Lidewij Edelkoort photographed by Koen Hauser

Political unrest, climate change, social discord, midterm elections, automated production, time-starved consumers — an abundance of challenges are complicating business for designers and fashion executives.

Always one to take the long view, trend forecaster Li Edelkoort considers these and other societal cracks and quandaries when anticipating what lies ahead for the industry. While being distracted is a given with many smartphone shoppers, she isn’t convinced technological advancements such as laser-cutting are resonating with them. While retailers are still striving for the experiential and online juggernauts are delving into brick-and-mortar, somehow the idea of retail therapy appears to be a thing of the past.

During a phone interview from a garden in Normandy, Edelkoort explained, “The merchandise is not yet produced by robots but it’s produced by human robots. So it’s not interesting enough. People have left the domain almost, right? They’re into cooking, they’re into series, they’re into listening to music, festivals and clothes become an accessory of life — not a necessity of life. Therefore, the clothes also become more lifestyle-driven than maybe style-driven.

“It’s more about where I am and what do I need? People are taking it easy — with a few pieces to be worn one on top of the other, nice crisp white dresses this summer, flat espadrilles, flat sandals, wholesome if you want. It’s not a negative period in that sense,” Edelkoort said. “It doesn’t translate to a better economy in a strange way. Normally, better economies make things glamorous and shine. But because we are in such dire times that doesn’t happen. The political disruption is costing bucketloads of money.”

As American voters anticipate the midterm elections in November, their focus will be more on political issues than stylistic ones. “In the U.S., we will see a different way of dressing because of the elections. With the suspense about the elections, I don’t think people will be very focused about what to wear. They will be more focused on what to vote for. They might wear things that express what we should vote for. So there may be more text [imprinted on clothing]. It’s not so clear what will happen this winter.”

Heady as all this might sound, Edelkoort expects people to still be buying, but maybe their heart is not in there. “There will be some effect. Then the terrorists don’t help [the situation] when people are scared about all that. It’s a very old-fashioned time that we’re in,” she said. “We’re moving in the wrong direction. Instead of becoming one, we’re becoming scattered again, but it’s very possible that after November the mood may pick up. But that’s a bit late for sales. It might still be good for holidays and stuff.”

The average U.S. adult is expected to spend on average three hours and 35 minutes per day on mobile devices this year, according to an eMarketer survey. To keep up, retailers such as Forever 21, which was the latest to embrace visual search technology, are adopting more digital-minded strategies. But consumers seem to be preoccupied with other issues from Edelkoort’s point of view. “I don’t think technology is a concern for now. It’s not realistically there. There are pockets of things but there is not any [Pierre] Cardin movement or [André] Courrèges moment. We are not in a futuristic moment. We are actually really not looking to the future. People don’t really recognize technology. I’m not sure that any client can understand what is laser-cut and these kinds of things.”

As the dean of Hybrid Design Studies at Parsons and former chairman of the Design Academy Eindhoven, Edelkoort’s career has always been rooted in grooming future generations of designers and creative thinkers. Earlier this year, she joined forces with Eileen Fisher and Google for a Milan Design Week installation to demonstrate how wearables can be more homey. Two years ago, she launched New York Textile Month to help cultivate an appreciation for craftsmanship in the apparel industry among other things.

“I’m fighting for the reunification of man in my own little way. I just finished my trend book for fall 2020 and it’s all about folklore. There’s a very big, strong moment coming from folkloric clothes that actually borrow from folkloric origins. It’s already in the street now but nobody recognizes it as folklore. When you study it, you see it,” she said. “The reason that I did it is to prove that people all over the planet do the same thing. These techniques and these clothes have no borders. The human brain is coming up with the same solutions in every remote corner of the planet. I find it personally very helpful, when we feel we are maybe falling apart. It is helpful to acknowledge that there are many things that maybe bring us together.”

Edelkoort’s summer 2020 forecast for Trend Union is entitled “FOLK” and it looks at the connections that bind us as humans through craft, textiles, techniques and fashion. This will be unveiled at Trend Union in Paris during Première Vision September 19 and 20, and presented in New York at Parsons on November 29 for professionals.

On another front, Edelkoort has been working on a new philosophy for color in winter. She said, “Now that global warming is fact, a very proven fact this summer all over the globe, we have to reconsider winter colors. Because in September and October, it’s still summer. In November, you can still be out without a sweater. I called it ‘Indian Summer’ [referring to her fall/winter 2019-20 trend report], and inspired myself from Indian colors from the Indian continent. Therefore, it’s almost summer colors for winter. It’s very well-received from our members and clients.”

She continued, “It really resonates with people who it’s impossible to walk into stores at the beginning of August like you are walking into an ink pot — a black and navy ink pot. We should build up color much more prominently. Start with white, off-white and light neutrals, and then build into color. Maybe in the second-half there would be tinted darks, but much less dark nevertheless. I think we will start seeing a different way of dressing because of the climate.”

In the months ahead, perhaps not until next year, there will be more spiritual inspirations in fashion, the trend forecaster predicted. In addition, there is a resurgence of knitwear, knitting, eco-friendly pieces and sweaters, which have not been in the public vernacular for quite some time, she said. “I think we have forgotten about the whole category and now it seems to be making a comeback. We will see much more color wheels and small patterns. Patterned, colored knitwear is possibly a happier mood.”

As for whether those sunnier styles are meant to be a sign of people willing a brighter outlook, Edelkoort doubted that. “No, I don’t think people are thinking about it. People are paralyzed, mesmerized, victimized by the situation in the U.S.,” adding that pockets of political unrest are happening in Poland, Hungary and Austria. “It’s globally scary,” Edelkoort said. “It’s very out in the open in the USA. Since that’s a superpower, that’s very scary. But people also gets used to this type of situation. At one point, you start fighting back by embracing beauty and happiness and togetherness, and exchange with friends. You might consider aesthetics almost as a way to fight back. But it’s a bit early for that, so I think we’re going to be in the trenches for a period.”

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