‘People watching’ is nothing new. The author Graham Greene –acknowledged as ‘the ultimate chronicler of 20th-century man’s consciousness’ – admitted that his best research for those characters and plots in best-selling novels like Brighton Rock and The End of the Affair was conducted sitting quietly in French cafes, silently people watching.
Fast forward seven decades and trend forecasting – understanding people and using this knowledge to help companies meet their targets and build their brands – has become a huge growth industry. Ditching crystal balls and complex algorithms, trend forecasting works instead by observing people in the here and now – in order to decode tomorrow. The biggest brands know that ethnography – the study of people and cultures – when it’s coupled with robust research and a smidgen of intuition, can be the difference between them thriving or tanking.
Feel the bumps in culture
Take ‘cultural brailling’. The American forecaster Faith Popcorn, who runs the trend forecasting organisation BrainReserve, created the technique back in the 1980s. And she still uses it to detect and track changes in the way people live. In just the same way that language is conveyed to the visually impaired by them feeling bumps on a page, Popcorn’s method feels the bumps in culture.
“It’s about using all of your senses: things that you see, taste and hear,” explains Susan Choi, Trend Track Director at BrainReserve. “It could be walking into a retail store and noticing the lighting and music, feeling the different textures, just fully immersing yourself in whatever environment you are in.” Within the fashion and beauty sectors, ‘cultural brailling’ is about people being hyper observant and alert to newness – about them reaching out for new ‘stuff’ that they may previously have had no real knowledge of, or interest in.
Textile companies drive fashion trends
So that’s one method of trend forecasting. Another is quite simply networking – having the right contacts. Stretching back more than 40 years, trends in fashion have been driven partly by the international textile companies. They work years ahead to identify cultural inspiration, and host covert meetings to determine which colours and textures will be their focus for the coming seasons. Once these textile giants have released these trends to the trade, this prescribes what is shown at the designers’ catwalk shows and for street styling two or three years down the line. And increasingly it determines the trend predictions for those corporate wear specialists who seek to incorporate key elements from global trend forecasting when they design stylish ‘must have’ uniforms for top brands.
Buy-in to insight and analysis
WGSN is possibly the world’s leading online trend forecasting, analysis and research service. Their experts advise thousands of professionals in the apparel, style, beauty, design and retail industries – from small to Fortune 500 companies. Jermyn Street Design (JSD) buys into the WGSN.com platform for its insight and analysis of consumer, fashion, design and trends 2+ years ahead of season.
“WGSN is the start point for our uniform design projects,” according to Ann Dowdeswell, Sales Director at JSD. “We look for inspiration on the broad trends and how they will impact on the bespoke uniforms our clients commission. For example, what will happen to trousers shapes going forward? Will the trend be for wide, narrow or boot cut? WGSN is also great for colour inspiration and print designs – particularly for accessories such as ties and scarves. We can validate our design direction through their future forecasts.
“For our clients who want us to incorporate a stronger fashion element into their uniform collection, we may take our inspiration from enduring street styling trends via WGSN. That’s especially relevant for coats and knitwear, those functional items that also need to look good and so need trend forecasting to translate them into standout items.” And for the Gucci Beauty uniform collection and the corporate workwear designs for Permanent TSB Bank, JSD introduced a ladies’ pussybow blouse. It’s a design trend that has been on the high street for a few years and is likely to be around for a few more yet.
Narrowing down the trends
But trend forecasting isn’t only about buy-in from the world’s experts. The professionals in JSD’s design team are also influenced by their clients’ own competitor research, and by the staff focus groups and wearer trials JSD conducts for client companies. The designers trawl UK and European fabric fairs and regularly visit fashion stores to buy into ‘cultural brailling’.
Looking to 2016, fabric mixing will be a major trend for the upcoming season, predicts JSD designer, Christina Burke. “Generous shapes will combine with a mix of plains and textures for decorative suiting, adding eccentric detailing to some of our clients’ uniforms.”
