The Future of Fashion
Jan 24 2013
If I was a trend forecaster, I'd probably cry myself to sleep at night, knowing I was slowly but surely wasting my life. But if I was trend reporter who was good at my job and keen to impress whichever rich company I was flogging data to, I'd like to think I'd be braced for the following bombs to drop in the next decade: China is set to rise from consuming only ten percent of the world’s international luxury goods, to 44 percent; the internet means that very specific city-based subcultures are catching on globally; textiles that can detect our moods, fitness and mental impulses are being developed. And Karl Lagerfeld’s cat might die. I’m not saying it will. It just might.
Oh and everything's going to be sexxxy, the future always dresses sexxxy. In Gary Shteyngart’s latest novel Super Sad True Love Story, which is set in a relatively tech-y near-future New York, all the girls shop on AssLuxury.com for transparent “onion skin” jeans, and “total surrender” panties (they pop off at the touch of a button – so stylish). In the same way that Jean Paul Gaultier imagined half-naked chicks in cutout block-colour cat suits when he designed the costumes for The Fifth Element, there’s an inclination to assume that the future of fashion is going to be so completely absurd and outrageous, it will make Andre Leon Talley look demure by comparison.
Let’s start with luxury. Five years ago, people who considered themselves fashionable idolised designer labels, and now Chanel are making trainers that look like Photoshop fakes. With an ever-increasing demand for luxury products from the bland, aspirational middle-class, high-end brands like Hermes are starting to look seriously tired.
“Luxury is so relative, people are just redefining what the luxury brand is,” explains William Wright, creative director of logo.ec. William believes that, over the next decade, "luxury" could just as easily refer to Burberry as it could refer to Monster energy drinks. "When people don’t have access to expensive brands, other things will inevitably become fetishised instead,” he says. And if you ask me, he’s totally on point – changes in fashion are re-interpreting what luxury even means. By re-appropriating decadence and playing with logos in a very deconstructivist manner, people are creating exclusive clothing that is arguably more luxury than luxury, given its niche existence.
Monster energy drink nails, redefining the word "luxury"
People saying “fuck you” to copyright laws and deciding on brand identities from their bedrooms isn’t the only change William anticipates. Currently he imagines fashion as a “goldfish bowl that the world looks at from the outside”. In print, there’s “no conversation with the magazine, you look at it and stroke it and say: 'That’s a nice image.' With the internet the conversation is instant.” While forward-thinking labels like Chanel and Comme Des Garcons are inclined to listen and participate in the online conversation, which is evermore evident in their campaigns, mainstream brands are still owned by people who “know the internet exists, but don’t speak the language”. In order to stay fresh, “rather than getting their in-house brand strategy team to make shit versions of what people are making now” they’ll have to “open the conversation” with the online fashion community. And that means everyone.
If brands don’t want to run the risk of getting “youth culture” so wrong they end up being completely ridiculed (Will recalls the 2005 Nike campaign which ripped off Minor Threat with a smirk – “So bad...”) then they need to fire their lawyers and hand over creative control to people who actually know their shit.
Our mate, the fashion writer Daryoush Haj-Najafi, predicts a similar future for mainstream retailers. He’s pretty confident that “the high-street is dead”, and I’m pretty confident he’s right. In 2011, UK consumers were the keenest online shoppers in the world. To adapt, over the next decade he thinks we’ll start seeing “shops becoming magazines”, in order to sustain a media footprint that keeps them relevant. The beginning stages of this shift are obvious already: The British Fashion Council just appointed Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massenet as their chairman, and the ASOS magazine which launched in 2007 currently has the biggest circulation of any woman’s monthly in the UK.
But starting a magazine to keep up is never going to be enough as the internet begins to “look less and less like a printed page”, says Daryoush. With the current software our browsers ape print, but in the near future this will transform into a completely “immersive experience”. Much like a computer game, with a whole plateau of images, videos, shapes and textiles that are impossible to recreate in reality. Doesn’t that sound fucking incredible? Designer Carri Munden, the brains behind Cassette Playa, foresees similar changes to how brands interact with consumers. She believes that shops “will become more like showrooms”, citing the Apple store as an example and explaining that equal value will be placed on “virtual objects”, in the same way apps are integral to the iPhone.
Except maybe that sounds a bit too incredible. Will we be prowling around cyber-reality looking drop-dead gorgeous while our naked, jerking bodies gradually disintegrate in a rotting sofa somewhere? Not quite, or not yet, anyway. Daryoush reckons the effect these new browser systems will have on fashion will be similar to how East London venue Boombox was “a nightclub full of people attempting to look like their pictures on MySpace”. People will “try to look 3D, or like a computer – it’s going to be completely insane”.
