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28 May 2013

A beginner's guide to fashion trend forecasting with Geraldine Wharry

I recently interviewed fashion forecaster Geraldine Wharry who has worked with and for major brands including trend forecaster WGSN.  I asked her about the art of trend forecasting, and what's next for 2013/14. 

Geraldine Wharry

Tell us a little bit about yourself…
I've been a fashion designer for 13 years and have always had a strong eye for trends so I naturally evolved into trend forecasting when I moved to London after living in Los Angeles and New York. I was born, raised and studied fashion in Paris but my mother's a New Yorker and my father is British. When I finished design school I immediately went to NY so I'm multi-cultural, have lived in the main fashion capitals and basically understand the global aspect of design. I learnt the craft of fashion design with brands such as 7 for all Mankind, Ripcurl, and Triple 5 Soul and branched into trend forecasting at WGSN, where I was in charge of forecasting future trends for Womenswear. I'm now a fashion trend consultant based in London, travelling frequently to Paris and New York. My philosophy is work hard, be creative and share ideas.

Can you give us a summary of how trend forecasting works?
Identifying a trend is a continuous effort of compiling observations. I call it "hunting and gathering". It requires a lot of curiosity and interest in a wide array of subjects ranging from art and design, reaching over to science, technology, socio-economics, food as well as travel to name a few.

Whilst gathering facts, at the root of it is also a personal intuition and an eye for what's next, that can't be taught or necessarily explained. Personally I'm constantly collecting ideas and images and have built an archive over many years of designing and researching. Once I see there is a flurry of images with one particular thread running through, it's very easy to see this is a trend, although sometimes a single image can be so powerful that it triggers an instant conviction.

That's also what defines the difference between short-term forecasting and long-term forecasting which are key in the business. With trends that are very present on Internet, in magazines, often stemming from the streets or the catwalks, it's easy to see they might have a 1 to 2 year cycle. Whereas some trends are very forward thinking – for example the breakthrough in scientific textiles – that they require more in-depth investigation, risk taking as well as brain storming with experts from various fields of research. The final element to keep in mind is that some trends are perennial and so embedded in our common language that they never fully go away, for example fifties fashion or military inspired clothing.

One of my favorite and iconic trend forecasters, Lidewij Edelkoort, says "trend forecasting is much like archeology but to the future". I really like this vision of trend forecasting as archaeology. What she's referring to is the importance of recording information. My interpretation of this is also how important it is for trend forecasters to have a very good knowledge of what was designed 10 years, 40 years or over 100 years ago. Every trend has its roots somewhere in history. So whilst you're looking forward, you're also taking into account past references. This is something I often do when working on trend reports for key shapes or key details. I research fashion history books, blogs, or interior design for example and it's very interesting to see the commonalities with what's being designed today. You realize it's one big creative loop that is constantly growing and updating itself.

The last point I really wanted to focus on is that everyone is following trends on the internet and curating their own self-image today. I call it "our digital self". So for trend experts forecasters, this is an exciting challenge. Of course we are very inspired by bloggers, street shots and viral phenomena on the internet, but we also have to bring a unique take on trends. I'm encouraging forecasters to take another point of view, one that’s adventurous and exciting and to always think as influencers, not followers.


What are the big trends for autumn winter 2013/14?
There are a lot of trends these days but here are some big ideas for Autumn Winter 2013/2014.

Modern romanticism is a big theme with the focus on purity and darkness. Black and grey is increasingly important which contrasts with all the white we've been seeing. Designers are playing with textured blacks, or intriguing prints with colours emerging out of dark backgrounds. There is an element of mysticism and dark beauty. The idea behind this modern romanticism is also to convey traditional craftsmanship and references to old masters with modern techniques such as 3D printing, high tech finishes and laser cutting.

Modern romanticism


Modern comfort: we focus here on the new relevance of protection. The need for comfort is conveyed through nostalgia with a lot of inspiration stemming from the fifties and soft candy colored pastels strong for next winter even in outerwear.
Comfort is also conveyed through the use of quilting, oversized outerwear that you can wrap yourself in and a lot of fur (although I recommend the use of faux fur).

Modern comfort


Pirating: Here we draw on the traditional ideas of DIY, deconstruction, customization and repair. This is driving a new generation of makers and signifies a reaction to the increasingly digital landscape. We want to return to a tactile world. Designers are re-thinking and re-manipulating objects creating an ad-hoc aesthetic. This is translated into the massive revival of punk as well as the major influence of layering, mix and match styling on the streets. We also see this through the use of unexpected colour combinations with for example pastel palettes that are suddenly offset by a rustic brown or black.

Pirating


How do you think designers and makers can benefit from understanding more about trend forecasting?
I think it's key for designers and makers to understand that trend forecasting is a highly creative field that's also very grounded in the practicalities of business. I'm a very creative person, but also very pragmatic – sometimes my left and right brain completely merge. Our role is not only to inspire but also enable the right business decisions for companies navigating an extremely competitive and fast changing landscape. Especially during this economic crisis, the design industry relies heavily on us to back up their business decisions with research and data on for example whether they should invest in hot pink instead of coral this season. This could make or break their sales numbers. Although I believe we are entering a highly creative cycle, companies are still very shy about taking risks so trend forecasters are doing a lot of hand holding through bespoke consultancies and seminars, it's almost like I've also become a motivational speaker which is really interesting.

Can you give us any tips about which websites or blogs you follow?
There are so many! I have an ongoing list of hundreds and they vary a lot because I get my inspiration from many different places. But here's a selection:

Referring to my point earlier about putting fashion into a historical perspective, I love Into the fashion. NotCot  is also a great site with lots of links to new products, art, scientific discoveries, I always find something on there that is new. Dezeen  is great for the latest in interiors and industrial design. The blog But does it float always amazes me with artists; there is a lot of inspiration there for graphics, colour and print. Ignant  is a very interesting site that showcases intriguing creative projects at the forefront of art and design.  I love the Collection iPad app  from the New York Times fashion section. It's anchored in the real commercial world of US and global fashion markets and I can always spend hours on it and catch up on Bill Cunningham's videos!

For street photography, I have a bunch of photographers I could recommend but today I'll mention Anne Bernecker's blog  for its lovely showcase of street fashion in Europe spanning across different age groups and cities. And of course, there's Tumblr which I'm a big fan of. I have a tumblr myself called Trend Atelier so I'm always hunting and gathering on it, keeps me up late at night.

Needless to say you could loose track of time on the internet. It's important to go to exhibits, workshops, travel and have a camera with you at all times to record your inspiration as anything can trigger a new idea.

You can find out mroe about Geraldine on her website and Pinterest.

 

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