From under the ice and snow, the more optimistic of you may be tentatively thinking about lighter nights and the days when we dare head outside without a coat. Some you may even have ventured out to the shops to take a look at the 1950s-look pastels and early deliveries of swimwear on offer. But while you struggle to reconcile the weather with the clothing on sale, the fashion industry is making the leap over to next winter as designers and brands showcase their autumn/winter 12/13 collections.
Later this week the fashion pack will be at New York Fashion Week, then they'll move on to London, Milan, Paris and to trade shows such as Pure London and Who's Next, where a lot of the real business gets done and next season's retail trends are made or broken.
So where does that leave us in February 2012? Still struggling with that disconnect between a surfeit of swimwear in February (and, often, a dearth of it in August), true. But more importantly, the fact that the deepening economic crisis means with each passing month it's harder to get people to part with their money for any clothing, regardless of the weather. Previously, a quick succession of trends kept consumers running back to the stores for fast fashion replenishment, but increasingly this is not enough and the emergence of new looks is slowing to keep pace with a cautious consumer.
So if wearing the latest style is not necessarily on the top of everyone's agenda, does that mean trends have lost their relevance?
Having worked at the sharp end of WGSN, the world's leading trend forecaster, for the best part of a decade I'm actually quite confident the answer is no. My analytical role is at the coal face, at the point of sale where real people are shopping. I see what they are wearing and what is fast-tracked to the clearance rails. This is the amphitheatre of trends where the wrong shade of green will be mercilessly harpooned on the sale rail but a more resonant Pantone will be a celebrated best seller (I'm looking at you 16-6138). As such I have a realistic insight into how the work of my trend forecasting colleagues reaches the average shopper.
Money may well be tight for the consumer but this doesn't mean to say they've stopped caring what they wear. Quite the contrary, they are becoming far more specific in what they buy and are looking for pieces that hit the nail squarely on the head. The scattergun approach to shopping is dead in the water; people don't want five Breton striped tees any more, they want one ultimate Breton striped tee and are prepared to pay the cumulative cost.
As I headed out to the stores this month I saw the cleverest retailers, from H&M, Zara and M&S to Louis Vuitton, promoting tightly edited must-have items and wardrobe essentials.
So if the trends need to be more specific how do forecasters get it right?
The trends process is not scientific but nor is it wholly artistic. It is based on the research and intuition of the forecasters and at WGSN there are 150 spread across the globe, each one with their finger on the pulse of music, media, the arts, and of course, fashion. The whole here can be reassuringly justified by the sum of its parts.
The big picture thinking that kick-starts the trends process draws on everything from music and architecture to political protests and flower arranging. The WGSN Tumblr is a good example of how diverse yet truly inspirational this information is. At this stage it may seem esoteric and irrelevant to the average person looking to buy a new pair of jeggings, but this process is about identifying the future context in which those jeggings will be purchased. By monitoring developments in the bigger issues (such as sustainability, technology, the economy and sociology), and drawing on aesthetic influences from artists and designers, it is possible to build up a fully comprehensive trend.
Trend information at WGSN is then filtered through several groups of editors each with their own speciality from street trends to consumer insight, marketing, sourcing and visual merchandising. We also sense check all this with the looks we see on the catwalks and at those trade shows (yes, in mid-February we'll be running from show-to-show in New York or trawling around almost-every stand at Pure London to pick out those trends, while also telling the industry about them in media rooms or at special seminars at those events). As you can see, the resulting trends have therefore been sense-checked against market knowledge to ensure they really resonate with the jegging-buying consumer.
So while we may no longer feel the urge to reinvent ourselves and our wardrobes each season the power of trends to inform and shape the fashion industry still rings true. The trends around what is sold remain important but understanding the strategy of retailing and the consumer mindset are an equal part of the mix. We're moving into a new era and if you happen to be interested in trends, it's one that should be noted as not necessarily involving the wearing of jeggings!
Francesca Muston will be blogging about the key trends as they are unveiled at Emap's fashion trade show Pure London from 12 February to February 14, 2012.
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