but skinny denim. In a way, being the first to do something does give an element of kudos but can also be risky and result in losses. Multiple retailers stocking the same look isn't necessarily a bad thing though, it reinforces the trend and encourages the customer to give it a go. My favourite quote from Gordon was "We're not inventing jackets with 3 sleeves" and I think it's important to remember that function and fashion have to co-exist on the high street. Having the latest trend info is great, but never losing sight of the customer and what it is they want is also of utmost importance.

I left the event feeling that being a researcher for StyleSight would be one of the best jobs ever, I'd love to be the one pulling together the trend boards. The StyleSight online tools are available by license and include everything from design tools, moodboard software (featuring 8 million images) and trend reporting. I could probably chat forever on this topic but I will park things there for now. If you've got something to add to the debate though do leave a comment.

Below are some pics which give a flavour of what StyleSight is about...


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