As we round the last bend of the first decade in the 21st century, I find it appropriate to pause a moment in reflection on fashion over the last ten years and look to the next ten.
One of the biggest upcoming changes is to the luxury market, especially accessories. During the late 90’s and into the 21st century, the luxury market saw a huge boom (think Louis Vuitton et al. hand bags). With the world economy in the midst of a major recession, the luxury market is shrinking and returning to its true state of a small, elite fashion forward luxury market. These accessories now can only really be afforded by the .5% of the world’s population. After all, the whole idea of a luxury market is defined by the nature of superior craftsmanship and materials. In fact, in Hong Kong with the proliferation of the Louis Vuitton brand and knock-offs, the name itself has entered the vernacular as in insult to yuppies and fashion wanabees (“Look at that Louis!”). Smaller, lesser-known luxury brands like Hermes will benefit the most.
Along with this trend, we are going to see a continual decrease in the amount of haute couture on the runways. Not only is it too expensive for most people, but also sewing is becoming a lost art. With fewer people able to pattern, drape, and sew unique garments, the labor cost further increases the price of couture. Technology will continue to improve and continue to homogenize apparel production, so machines will be able to mimic couture techniques at a lower cost. Fortunately, this will keep the niche market for high fashion and haute couture can remain as a trend-setting force in fashion.
And as these changes occur at the top of the fashion food chain, the mainstream fashion will also go through rigorous changes. Trends are going to become less and less important because the turnover rate will continue to increase. Even now trends are complex and not as definitive as they once were. Designers are forced to work with a shortened timeline for design and production with the quest to deliver the most up-to-date fashions in order to remain relevant in the market place. One continuing trend is the pragmatism of dressing the “real” person. Currently consumers are broken down into those that purchase based on functionality and those that purchase based on attractiveness; however, consumers are starting to demand that their money be spent on something useful as well as attractive. I think this change, specifically, will increase the design caliber across the board.
Because high fashion is receding back to its true form and mainstream fashion will be diversifying to reach “real” people, we are going to see dissolution of fashion rules. Appropriate attire will depend on the wearer and not the event. Already navy blue and dark brown have emerged as appropriate color for formal menswear, joining the legacy of black. Formal gowns and party dresses for women are already incorporating pockets! I think these changes are very exciting for consumers and designers because of the opportunities and possibilities.
The other side of fashion, the business side, is going to continue to flatten as East and West work together. Places in the Middle East (Dubai, Lebanon) and China (Hong Kong, Shanghai) will see the strengthening of fashion capitals that are important to the global fashion industry. And as these areas continue to industrialize and modernize, production costs will rise, forcing companies to look for new low-cost production much in the way the US market turned to China and India. So where do we go? I think Africa is going to emerge as a new resource for textiles and production.
So here is looking to a new, fashionable decade in a flattened global economy with many exciting changes and developments in the design landscape!