Every fashionista remembers that famous scene in The Devil Wears Prada where Meryl Streep dresses down aspiring journalist Anne Hathaway’s sloppy blue jumper.
Streep explains that it isn’t coloured blue, turquoise or lapis but is cerulean, a colour introduced to the fashion world by designer Oscar de la Renta. From the catwalk, the vibrant hue has trickled down into chain stores where it is finally snapped up by the mainstream.
“It’s sort of comical how you think you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing a sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room,” Streep’s character Miranda Priestly says.
The belief that fashion trends are developed exclusively by a posse of elite designers and magazine editors might be a little misleading. Trends aren’t dictated to the masses using a top-down approach. Instead they develop organically as a result of a range of influences, from lifestyle to art, celebrity culture, technology and even what’s happening in the global economy.
This complex process means that predicting trends is no easy task, especially in the instantaneous landscape of online shopping, social media and fast fashion where consumer demands are fragmented and the fortunes of Australian retailers are increasingly unpredictable.
Will customers be wearing sapphires or pearls this season? Is rose gold the metal of choice? Will demand increase for yellow diamonds? It’s up to jewellers to find out.
Jewellery and fashion trends are often so ubiquitous and fleeting that it’s easy to assume they are dictated to the masses by powerful designers and media moguls. The desired length of a necklace or gemstone colour can change so rapidly that it’s hard to imagine other factors at play.
The truth is that as much as these influential parties would probably like to be able to tell consumers what to wear, it’s impossible because trends reflect what’s taking place in broader culture just as much as the happenings in corporate boardrooms.
“Trends are a concept that translates the needs and moods of a particular society into cohesive stories that contain visual inspiration, colours, materials and product application,” says Laurie Pressman, vice president of global colour authority Pantone Color Institute.
“There are so many things that influence colour trends, including lifestyle, new technologies, print and digital media, the entertainment industry, film, art, musicians, celebrities, upcoming sporting events and new travel destinations.”
Birgit Rieder, a trend expert from Swarovski Gems and founder of the company’s annual Gem Visions forecasting report, agrees: “Trends are not decided; they always have their roots in the present. The challenge is to spot those little hints and signs of changes and ideas that will transform into substantial inspirations and trends in the future. “There are many different aspects that can influence a trend,” she continues. “In the jewellery industry it can be anything from the shortage of certain rough material to the lack of experts for certain techniques to the huge interest in art. Never before there have been so many art galleries exhibiting magnificent jewellery pieces than at this year’s Design Miami at Art Basel. Jewellery as art is one of the main spirits we have been predicting for a few years.”
Local jewellers may worry about being one season behind trends arriving from Europe and the US but Claire Beale, program manager of the Bachelor of Arts (Textile Design) at Melbourne’s RMIT University, says that Australia is a separate market with varying influences even in an increasingly global marketplace.
“In terms of the differences between Europe and the US and Australia, it’s not something we get too caught up with,” Beale explains. “It’s not as though something goes on the catwalk and then a few months later appears in the Australian market – it doesn’t really work that way. “It’s not as though all of the designers in Europe wake up one morning and decide it’s all going to be about asymmetric drape,” she continues. “They’re all working independently on different themes. Often as a designer in Australia, it’s more about tapping into the cultural Zeitgeist; however, if you’re looking at the broader mainstream market for jewellery, people who are buying that sort of product are going to be very focused on what’s happening overseas and in celebrity culture. It’s more about personality-driven trends rather than design trends for that market – for example, suddenly everyone is wearing the Elsa Peretti bone cuff to events and premieres.”
The business end
Trends may evolve from a series of cultural connections but trend forecasting is very much the domain of big business. Companies like global giant WGSN and jewellery specialist TrendVision Jewellery and Forecasting have created an entire industry out of forecasting trends and publishing their predictions in detailed reports.
To complement these, Pantone releases biannual colour reports in autumn and spring that detail the hues that are in vogue and there is no shortage of other companies offering niche forecasting services. The demand for trend forecasting is so great that crystal giant Swarovski produces its own aforementioned annual trend forecast, Gem Visions, which looks at how global trends can be applied to jewellery styles.
Jacqui Ma, director of footwear and accessories at WGSN, says trend forecasting is a three-part process.
“Observation is the key skill,” she says. “A lot of our job entails finding connections and patterns in not just fashion but everyday life. Analysis is important as both retail and market intelligence are key to understanding trends – we have specialists studying consumer attitudes and lifestyles, which inform our reports. Communication is also a must. Creative people, designers and brands may all have a feeling for trends but it’s the packaging of them into understandable and actionable reports that make the trends useful and valuable.”Unsurprisingly, trend forecasting is a fast-moving business with analysts peering into their crystal balls to predict trends anywhere from two to 10 years into the future. Forecasters say that demand for their services is on the rise as local and global retail jewellery markets become more complex and businesses more risk averse.
“The market today is highly competitive, not only because of the global economy but because of the complexity of society,” says Paola De Luca, creative director at TrendVision Jewellery and Forecasting. “Retailers are facing a dramatic change
in consumer attitudes. For example, millennials are completely different to generation Y and the baby boomers.
“Retailers are often unable to fulfil their customers’ emotional and style needs, and greater competition is coming from the internet,” De Luca continues. “Monitoring the market and learning these changes helps you to strategise your buying, production and, ultimately, sales.”
Forecasting for an advantage
Jewellers may choose to purchase trend forecasting reports but if budgets are tight or the target audience is niche there are lots of other options that can be just as effective.
“At a top level I would look at global runways to see what is being shown and how it is being worn,” Pressman advises, adding, “This will not only impact luxury but will generally carry out to the masses as well. In our celebrity culture, movies, television and music are also very important indicators of what people will want to wear.
“Talking to brand reps is always important as they know the market they are servicing, are often in the know about industry trends and can highlight what is currently selling and what is being asked for,” she adds.
Beale says it’s crucial to always be aware of cultural shifts that influence consumer behaviour.
“For anyone involved with a creative industry, being aware of what’s out there matters,” she says. “You don’t have to buy a trend forecasting package but you need to learn the tools. Think about things like the political situation, the economy, housing – all of these things influence how people spend money, where they choose to spend it and what they value.”
While it’s stating the obvious to advise jewellers to look for trends through fashion magazines, art galleries, shifts in music and social media tools, Beale urges jewellers not to ignore traditional media: “Read the paper from front to back, not just the arts section! Read what’s going on in sport and business because there will be patterns emerging that, if you interpret correctly, can filter down to what you need to have in your store.”Beale adds that independent jewellers should monitor chain stores to see what’s trending in the mainstream and also be aware of how consumers behave in their store, advising, “Monitor people who are coming into your store or not coming into your store – what are they looking for and for what purpose? Is that shifting? Trend forecasting is a mix of science and intuition, recognising patterns of behaviour and predicting what’s going to come next.”
Rieder says it’s also important to select trends carefully: “When we do trend presentations, there might be only one interesting aspect for a particular client but this could be something which leads to a successful new collection.”
Ultimately, keeping up with trends will help jewellers of any size maintain relevancy, which can only mean good things for the bottom line and business longevity.
As Rieder states: “If you understand the trends in your market and if you are able to interpret them in the light of your business and brand positioning, the better prepared and the more successful you will be.”