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When the fashion cycle stands still

Given the dearth of data as well as fashion trend forecasters in India, what can one expect in the future?

(above) A guest wearing a mask at the Paris Fashion Week in March; and classic clothes in white and pink are being forecast since people will feel the need to brighten up the future.
(above) A guest wearing a mask at the Paris Fashion Week in March; and classic clothes in white and pink are being forecast since people will feel the need to brighten up the future.

Fashion is a performance in many situations, and the nature of the performance has changed," says David Abraham, creative director of the brand Abraham & Thakore.

In fashion, trend forecasts are the heralds of the future—forecasts help designers and brands choose the aesthetics, in terms of silhouettes, colours or patterns, they will broadly follow by looking at what’s doing well and will continue to do so. What is doing well depends on the forces of demand and supply, much like market economics. A broad range of social consumption patterns, such as consumer psychology and mentality and cultural shifts and influences, also decide what works and what doesn’t.

If fashion is a cycle, the cycle has stalled. Consumers cannot purchase goods classified as non-essential and designers and brands are not producing anything new. And with things on hold, it is a little more difficult to understand what people might want to wear when the pandemic subsides.

While some designers and brands have in-house teams to make projections, others rely on agencies such as Worth Global Style Network (WGSN) which create a stylebook to follow on a seasonal basis, such as spring/summer, autumn/winter.

As an industry, trend forecasting is very small in India compared to its counterpart in the West, which has dedicated analysts. Usually, forecasting is more important for high-street brands than independent ones; since India has more independent labels, that could be a reason why there aren’t many forecasting agencies here.

mirror, mirror, on the wall

Abraham says: “The situation is tricky because there’s no idea on how this will affect consumer behaviour. People could have gotten used to working from home, wearing track bottoms and getting used to that level of comfort. Is that going to affect how they choose to dress in the future? That could be a micro-trend. The reverse could also be possible, with people becoming sick of wearing track bottoms and dying to wear something tight and uncomfortable that makes them feel fashionable."

Since social distancing will be the new normal for the foreseeable future, that too will affect how consumers dress. Since we won’t be attending events or participating in occasions, those clothes will recede into the background. In business, Abraham suggests, people may prefer ease. Clothes will be versatile, working comfortably for multiple occasions; we will be back to the classics, like a Polo T-shirt or the comfortable kurta-pyjama.

In terms of colours, fashion trend forecaster Harleen Sabharwal says: “The world is going through a shift, and we are all united in it. As we are trying to settle into a new way of life, we are looking to start afresh and white is representative of that. It speaks about transparency and starting from a clean slate. This time has also made us vulnerable. There is a need for love and affection, which is why pink is also a colour that will speak to us." Dark colours may be out, even as we head towards fall/winter, because people will feel the need to brighten up the future.

Mumbai-based fashion advisory and creative agency Grain keeps an eye on trends for high-end luxury brands. “While there has been a lot of focus on handloom and supporting craft belts, mostly it has been the same few textiles that have been used by a majority of our designers. India has a vast archive of textile treasures; I feel it is imperative to now look beyond the ones adopted by the trendsetters and explore those that had been overshadowed," says co-founder Sohiny Das. In other words, looking beyond the banarasis, kanjeevarams and jamdanis. “There are so many weaves, and they have their local names, which haven’t found their way into the mainstream textile lexicon.

“The other side of the textile story is upcycling: reusing old garments, discarded textiles and scraps from factories is going to be of supreme importance. It will be a whole new opportunity to explore imaginatively. Textile dyes that are harmful to the environment will have to move aside; we will step towards an unbleached, undyed and naturally coloured swatch board," Das predicts.

The pandemic has already thrown the business off its seasonal-trend cycle. A handful of brands are still showcasing their campaigns online—but without the outreach fashion shows and events would have allowed. “I am hoping that there is a change in the perception of ‘trends’ as we have known them all this while. Fashion had become so much about ‘the moment’ and ‘instant gratification’ that it was disrespectful to the thought and crafting process. I hope that the concepts of ‘fast fashion’ and ‘disposable incomes, therefore disposable items’ take a turn towards a different mindset—that of investment. I feel that designers and brands will have to rethink the value that each piece extends—versatility for different occasions and the scope to mix and match, better quality to ensure durability," Das says.

Indian appropriation

Businesses in India have either been leading with their own trends or Indianizing international ones with the diversity Indian clothing offers.

Abraham says: “The Indian design community has already developed their own trend forecasts because most designers have been in the bridal trousseau space. It follows its own rules and is completely unique to us. The impact of that on contemporary-wear has been original. That is because designers can foresee what consumers want and deliver that. There are designers who do look to the West and follow those ideas but the successful designers here know how to adapt it for the Indian consumer."

For ready-to-wear collections, that trousseau-like sensibility permeates down. Even the simplest silhouette templates, like the salwar-kameez, kurtas and saris, are being interpreted in Western shapes and patterns—while still fitting the trousseau-inspired construct. “The essential template (of the garment) remains the same everywhere," says Abraham.

Trends, then, are adapted to suit individualistic needs. Das says: “The fusing of global influences with Indian traditional aesthetics has created our original language in design, and that itself is the future. The blurring of Indian versus Western is what we wanted, and now we are there. Did we ever think of wearing jumpsuits with dupattas at weddings a decade ago? I find the expanding definition of ‘Indian’ extremely exciting—that is the one aspect that truly gives me hope."

Of course, none of this is carved in stone. While there is a need for forecasting trends that are relevant to Indian sensibilities, in terms of colours, patterns and silhouettes that work for us, this approach is what has worked in the absence of bigger Indian trend forecasting agencies.

Das believes in this method. “I think that has been our greatest triumph as a design fraternity. Indian fashion has grown by leaps and bounds in its lexicon in the last two decades, while globally we have seen a sort of tiredness setting in; many iconic fashion houses have been in a hire-and-fire flirtation with creative directors, which hasn’t yielded anything great. Here, our own identity is so strong that everything is bound to get Indianized," she says.

As for the future of forecasting in India, she says: “Forecasting is not going to be relevant in the same way any more. With the advent of trans-seasonal, genderless fashion, we will not require expensive subscriptions to different kinds of forecasts for different collections. If we are looking at going local, then one single global forecast cannot dictate trends any more. Larger high-street brands, retail and export houses may still need to refer to forecasts but for independent designers this can be skipped. It is important to keep our eyes and ears open as creatives and use our own intuition, market readings and judgements to create something nuanced and personal for our audiences."

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