Someone "attempting to look like their MySpace profile" at Boombox
What about the widely mooted theory that the internet is homogenising subcultures together into a global “hipster” uniform? Daryoush isn’t convinced. “Haven’t people been saying that since, like, the 60s?” As well as “accelerating” culture, making joke trends like sea punk and nu-rave way more widespread than they ever deserved to be, the internet will lead people to what Daryoush sees as this decade's defining fashion influence. To him, it’s “absolutely obvious” that Asia – and particularly China – is going to be pivotal to how young people dress for the next ten years. Expect a general movement away from over-design, towards unassuming sportswear and work-wear in neutral colours and cheap fabrics.
Of course, this kind of anti-fashion has pretty much always existed, while the recession also compelled people to reconsider the importance and relevance of fashion to a country in economic turmoil. But this kind of super-cool frugality hasn’t always been so prevalent in an industry driven by accessory and perfume sales and dependent on consumer aspirations. It’s a look that wholly rejects glossiness, not in the way that grunge did, but because wearing a black, Nike tracksuit represents luxury, cheap, plain and a statement all at once. It's a style combination that is too complex to market, and it’s too cheap to be ruined by mass-production. Strikes me as a win-win.
Finally, it'd be a little daft to speak about the future of fashion without considering the developments in textiles. Think about how smartphones have exploded in the past ten years. Now think about how jeans haven’t (the revolution from bell-bottom to skinny doesn’t count). I’ve always thought light-up dresses were reserved for fembots and Thierry Mugler circa 1996, but actually there is a whole lot of people who are determined to make “smart clothing” catch on in a big way.
Francesca Rosella – co-founder of CuteCircuit, whose Bluetooth-enabled “Hug T-shirt” (if you didn't guess, that's a T-shirt that transmits the physical sensation of a hug from one wearer to another) won TIME Magazine's Best Invention award – has recently completed design on a “mobile phone dress”. The M Dress (pictured below) contains a “functional soft electronics” device – just insert your SIM card under the label and the dress becomes your handset. Lift your hand to your ear to answer, and hang up by dropping it. I spoke to Rosella about how technology will revolutionise the relationship between functionality and fashion.
Francesca Rosella's M Dress
“Some things take a bit longer to be adopted, but once they finally make it to the mainstream, they become ubiquitous all of a sudden,” she predicts. According to Francesca, wearable technology will change clothing in the same way that Chanel’s jersey skirt-suits changed the face of womenswear in the 1920s (i.e. a fuck load). Her argument is that if the technology is there to make everything more streamlined and useful, people are going to expect it. It's stands up. Possibilities for the next decade range from a bag with built-in GPS so you never lose it, to the yet-to-be-perfected invisibility cloth, which – when it is perfected – would be kind of perfect for Spanx, right? Imagine body-sculpting underwear that actually makes your bum disappear.
So washable, responsive textiles are going to make getting blackout drunk and looking skinny a lot easier for all of us. Great. One thing I’m still concerned about though, is whether the technology will affect how the clothes look. I don’t know if I can handle a world where everyone dresses like Will.i.am. Actually I do know, and I absolutely definitely can't.
“I’m always asked whether I think we’ll be walking around in LED dresses in the next five years,” says Syuzi Pakhchyan, editor of fashioningtech.com, “My answer is always no.” Thank God. Pakhchyan instead predicts the advances in wearable technology to remain in the “predominantly niche markets” of fitness and gaming, for the near future at least. Self-cleaning workout clothes that display your physical stats are the most likely to hit the mainstream over the next ten years, followed by textiles that can calculate vitamin levels in the bloodstream. If that sounds kind of boring to the normal people who never, ever exercise, she’s also fascinated by developments with “nanofibres”, which could theoretically be “woven into fabrics to generate power that protects against infectious diseases”. Neat.
But as always with fashion, wherever there is some genuinely groundbreaking discovery, there is also a bizarre, self-loathing, Barbie-doll mutation – given that getting your vagina modified to look smooth, like a child's doll, is already a thing, let's consider “swallowable perfume”. Self-described “body architect” Lucy McCrae is currently developing an “ingestible pill that allows you to customise the smell of your perspiration”. Maybe the smug, self-washing, self-ironing clothes of the future will add to the gigantic list of things that the fashion industry does to convince people their bodies are disgusting. Whatever the reason, I'm totally not on board.
I guess what’s most exciting about the future of our clothes is that we might stop thinking of fashion as something dictated to us by a white, skinny girl and a camp gay guy who spend their time fretting about tiny dogs and picking their noses in a penthouse suite somewhere in New York. It actually sounds like what we wear could be completely up to us, and that is a slightly terrifying responsibility. Shit, can someone ban Tulisa from the internet?
Follow Bertie on Twitter @bertiebrandes
Illustration by Marta Parszeniew.
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