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Bridget Foley leads FGI fashion panel: A 2014 Fall/Winter RTW trend redux

With great fanfare and anticipation, FGI President Margaret Hayes introduced the Fall/Winter 2014 Ready-to-Wear Trend Report at the Time & Life Building on the Avenue of the Americas in New York City this past Thursday. With support from the Fashion Group International, the event was sponsored by InStyle magazine, M.A.C cosmetics, LIM College, Ecco Domani wines of Italy, and Fashion4Development.

 Fashion Group International President Margaret Hayes
Photo courtesy of j. wang used with permission
Marylou Luther; Creative Director for Fashion Group International and Editor of International Fashion Syndicate, Cindy Ann Peterson and Bridget Foley; Executive Editor WWD - Fairchiild Publications
Photo courtesy of j. wang used with permission

Upon entry into the foyer, attendees were greeted with the works of Amy Cheung, who was there showcasing her brand Handkerchief as well has her parent company, sun Hing Industries Holdings, Ltd. Both brands currently partner with Fashion4Development which aspires to achieve sustainability and environmental management in the fashion context while operating in tandem with the United Nations initiative for social and economic development.

After the Ready-to-Wear Trend Presentation, the event then continued with a panel discussion introduced by FGI’s Creative Director Marylou Luther, Special Guest Moderator Bridget Foley of Fairchild Publications and the Executive Editor and Chief Fashion Critic of Women’s Wear Daily (WWD), and Panelists Mickey Boardman of Paper Magazine, Brooke Jaffe of Bloomingdale’s, Elizabeth Kanfer of Saks Fifth Avenue, and Consultant Julie Gilhart.

Foley began the discussion by asking the panel members what excited them about the shows this year, to which Boardman immediately jumped in and quipped “gift bags”. Jaffe felt that there were a lot of opportunities to explore the trends because their customers were definitely looking for things that they didn’t already own. For Boardman, it was sparkle. That is just a trend that never goes away for him. Gilhart suggested that while some could conclude that it was all over the place, others could likewise conclude that there was something for everyone, providing a wide range from which to choose. Kanfer felt that it was not the shows, per se, but rather, the energy leading up to Paris that was the real excitement. The trends themselves are not typically formalized until after the shows, and that is when you have to translate the energy and emotion you felt to your customers.

Foley pressed further, inquiring of the panel that at this frenetic pace, what kind of pressure is put upon not only them, but also the consumer to know who she really is from a fashion standpoint. The panel agreed that it becomes innate after a while, and that when they are shopping they constantly have their customers in mind. Given the ability to communicate almost instantly today, they are constantly getting feedback from their customers on what they like.

Continuing to press the point further, Foley asked that, with over 600 shows, how does one distill them into what is most important. The general consensus seemed to lie in the emotion that is elicited in combination with a gut instinct. Jaffe emphasize that it is also a combination of being a good editor and staying in sync with one’s customers, adding that when you take a position on the trends for the season and you really believe in it, your customers will follow. Boardman concurred, adding that nothing is as compelling to a customer as you manifesting your emotions and convictions; something that simply cannot be effected on a web site. Jaffe added that communication is probably the largest part of the job in terms of getting others to experience those same feelings you felt when you were at the shows.

The conversation then moved on to accessories where Gilhart recounted the frustrations of a designer who had indicated that women and their clothes were becoming so casual that they were just going to spend their money on handbags, and that the other things they were designing for the collection were just going to be for the precious few. The issue, Gilhart explained, is that accessories are really easy to buy, and at the nexus of that convenience and the desire for something new, having the latest trend is not really the most important thing. It is more about feeling good about oneself, and accessories is an easy way to do it. It is one of the most important things in the industry right now, as the numbers clearly show. Jaffe added that accessories definitely have been leading the charge, and anticipated that this charge will likely continue. Accessories are status symbols, and women enjoy investing in things for which they get “fashion credit”.

Moving on to the shows themselves, the group agreed that there were just too many shows, and things have gotten too confusing. Boardman believed, as did the others, that just because you can wave a cheque in front of someone should not entitle you to a show. A lot of people really don’t need to have a show. There should be a vetting process. Gilhart cited Rick Owens, who’s show was not advertised, yet was well done. Because it was different and controversial, he was able to parlay that into his marketing and change the way we think about things.

Proffering a counterpoint, Foley recounted that Miuccia Prada had indicated to her that the pressure of the runway and its attendant deadlines is when she is at her best. There was no better impetus for that intense creativity to manifest itself than the prospect of having to present to a room full of people.

Kanfer suggested that for those who are not ready, having a show could actually be a detriment to their brand. If they want to have a show, she tries to encourage them to have it in a more gallery like setting, where it is much more natural for the brand. It isn’t worth the expense, pressure, and buildup for it if they’re not ready.

Boardman recalled that when he was at Parsons, Anna Sui never had a fashion show until she had become more established. Now, everyone wants to have a show after they have knit their first sweater. This is due, at least in part, to all the glamour people see on Project Runway.

Foley asked the panel for their process for vetting the new talent in accessories, to which Kanfer provided a very incisive response. Kanfer indicated that she is not only in constant contact with the market, she also collaborates with her counterpart in ready-to-wear in developing the accessories collection. One of Saks’ biggest concerns is always a question of whether or not new designers will be able to actually work with a big store like Saks and have the capacity to produce on time. Therefore, Saks is always careful in assessing each collection to ensure that it is mutually profitable. Afterwards, the new brands are given a three season run, at which point Saks will assess whether that brand will become profitable or always remain an emerging brand.

Wrapping up, the most compelling shows for the panelists were:

Kanfer: Fendi appealed to her on an accessory level, and Chanel and Givenchy were collections that were moving as well.

Gilhart: Louis Vuitton, as well as the classic-ness of Joseph Altuzarra. It felt very American. In London, Simone Rocha.

Boardman: Givenchy, as well as Prabal and Anna Sui. Chanel was another favorite, albeit more for the energy than the clothes themselves, since nobody does it like them.

Jaffe: Fendi and Gucci. Misha Nonoo was also another favorite who is another great up and coming designer. Chanel had incredible energy, and Michael Kors had a good show as well.

In summary, it is clear that the secret to the success of the panelists lies not only in their innate skills, but also their experience and ability to correctly read their “gut check”. It is that experience that serves to buttress their ability to navigate between the shoals of their convictions and the rocks of possibly alienating their customers. Through it, they are able to balance the need to stay ahead of their customers in approaching trends while maintaining a constant feedback loop with those customers and ensuring they are satisfied. The need for this subject matter expertise was underscored during the Q&A period when Hal Rubenstein, InStyle magazine’s fashion director, founding editor and HSN designer emphasized that bloggers and the social media are not really the drivers because “there’s a huge difference between coming into a store with information, and coming into a store with knowledge. Everybody is coming in with a lot of information, not a lot of knowledge.” As such, it’s no wonder that consumers today are so confused. They not only need to be educated, they need to be educated by the right people who have the requisite skills and knowledge to convey that information. This is one trend that definitely could use a course change.

Note: This is part 1 of a two part series on this event. Stay tuned for the Fall/Winter 2014 Ready-to-Wear Trend Report summary coming soon.

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