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Fashion Antidotes for Frenzied Times

Creating an "aura of wonder" or a "transporting" experience will enable fashion brands to connect with 21st-century shoppers swimming in more information...

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Creating an “aura of wonder” or a “transporting” experience will enable fashion brands to connect with 21st-century shoppers swimming in more information than they can negotiate — in many cases information they themselves are constantly scoping out on cell phones, personal digital assistants and other portable technologies, forecast brand image developer Cheryl Swanson.

“Daydreaming, fantasy and sleeping are things we need more of,” as we move from an information age into an age of imagination, advised Swanson, principal partner in Toniq. Fashions most likely to succeed in this environment, she projected, are those that “transcend function and looking cool, and take you to a new place, almost like costuming. Not a uniform. And not all black.”

Others, including futurist Faith Popcorn, think it’s apparel and accoutrements that are absent logos and offer clean styling — “things you can wear year-round” — that are most likely to fly with consumers this year and she points to a renewed interest in classic brands, from Cadillac to Lego, as evidence. “The plainer brands are going to have a chance,” said Popcorn, chief executive officer of marketing consultant Faith Popcorn’s BrainReserve.

The interest in classics and the onset of a phenomenon Popcorn calls “life rage” — a sense things have fallen apart on us suddenly — are underpinning and foreshadowing what she sees taking shape as a “whisper” world view. Against the backdrop of a roller-coaster stock market, new job woes, a troubled housing market and the war in Iraq, she expects brands to fare well by “taking themselves out of the clutter and noise…and whispering in our ears to be heard above the roar of the mediascape.”

“Classics are a bridge to that,” Popcorn noted. “They have a lot of equity with the consumer and don’t have to yell.”

Following are some of the things trend forecasters and marketing executives think are most likely to influence fashion consumers this year.

Irma Zandl, president of trend forecaster The Zandl Group: “I expect women to add a luxurious touch to their personal style, like a luxurious fabric; things that feel a little richer, nicer in an eclectic way. I expect guys to keep getting a little more dressed up — an Obama effect. With the economy not doing so well, they may feel they need to put on a little more professional look.

“People are trying to search out things that are authentic — things that reflect themselves. Mallification has hit the wall. The fact [so many] stores carry the same thing has started to become tiresome. Has the day of the 1,500-store chain run its course? Is it time for the 200-store chain? It always has to start with the consumer.”

Drew Neisser, chief executive officer, Renegade Marketing: “In a slowing economy, the haves will look for less ostentatious design in which the quality is on the inside, but not as visible on the outside. In other words, it’s time to hide the fur. Turn the coat inside out so you know you’ve got fur, but the world doesn’t. Burberry is among the high-end brands that might do well, since their signature plaid is often on the inside. Prada bags that don’t say Prada is another example. High-style, lower-cost brands like H&M and Uniqlo will continue to do well.

“Green will move from being a fringe consideration to a priority for many fashion brands. Brands that are green and fashionable will have an advantage over brands that are simply fashionable or green. If two brands are seen as design and price equals, the tie will be broken by the brand perceived to be greener. Marks & Spencer is offering a 5-pound [$10] coupon to customers who bring in used clothes, which is a great way to get shoppers back into their stores and to make a brand statement.”

Kiwa Iyobe, independent trend analyst: “Quality versus quantity. Built-to-last, collector editions versus disposables. One good pair of shoes that will last five years, versus 20 cheap pairs you wear a few times. More companies focusing on a single product or product category, like a high-quality cotton shirt or bespoke tuxedos. Pricy, specially packaged, collector editions, like Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” CD, vinyl records, artwork, lyric booklets and hardback book, slipcased together for $85.

“So many fashion brands do too much these days — clothing, fragrance, beauty, optical. So brands specializing in perfecting one product category are very appealing. High-quality brands like Patagonia, which makes fairly indestructible outdoorsy gear, have benefited from consumers willing to pay more for something long lasting (a $175 fleece jacket) that doesn’t necessarily scream luxury.”

Faith Popcorn, ceo, Faith Popcorn’s BrainReserve: “I expect whisper brands, brands that become more subtle and intimate, to be a growing influence, such as Muji, a name that means unbranded [in Japanese], and Uniqlo.

“First, brands told us what to do. Second, we made certain brands our own. Now, I think we’re going to get sick of being a brand person — thinking, ‘I’m a Nike person’ — and respond to brands that whisper.”

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