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Forecasting Fashion Trends

Trend forecaster David Wolfe says his job is to help designers decide what fashions real people might actually want to buy.
Elizabeth Blair, NPR News /
Trend forecaster David Wolfe says his job is to help designers decide what fashions real people might actually want to buy.

Fashion trend forecasters predict what's next -- what colors, fabrics and styles consumers will be wearing a year from now. That information is valuable to the people who make and sell clothes. It's the business of betting on what will make shoppers spend money. As part of Morning Edition's series on the fashion industry, NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports.

At a recent presentation in midtown Manhattan, trend forecaster David Wolfe of The Doneger Group, had this advice for dozens of fashion professionals on hand: "Old is good. Old is better than it's ever been before -- believe it. The boomers control $7 trillion. The fashion industry ignores them. They're only dying to buy something and the stores are full of nothing they want to buy."

Wolfe attends fashion shows, reads magazines and makes regular visits to fashion-forward Europe and Japan. He says his radar is up all the time. "When I ride the subway to work, I'm doing research. I never stop..."

Wolfe's clients include retailers, apparel companies and even cosmetics firms. At Wolfe client Saks Fifth Avenue, Fashion Director Jaqui Lividini says she listens to a number of forecasters -- and her own staff's predictions -- to stay one step ahead of the shopper.

"You want to have what she wants before she knows she wants it," Lividini says. "If you're behind her, you've lost her. If you're in step, she's not excited. We try to be one step ahead. If you're two steps ahead, she's not interested in it."

So what are some of the trends for next fall? "Wolfe says the new black is gray. Purple violets and browns will be popular, as will 'bright, eye-popping colors,'" Blair reports.

In fact, Wolfe is done with black. He says women might think it makes them look slimmer and more chic, but it also makes them look older.

Designer Nanette Lepore's clothes are sold in Bloomingdales, Nordstrom and boutiques around the country. She says she respects trend forecasters, but doesn't use them.

"It's not as exciting as working it out in the trenches...," Lepore says. "A lot of times we'll make something we'll think is going to be cute and it comes off the machine and it's really nasty. And I'll be here till nine at night with the dress on the dummy trying to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it. That's the creative part."

Saks' Lividini agrees that despite all the advice about trends, there's still room for creativity. "No matter how much forecasting we do, the most thrilling moment is sitting in a show and you see something that you've never seen, something surprising, amusing. And that's what fashion is about -- that moment of excitement, of fantasy. That's what we're after."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.