It's been a pretty uneventful summer for the fashion industry, but now it seems the season has started up again.
And Swarovski, last seen taking centrestage with designers such as Rina Dhaka and J J Valaya at Lakmé India Fashion Week in April, is leading the way -- and they've started with something that is relatively new to our nascent fashion industry, a trend dialogue.
Held in New Delhi over two days this week, the trend dialogue was led by Ute Schumacher, head-trend & design, Swarovski. Schumacher's talk brought to attention not just the trends themselves, which most Indian designers would be aware of anyway, but the larger practice of trend forecasting, which is virtually unknown on a large industry scale here.
The trends Schumacher touched on were all in evidence to some extent or another at LIFW; for instance the sudden surge in embellishment, especially but not exclusively with crystal (fur, embroidery and lots of glitter and shine in general also made an appearance) and the revival of pastels.
Schumacher's team though is responsible not only for tracking trends, but also explaining them: "Fashion is always a mirror of society," she said.
"The political situation in Europe is very uncertain at this time. Economically also, people are worried. So they're looking for a regression into softness, optimism, charm. This is why we are seeing revivals of pastel colours, there's a lot of pink, and people are driving the point home with embroidery, fun accessories and other embellishments."
The trend forecasting business though, is not as simplistic as it sounds. There are many contradicting forces, and sometimes this leads to contrasting trends. For instance, while pink has been a pretty strong trend for the past couple of seasons and looks to extend into spring 2006, black has seen an equally strong revival.
"As a short-term trend, over winter 2005-6, blacks, purples, greys and whites are looking to be very popular in European fashion houses, especially with subtle detailing."
Also, real fur is also coming back to runways in Europe, but so is (and this we have seen in India) a bohemian, hippy movement which brings with it strong animal rights feelings. "It's complex," admits Schumacher, "every trend has an opposite trend."
The real question is though, how relevant are trend forecasters? And how badly do we need them here in India, where the fashion market is relatively disorganised, and, in comparison to the total national textile market, still minuscule?
As for importance, every designer agrees that trend research is a pretty large necessity for any serious fashion industry. "We definitely, one hundred per cent need an independent trend forecasting body," says Satya Paul designer Puneet Nanda.
"India is so diverse that any kind of trend forecasting is a nightmare. But we need to start developing it -- we need a basic channel of communication, we need to be more organised."
Trend forecasting domestically may be a "nightmare" but this is so internationally also. For instance, where Europe's attitude towards luxury is subtle and understated ("people don't want to induce jealousy, but at the same time, they want to show that in this period of instability, they have managed to remain successful," explains Schumacher), Moscow's is far more flamboyant, as is Shanghai's. And it's not just internationally -- even intra-nationally, there will be micro-differences. In India, however, this seems to be magnified.
"If skirts work in Mumbai, they won't work in Delhi, if salwaar kameezes work in Delhi, they won't in Mumbai. The fashion of Jaipur will be a world apart from the fashion of Coimbatore. There is no way to have a generic trend forecaster," says Nanda.
However, within markets, it can be easier. "Within the market for saris, you have the embroidered, printed, high-end, and so on. Within these, you can probably predict where the trend is going and what is changing," says Nanda.
He, though, is luckier than most -- for Satya Paul has been one of the labels to corporatise itself, and Nanda has a team of designers and a PR team who can help him with trends in fashion fairs and the media. Most designers will work by themselves, and they will sell a tiny amount of items every month -- so even the kind of in-house research that would have been possible for these micro-trends becomes impractical.
Swarovski's initiative, widely hailed by fashion insiders, can be seen as a first step then into the further burgeoning of the Indian fashion industry, and also a long engagement with the industry of Swarovski itself.
While we may still struggle with the logistics, we can at least take cheer in the fact that most of the trends predicted by Schumacher -- especially the hippy style skirts, embroidery and the resurgence of gold -- are already present in (and in fact some emanated from) India. So as long as we keep starting trends, perhaps forecasting them won't be such a problem after all.
J J Valaya
Trend forecasting is really important, especially since LIFW has really become a trade event, with 60-70 per cent of this trade going to overseas markets. We have to look at what the West wants -- it's suddenly become very relevant.
Of course, we do our own research in-house, but an industry-wide forecaster with the kind of resources that Swarovski has at its disposal would be very welcome.
I think it is pretty important to have an independent trend forecasting body here, given the disunity of the fashion industry. If you're designing for the masses, which most of us are, it's important to know where the market is going.
In the absence of such a body, though, I'm still pretty happy with the in-house research I do with my team.
I commend Swarovski tremendously on this initiative, which the entire industry can gain from. Because we can't turn to fashion magazines, TV channels or any other kind of media for trends, it is important that we meet at events such as these and learn from them.