The client brief is often the first guide to narrowing down which trends in fashion may be useful for corporate wear. “If a train operating company is asking us for bespoke workwear that has a classic look with a twist, we may look to classic designers such Roland Mouret and Paul Smith, and to high street stores like LK Bennett, Whistles and Cos, for inspiration,” explains Ann Dowdeswell. “The client brief provides the basis for the products we will design and determines the longevity of the range. The corporate clothing we designed for Eurostar in 2014, for example, needed to be classic as the range was unlikely to change in the next five years. However, some of our beauty clients – like Chanel – change their staff uniform designs every 6 to 12 months, and so expect us to follow fashion trends more closely, to help them stay relevant in a competitive marketplace. And the market sector also helps determine what trend forecasts we follow: a 5-star hotel in central London will demand very different designs from a country hotel.”
So how does a leading corporate workwear supplier like JSD identify which of these international trends and forecasts best match a client’s brand needs – and how far ahead do they do that?
“It all centres on the in-depth research we conduct to establish a design brief with our clients. In a four-page briefing document, our design team asks specific questions about all aspects of the client’s business – questions about the brand, the job roles and the environment in which the staff uniforms will be worn,” says MD, Susanne Malim.
Trends are start-point for the design process
Against that backdrop, the WGSN trends and inspirations provide JSD with a starting point for the design process. In order to create mood boards, the company’s designers review the international trends by product category. Their research is based on the types of products a range needs – ie dresses, knits, smart tailoring – and they select the trends which they feel reflect the design inspiration or brand direction that is right for the individual client. “These trends become our building blocks, although only a few elements may ultimately be seen in the final uniform range, as we move on to source fabrics and trims, produce the toile and refine the designs through the staff consultation and sign off process,” says Susanne Malim.
JSD predictions for 2016
Ladies’ tailoring trends from the JSD design team for 2016 draw suit inspiration from shaped necklines, nipped-in or belted waists and contrast suiting panels. Longline jackets, some with zip detailing, top creatively cut skirts or straight legged, often skinny, trousers.
Men’s suit inspiration for the year ahead sees uniform supplier JSD predict tailoring trends that focus on blue tones with black suiting and white shirting contrast, collar and pocket details, all worn with matching tie and pocket squares.
JSD designers point to the three international trend stories that will direct their thinking for the 2016 corporate clothing collections.
• In ‘Distilled Heritage’ traditional shapes are mixed together with advanced technology for lightweight, modern performance uniform items that carefully distill and soften heritage looks – and timeless favourites take on new, multifunctional roles.
Follow Jermyn Street Design’s board Distilled Heritage on Pinterest.
• The ‘Past Modern’ story for ladies is refined, simplified and sculpted with an undercurrent of glamour. It showcases the timeless qualities of historical and modern-day design, with detail secondary to shape. For men, sharp contemporary tailoring feels easy and relaxed, with a stripped back approach to smartness for a look as modern as it is luxurious.
‘Decrypt’ is an exciting trend that appropriates service and security style uniforms to create mismatched layers and unexpected proportions. Dressed-up tailored looks are seamlessly styled together, mixed and matched in tonal darks. The story takes decrypted messages from the urban environment to inspire a smarter, uniform-like take on workwear that integrates functional sport and street influences with a subversive fashion attitude.
Staying ahead with trend forecasting
It’s clear that accurate and actionable trend forecasting will continue to support the design decisions of a corporate clothing expert like JSD. Having comprehensive seasonal research from WGSN at their fingertips allows this specialist company to stay ahead with the earliest view of future colours, materials and design trends – and to create must-have bespoke uniform design for their clients and their brands. “And increasingly we’re using social media, Instagram and Pinterest for different projects,” shares Ann Dowdeswell. “They’re other ways we can connect with ‘Cultural Brailling’ so we can focus on the widest possible audience, be alert to newness, and ensure that our clients’ corporate clothing really does reflect up-to-the-minute lifestyle trends. That way, we help them thrive not tank!”