Divining Fall’s Fashions

A Q&A with David Wolfe, creative director of the Doneger Group forecasting service, on global trends and the impact on U.S. fashion.

View Slideshow

“People who said the brooch is dead were premature,” said David Wolfe. Here, a Banana Republic brooch.

WWD Staff

DALLAS — The inevitability of change — from hemline lengths to whether styles will be sexy or demure — might be fashion’s only constant. Following the ebb and flow of trends has turned into a delicate science that can help vendors and retailers increase market share and their bottom lines. As creative director of the Doneger Group forecasting service, David Wolfe studies worldwide style shifts and predicts how they will play in the U.S.

For fall, Wolfe predicts glamour, vulgarity and sexuality will start to fade, and what he calls “deluxe minimalism” will take over. Here, he holds forth on the changes under way in fashion.

WWD: What are the top trends for fall?

David Wolfe: The big idea I can hit you with is: This year will be interesting, because we are on the brink of big benchmark changes in fashion that will start this fall. Most people will start to notice it for 2006, but people who are more sensitive to change will begin this year. We are practically reaching crescendo saturation in glamour/celebrity/vulgarity/sexuality. We have gone about as far as we can go. It has become so ubiquitous that it is no longer noticeable. When every girl in the world looks like Paris Hilton, you know it’s time to move on. Spring is going to be very successful and flashy, flamboyant and fabulous, but it will be enough for many people. What I see is the end of bling.

WWD: How will that be interpreted in fall fabrics?

D.W.: I think it means what I’m calling “deluxe minimalism,” because we still want to look and feel like we are being cocooned by luxury, but we want to feel luxurious instead of showing off our luxury to other people. That is what lots of Europeans are talking about. That is where they are heading, and we will end up following.  

We love eye candy, so there will still be plenty of color, but it will be expansive and subtle, with unusual combinations. Color will drive the business but not in such a heavy-handed way. The big things will be luxury fabrics with surface interest — not so much applied embellishment, but furry or hairy or sparkly in some way, including an enormous amount of patterning, damask, tapestry and brocade.

This story first appeared in the January 19, 2005 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The silhouette will calm down a lot. It’s not going to be as body flaunting. It is a natural fashion pendulum swing, but this also reflects the fact that the industry is starting to pay attention to the [Baby] Boomer-plus customer with a lot of money who doesn’t have a 14-year-old body she wants to expose.

I don’t think the grown-up fashion consumer any longer wants to emulate the young. A discernable generation gap is opening. There is not so much cross-pollination between junior and misses’ and designer as there has been.

We will still be under the thrall of retro. Young people will still dress in a thrift-shop, rag-bag luxurious way, but the more mature customer will rediscover retro elegance that is late Fifties and early Sixties without that camp [period] makeup, hair and accessories…We are seeing a love of Victoriana and the Thirties with “The Aviator”; the clothes that Kate Beckinsale and Cate Blanchett wear in that film are so beautiful.

WWD: Will ponchos carry over?

D.W.: Yes. To me, everybody was excited about the poncho as a fad, but I looked at it as the first item that really wasn’t body conscious. It showed us that the consumer wants something with more shape and silhouette built into it so the customer’s own body isn’t the silhouette. We are seeing ponchos with sleeves, which are like boldly shaped jackets, and Givenchy-style jackets, trapeze and swing jackets, which are echoed by a lot of Ralph Rucci’s thinking. This will be a Geoffrey Beene/Ralph Rucci kind of moment, where silhouette and tailoring and construction become important again in a modern way — not stiff, uptight and uncomfortable.

These clothes also lend themselves to continued interest in accessories, but I think they will be less jokey. I don’t think we can make handbags any more ridiculous than they are going to be for spring. We have reached a saturation point. And when we reach that on anything, whether color or print, we can slowly move away from it or do an abrupt shift, and I think we are ready for an abrupt shift.

WWD: How about the topper coat?

D.W.: It will absolutely continue. It is dressier than a casual jacket. The underlying current is that we are moving away from dressing down but not into formality, and that is a tricky line for people to understand — that you can be comfortable and casual but still pulled together and polished. People don’t want to look scruffy again.

WWD: What will the dominant fashion colors be?

D.W.: There are so many different palettes. I think we’ll see more color and variations in color than we have ever seen in one season. There is certainly a focus on a winterberry palette and a lot of gray and softer, calmer colors without being faded. One thing that will be wonderful is that it will allow designers and retailers to differentiate themselves from each other. We will finally get some variation in the retail palette.

WWD: How about green?

D.W.: There is so much talk about it. We have sold yellow-green for quite a while, and people are talking about a bluer green. But…I don’t think consumers think about that when they go into a store. They look for “what looks good on me.” The only color that did not perform well is black, which fell off the radar. It wasn’t flashy enough.

WWD: What will emerge in accessories?

D.W.: People who said the brooch is dead were premature. We will see more artsy jewelry — bigger, more important pieces. There’s a lot of interest in novelty metals and sculptural stuff and not so much in sparkly, flashy stones. Robert Lee Morris will have a big revival. Because clothes will be dramatic and stronger shaped, we won’t want accessories to be so jazzy. And I think it will be a great season for scarves — they just seem to go with the clothes.

Handbags will go on being collectible, but the designs will calm down, with more emphasis on material and color.

WWD: Any other trends?

D.W.: I see continued interest in fur: It is luxurious and natural.

The big influence in casualwear will be a rustic outdoorsy look that is heading toward a hunter/trapper kind of feeling. DSquared did jokey lumberjack looks. The fantasy that will drive fall is toward a simpler life. And at a higher interest level, it will be about deluxe minimalism, but on a mass level, it will be fake log-cabin life — a lot of buffalo checks and bulky sweaters and corduroy. As Americans, we know how to do that. It will be on city streets.

I just drove across country to Palm Springs, stopping along the way. I wanted to see what people were wearing. I got so depressed. I was stopping at fast-food places, rest stops — not posh places — where there were real Americans. I didn’t see one single person wearing anything that has been talked about as fashion for the last couple of years except ponchos. In general, people don’t feel any pressure to buy anything new.

The difference today is that fashion is a separate world. I think that fashion in the future will be like what opera is to music today. There will be a special interest group who keeps it alive and well and spends a lot of money, but it doesn’t have anything to do with popular culture.

View Slideshow