May 14, 2009

Absolute best question of the week

Hello Mr.Lee,My name is Meera, I am a grade 7 student at B-------- elementary.  As a project,  I have chosen to research fashion.  Not what the fashion is now, but how it is decided.  I would like to know who decides fashion trends and how the ideas become what's all the rage in the stores.  I've heard you on the CBC radio and I thought that with all your experience with fashion, you could give me some insight into the subject. 

-Meera

Hi Meera. Sure, I can help. 

Trends are not often set in Vancouver. But style editors do have an influence on where people shop and what they buy. Trends can be set at two points in the fashion cycle (there's no such thing but it sounds scientific): 
1. Design and production (the high fashion route) or

2. On the Street by how people (ie trendsetters) dress.
If a bunch of kids in London decide to cut up their jeans and use safety pins to decorate it, a la the punk scene in 1976, it can have influence on other kids and start a trend.

Another off shoot of this phenomena are trendspotters. I don't know much about them but apparently they do write secret reports about what they see people wearing and what they soon will wear.

These reports are often purchased by large fashion companies who are not necessarily designer driven. Instead, they have fairly anonymous designers (it doesn't mean they aren't any good, they're just not brand names) working on trend predictions. I suspect they set trends more than observe them. Kind of like me.

Often fabrics, colours are the first stage of trendsetting. The reason is mills have to churn out the textiles, then designers will use the swatches to conceive of a season of clothes.

Another, more exclusive, way is a designer will conceive of a fabric that is currently not being produced and then order a mill to create a textile. That way they have an exclusive access to the fabric (perhaps one season it will be metallic animal prints or bronzed linen) for at least one season.

However, there are companies like H&M and Zara and Le Chateau (an early Canadian retailer who lead the way) that specialize in knocking off fashion-forward clothes.

They aren't counterfeits of designer clothes but they do look at the clothes that hit the runway in the spring to show a Fall collection and then immediately go into production to create a look-alike style.

Some affordable  fashion-forward outlets can even flood the market with the clothes before the luxury/designer labels hit the stores. It's kind of weird.

Often, when I ask a designer what they're thinking about a future collection they have to be very careful what they say -- someone listening may steal their ideas!

Most of the clothes you see on the people around you is inspired by movies and tv. That means, you should blame costume designers.

Very few people can put on clothes and not imagine themselves being someone they saw on screen (albeit many are fictional). You may not get this joke but your parents will: How many Neo's from the Matrix have they seen over the last teen years? I've seen too many!

Another example would be Sarah Palin. She wore a pair of Japanese titanium glasses during her campaign with John McCain. During the months leading up to the US election, thousands of orders were made for those frames.

Later on when Michelle Obama wore a Narcisco Rodriguez and then her inaugural dress by Jason Wu (from Vancouver!!!), she put them on the fashion map.

Note reputations are different from trends. Jason Wu is now a famous designer, however, I can't actually remember what the dress looked like.

So be aware: brands can become trendier than actual styles of clothes. And just because someone wears a trendy label, it doesn't make them stylish.

Wearing an Armani X t-shirt is still just a t-shirt. And I've seen people wear Hugo Boss suits and still look shabby and not a bit chic.

I saw a young man the other day at a Brooks Brothers opening and he was the epitome of stylish but most of his clothes were either vintage or discount. He was totally original in his manner of dress (Clark Kent meets Flock of Seagulls - again, ask mum or dad) and who knows --- he
may start a trend but it won't be based on labels. It will be based on a look. That's how streetwear or street style works. You see something, you think its cool and then everyone does it.

For your project, try an experiment.

Get three male friends to wear belts but get them to put it on with the buckle on the side -- even better, get your dad to do it and two of his coworkers.

The buckle should be closer to one of the side pockets. Fred Astaire used to do this. Make them wear it for a week. By the end of the week, find out if a fourth person decides to try wearing his belt like that too.

It'll be hilarious. The owner of Solly's bagel wore his belt like this, when I saw him on Main Street a few years ago.. I still wear it like that time to time. If I did it enough, I'm sure I would start a trend. 

Cmon Dad. Do it for Meera.

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