by Roderick Conway Morris

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Trend Prophets

By Roderick Conway Morris
VENICE 16 October 1998


Fashion is so subject to, well, fashion that the idea of setting up a think-tank to predict what will be happening to it in the future might seem a doomed enterprise.

However, unknown to the vast majority of clothes buyers, such soothsayers do exist. One of the leading players in this inexact art is Trend Union, a Paris-based team of fashion industry professionals who get together twice a year to publish a score of limited-edition books that aim to identify major trends and to guide couturiers, designers and producers of accessories and cosmetics as to what will be in and out two or more years' hence.

The series of books, each volume of which covers a specific area of fashion, such as general trends, fabrics, colors, patterns, textures, newly available fabrics from Japan and, most recently, sportswear, contain a wide range of images and samples of textiles, and cost around 10,000 French francs ($1,800) each.

One of the founder members of Trend Union, which was launched in 1984, is Canadian-born Karen Moller. Having studied dress design, she opened her own boutique in Hampstead in London in 1964 as an outlet for her own creations. Faced with a dearth of interesting fabrics, she took to designing her own, and went into this full time in 1969. She now divides her time between her house in Paris, her apartment in Venice and travel further afield.


GIVEN how widely Trend Union's books circulate in the upper echelons of the industry, did Moller think that they actually influenced the way that fashion went?

'No, I don't believe we're really setting trends, but more trying to reflect the direction of public taste, and indicate to designers emerging trends and what is available for them to work with,' said Moller. Although many buyers of clothes may sometimes feel that what they wear is to a great extent dictated by designers and manufacturers, Moller thinks that in reality many trends start at street level and are then taken up by the industry.

'The place with the most consistent record of being ahead of everybody is England, although it never seems to be able to exploit this talent as it should. Take, for example, the trend for wearing layers of transparent clothes. This is something the kids and the club-goers started doing for themselves, making their own outfits.

'In fact, these clothes looked more transparent than they really were and, though they were daring, they were more practical than they looked. So when the big designers took this up and started producing genuinely diaphanous clothes, it was ridiculous. As somebody said at the time: 'This is a conspiracy to keep women in the home -- since they can't possibly actually go out dressed like that.''

Moller continued, 'Of course, a few designers, like Galliano and Gaultier, did understand what it was all about and got it right, by coming up with things that seemed transparent but had layers. And this particular trend is far from over yet. You only have to look at knits, which are still becoming ever more transparent and open, revealing what's underneath.'

While believing that keeping a close watch on the public pulse is usually the best way to predict which way fashion will be going in the near future, Moller said that, from time to time, designers do come up with wacky innovations whose appeal is difficult to anticipate.

'Gaultier, for example, is usually very advanced in his thinking. He started doing things in stretch jersey with no finish so it looked like a second skin, with tattoos on it that seemed to be on the body. I couldn't imagine anyone wanting to wear something so sticky and hot so close to the body. In fact, it turned out not to be so bad to wear. Everybody's copying it now and the prêt-à-porter collections are full of it. So here's a case, where one couldn't see any general trend -- it was something that Gaultier invented himself.'

Trend Union have just completed its prognostications on how we will be dressed in 2000.

Somewhat to her surprise, Moller said that, clothes-wise at least, the transition from the second to the third millennium will be a rather mousey, low-key event. 'At the moment we are in a dull moment, with a lot of blacks, grays, beiges. There's virtually no color. You would think that going into the next century would herald something new in fashion.

'But I think this austerity, these pale Zen colors are going to be with us into the year 2000, even in summer when you would expect a bit more color. Perhaps this reflects some of the introspective trends in society, the new interest in soul-searching and spirituality.'

Moller added, 'There's also an ecological angle, which I believe might become more and more pronounced. Producing bright colors is highly polluting and there are already whole collections of clothes emphasizing their use of only natural fibers and dyes. So perhaps bright colors will be increasingly unacceptable from the environmental point of view.'

After the attention-grabbing excesses of the catwalks in this century's Naughty Nineties, the prospect of the fashion industry marching into the next millennium content to be colorless, glad to be gray and daring to be dull is certainly a droll one to contemplate.

First published: International Herald Tribune

© Roderick Conway Morris 1975-2023