The Trendsetters

By Maeve Kerr-Crowley | @tweetsbymaevekc
Illustration by Stephanie Crisp |

A quick Google of 2016 fashion will show you a curated list of 26 popular trends. Spread out across the year, that’s one trend every 14 days. Included in this A-list are chokers, slip dresses, embroidered baseball caps and bomber jackets. Three quarters of the way through 2017, we’ve already seen the rise of fishnet tights, corset belts, embroidered roses and inexplicably transparent jeans.

Trends are one of the most important tools at every level of the fashion industry. The trendsetters – fashion houses, brands and designers – use every runway show and new collection to try and introduce something new and exciting into the fashion discussion. The devotees – that’s us – are always on our toes, waiting to be shown the next thing we never knew we wanted.

The creation of trends is a tightly organised science, repeated season after season. In the pre-internet days, trend forecasters would attend the runways of influential designers to make calculated calls on what their target markets would get excited about. The resulting reports would be distributed to two interested parties: retailers (mostly chain and department stores), and the media (fashion magazines). This way, at the same time a magazine would release their latest issue, stores could drop affordable, retail friendly versions of runway looks. Think the Oscar-de-la-Renta-to-bargain-bin journey of Andy’s cerulean sweater in The Devil Wears Prada.

Things aren’t all that different in the internet age, except for a slight shift in the hierarchy of influence and a higher turnover rate for new trends. The runways still have sway, but so do regular-joe social media users and small independent brands. Bigger retail brands often rely on trend forecasting agencies like WGSN, who pull their data from all sorts of influential parties into (very expensive) reports for their clients to build collections around.

Everyone involved in the industry works with, around and against each other to shape the world’s fashion. This is how folks like Pantone, who work closely with New York Fashion Week to choose a Colour of the Year that’s so commonly reflected in a season’s palette, can often come across as psychic. Really, they’re just influential. (This year’s colour is called Greenery, if you were wondering.)

Retailers aren’t the only ones seeking inspiration elsewhere, though. Consumers are also straying from the decisive authority of big fashion names in search of a more diverse pool of gurus. Countless bloggers, Instagram users and other ‘social media personalities’ have gained loyal followings of fashion lovers looking for a muse.    

Fashion bloggers like Miranda of The Girl Who Lived For Clothes dedicate their time to talking openly about the clothes they wear. While Miranda wouldn’t say she influences exactly what her 19,000 Instagram followers go out and buy, she agrees that she “inspires people to be a bit more confident wearing things that are different or new to them.”

People like Miranda, with a love of fashion and a skill for inspiring others, have sparked a new wave of trendsetters. Bloggers and social media aficionados strike up relationships with brands. Through this, they can receive products to wear, review and advertise on their profiles. By putting their newest and shiniest products on ‘real people’ instead of models and celebrities, brands are able to rely on those users’ reputations and followings to disperse the trends they want to see.

Platforms like Instagram and Blogger are inspiring, provoking and educating fashion lovers, in much of the same way that fashion magazines always have. Some magazines, like Vogue, have been around for more than 100 years. They’ve always had immeasurable influence on public perception of fashion.

“When I was younger, I used to read a lot of magazines,” Miranda says. “Me and my cousin would cut out pictures of the runway shows, and I’d stick them on my wall in the order of what I liked the best. That was my inspiration.”

People still love the glossies, of course. Plus, the wide range of digital magazines spawned in recent years shows an intersecting of print fashion publications with the rise of social media. According to figures released by Roy Morgan Research, 48 per cent of ELLE Australia’s readership last year was digital. And even the highest, most holy fashion houses are now embracing the power of a strong online presence. Gucci has 16.7 million followers on Instagram, and Chanel has 23.4 million. By posting a combination of editorial and behind-the-scenes photographs, as well as exclusive online-only content, brands like these are making social media work for them.

For brands that aren’t Gucci, social media can be the perfect place to gain exposure, popularity and brand loyalty. Bedroom, Trash World, Kitsu, Caitlin She and Eat Me Do are all Melbourne-based fashion and accessory brands with a strong social media presence. While they all produce wildly different products, they share a strong, personal vision of what fashion means. This is what they’re then able to share with potential customers, through social media platforms like Instagram. Consumers can cherry pick brands that they relate to or are inspired by, and follow their lead on what to try wearing next.

But how religiously should we be following these trends? It’s hard to draw a line between being inspired and just being told what to do. Trends are unavoidable, and even going against mainstream trends has a tendency to become a trend in itself. But Miranda says that blindly following what’s trendy can lead to people losing their personal style. “Sometimes even I have to take a step back and think, ‘do I actually like this? Or have I just seen it over and over again until I think it’s cool?’”

On the flip side, the emergence of a new trend can still be really exciting. Whether it’s the renaissance-inspired florals of Gucci’s fall and winter collection, or Instagram’s obsession with fishnet tights, trends have the potential to inspire creativity and experimentation in fashion lovers.

And, as Miranda says, “It’s no fun if everyone is dressed the same.”   

Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!

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