Fashion Trends’ Impact On Society

Defining trends nowadays is not an easy task. Trends are in essence very complex mechanisms that mirror changes in the economic and political landscapes
Fashion itself is a reflection of social, economic, political and cultural changes. It expresses modernity, symbolising the spirit of the times.

In the last thirty years the luxury industry has been completely focused on profitability and quality has become a secondary objective for the luxury tycoons. The production of the finest merchandise is no longer their main objective. The focus has shifted from what the product is to what the product represents. To achieve this, big luxury corporations have intensively promoted the heritage of a brand, hiring a young designer to give it a modern edge and splashing the logo on everything from handbags to bikinis. The product itself is not in the spotlight anymore: it is the brand that speaks.

Using a promising young designer’s talent and enthusiasm to “refresh” a legendary brand is a clever marketing tool. Far from supporting new ideas, it is part of a considered strategy for boosting sales and expanding the X, Y or Z luxury empire. A key example of this is Balenciaga, whose former creative director Nicolas Ghesquière left the brand this year, claiming he was “being sucked dry”. He has stated, “they wanted to steal my identity while trying to homogenise things. It just wasn’t fulfilling anymore. It all became so dehumanised. Everything became an asset for the brand, trying to make it ever more corporate – it was all about branding.”

Speaking to The Business of Fashion, Ghesquière said that he was often told his style is “so Balenciaga now, it’s no longer Nicolas Ghesquière, it’s Balenciaga’s style.” With this in mind, it is hard not to question whether today’s trends really are a natural evolution of fashion, or just the rules of big luxury brands, trying to increase their profit and presence. Many so-called trends are just old pieces, minimally reinterpreted in order to have more commercial appeal.

In this context it’s essential to mention that ‘the trend’ is not what it used to be. Many savvy consumers now follow their own fashion rules, inspired by what they see on the fashion-animated streets, the internet and in the live-streamed fashion shows that are becoming a staple channel for fashion lovers.

Interestingly, Robert Burke, a consultant for luxury brands and previous fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman, amplifies this point: “As little as a decade ago, we would gather at the Ritz in Paris to come up with trend stories, which would then be translated into shop windows and advertising. Forty or fifty of us held the keys to that secret information”. Now, anyone with a curiosity for fashion and access to the internet and television can draw his/her own conclusions. “The trend story is passé,” Mr. Burke told The New York Times.

Nonetheless, trends are still analysed and followed by many consumers and manufacturers who use them as a way of establishing an order in the chaotic world of fashion. Trend forecasting companies use advanced technologies and professional experts to predict what will sell in the future and fast fashion brands are using the huge number of trends in demand at any one moment to make and sell more clothes.

By utilising information and communication technologies and through their efficient, flexible production and distribution systems, fast fashion brands are able to respond to changing trends quicker than ever before. This quick turnover of trends puts money in the brand’s pocket but doesn’t benefit the consumer – who really needs a new wardrobe three times a week, paying a low price for low quality products produced at a price ten times lower than the actual selling price?

These fast fashion brands, known for bringing democracy to the once elite world of fashion, have created a following of consumers who practice impulsive shopping, being blinded by the thrill of possessing something new as often as they can. They choose quantity over quality, without asking too many questions about the origin of the clothes they buy.

While fast fashion retailers masterfully imitate catwalk trends in their designs, providing cheaper versions of high-end trends in their stores at the speed of light, it seems that luxury retailers have learned from fast fashion companies too. Luxury retailers, feeling the threat of fast fashion giants, have started adopting similar strategies, trying to provide merchandise faster and in bigger quantities by providing secondary lines, immediately available to purchase.

In this chaotic landscape, there is an obvious need for identity and innovation, to shift the focus to where it should be – on quality and individuality. And where better to find uniqueness and innovation than in the fresh and free voices of young emerging designers?

Without being influenced and limited by rules set by big corporations, emerging fashion designers such as Arjan B, Damien Ravn, Matija Cop and 2014 Hyères finalist Marit Ilison, to name only a few, are speaking about a different type of trend. This is a type of trend that customers are happy to embrace – not because everybody else does but because it makes them look and feel distinctive. Through their innovative designs, emerging designers create the feeling that you buy a piece with meaning and personality, rather than a garment produced in a third world country which gained value only when a logo was splashed on it.

Many retailers and specialists acknowledge that the appetite for niche labels has started to grow, to the detriment of brands such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Giorgio Armani. Now more than ever, we as consumers need to inform ourselves better about how fast fashion retailers produce their merchandise, focusing on issues such as sustainability and ethics. For these reasons, young designers are becoming more valued by both consumers and investors and the innovation they represent is – hopefully – not just a passing trend.