There is a story a friend once told me that sticks in my mind as I scour fashion magazines in search of fall fashion trends. My friend, a designer, lived in New York City and dated a cutting-edge East Village fashion designer. One lazy afternoon while house sitting the NYC designer's apartment, the phone rang and the answering machine hummed. "Hey," a woman's voice intoned, "we're getting ready to do our seasonal issue and we've decided that neon is hot for spring," or something to that effect. The woman was an editor for some kind of bigshot fashion bible and, in the ultimate role reversal, asked the designer to produce a line based on her "prediction."
With that story, my perspective of the fashion world was turned upside down. Perhaps I was naﶥ to think that what the magazines presented each fall and spring was a close reading based on hours of mulling and research of the year's collections and trends on the street. So it's with great skepticism that I approach the gamut of rags that proclaim to have discovered the "Top 40 Looks for Fall" (Mirabella) or that fall's all about "laid-back luxury" (Elle).
My search of magazines such as Elle, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Mirabella and W revealed many inconsistencies and a few overlapping themes. Vogue's Rachel Lehman-Haupt claims that "adolescent looks are all the rage," while Elle bases an entire pictorial around the notion that "From Nashville to New York City, the new bohemians are wearing a pastiche of fringed shawls, patchwork leathers, and rich, cozy knits." Mirabella owns the most edgy shoot, showcasing stark black and white combos shot from a minimalist vantage point, stating that "Designers went two ways for fall, playing with color and cleansing the palette with black and white."
Harper's Bazaar, Elle and W all ran spreads hailing the "new" suit—classic designs with sharp cuts and interesting fabrics—an idea whose time could just as easily been conjured last year or five years from now, never mind this fall. Where do these predictions begin, one wonders. From the street? From the designers? Fashion editors? Or a combination of all three?
For the most part, almost none of the designs featured are actually affordable or worn by anyone you or I know—some of them are downright unwearable—the kind of fashion that is art for art's sake. But most of the predictions seem to serve as a mask for an art director or fashion editor to conceptualize a shoot. Elle even introduces one pictorial with the oblique "Anything goes." Thus Vogue's "Red Rules," for Vogue which features a blonde model in a cheeky pictorial, running from "paparazzi" and adorned in red garb and red accessories. A clever idea to be sure, but will any of us start wearing more red come September because of it?
At the same time, fashion has proven to operate in a trickle-down process. Conventional wisdom dictates that it takes anywhere from six months to a year for a trend to find its way from overseas to New York and then another six months to two years for that same trend to crawl its way to the West Coast. It is in this way that the crossover messenger backpacks first started appearing in NYC almost two years ago, but are just now reaching the apex of their popularity in Seattle. This may change with the increasing popularity of Internet-based shopping, which effectively shrinks the global village down to one's fingertips. A future where one can tap into the latest runaway fashions and find something affordable online, is very, very near.
While most of us aren't going to spend $2,000 on a Versace jacket, most of us, in good time, might own a knockoff based on the original design—only our version comes from say, Urban Outfitters or Nordstrom. It's a complete cycle: Designers grab their inspiration from the street, sell them to the couture-
buying public; the national chains pluck the styles for their own lines, who in turn hawk them right back to the consumer. Of course, once these designs reach the street, who knows what the public will do with it? That classic suit that W boasted was all the rage might suddenly be paired with leather pants or ripped jeans.
Department stores get in on the act, too. While I worked at Urban Outfitters a few years back, we had our pre-fall meeting with the regional manager, who trotted out the new line and asserted: "This fall, mod is in," as she passed around the short tweed skirt samples and tailored tops. Sure enough, that fall girls on campus ran around in houndstooth skirts and cooler versions of Coke-bottle glasses. Now when I walk through Urban Outfitters' racks of grays and browns and plain-cut skirts and pants, I can imagine the manager: "This year: urban, utilitarian club-wear."
Then there are the trends that evolve from thin air. Women are currently sporting these double stranded hair bands—my friend bluntly calls them "bra-strap head bands"—and all I can think is that somewhere there is some very rich, very lucky geezer cutting up bras in his bedroom and laughing all the way to the bank. On a recent trip to NYC, I spotted endless numbers of girls with handkerchiefs tied around their head, Hilda-style, like my mother used to wear in the '70s when she was cleaning. But if my fashion meter is accurate, we won't see this trend in Seattle until 2001. I can already see the Vogue headline: "Hilda Look Hot for Fall!"