Sunday, 24 July 2011

“Using a noun as an adjective is so last season.”

Death is an insurmountable force of Nature. You cannot stop it. But, you can stop people from catching you dead wearing that ridiculous outfit! No longer shall your Afterlife be marred by careless jibes about some pair of mismatched sneakers, or some oversized white tuxedo that makes you look like the underside of an orca, or that “O.G. 4 Life” dog-chain that you got from back when everyone knew what O.G. stood for, or all of these, should you happen to be a rapper.

The trick to staying one step ahead of the game is to answer one question - “Where is fashion headed?” To make accurate predictions, several heuristics have been developed. The most primitive of these involved studying the flight patterns of migratory birds. Arctic terns may travel as many as 20,000 km, moving with the flock, yet rarely bumping into each other. However, as the routes were purely deterministic, and were prewired into the bird brain, this heuristic always yielded the same result – a human being’s first notion of what a man or woman should look like.

Soon, a new model developed based on log normally-distributed stock price movement. But if every billowing white dress could be sold for $5.6 million, getting married in Vegas in a night of drunken revelry could cost more than a few teeth and a Holocaust ring. In essence, clothes, unlike stocks, are not fungible.

Eventually, the onus of predicting the future course of fashion was left to the mutual consent of 12 wise octopi. If it took 3 hours to convince 12 Angry Men to reach a consensus, imagine how long it would take for a dozen spineless, inherently cannibalistic creatures, to do so.

Currently, quantum physicists are working hard to achieve time travel. String Theory could help tie up several loose ends. In the meantime, here are some educated guesses about the future of fashion.

Colour: What is the new Black?

“Black is the new Mac” – Unconfirmed sources
What’s your favourite colour? Mine used to be black. Until I discovered, by combining coordinate geometry fundamentals with a working knowledge of antonyms, that black is not a colour.

Black is the opposite of White.                                                                                                                                         Black & White is the opposite of Colour.                                                                                                                      Opposite is the same as Orthogonal.
Hence, Black, White and Colour may be modeled as 3 mutually perpendicular vectors. It’s all highly mathematical.


Anyone who’s ever skydived through a rainbow will agree that the colours of the VIBGYOR combine to give white light. By the Associative property of addition of colours, White is most likely a colour.

The new Black must therefore be:
a)      Not a colour
b)     Capable of combining with any coloured item to make it darker
c)      The opposite of a combination of all colours

The solution, upon inspection, is crystal clear (Thus satisfying the third criterion). What is the new Black?               Water is the new Black.*
* Not to be confused with watercolour, a colourful combination of water and colour.

Fabric: Should I bother aging my denims?

“Denim is the basic fabric of life. Jeans are just a form of expression.” – Francis Crick

Or maybe it was DNA. In any case, denim was discovered nearly a century before DNA, so let’s talk about it. Denim is the roadrunner of fabrics. It has been weathered, stone-washed, sand blasted, bleached, and ripped to shreds, but it still keeps coming back for more.

But now, several new fabrics have entered the fray, from soft, summery cotton to carbon fiber, that hideous love child of strength and flexibility. Following the summer releases of X-men, Green Lantern and Thor, it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that lycra sales have jumped somewhat.

However, the fabric of the future, like most things with fashion, is likely to be the fabric of the past. If Egyptians used to mummify pharaohs in it, you can trust that the colour won’t run after the first wash. And, with global warming becoming an increasingly palpable threat, summer linen seems the way to go. In short, unless you're famous, don’t bother aging your denims.

What is the ultimate conclusion that can be drawn from the mathematical predictions made and the examples shown?

Fashion can not be predicted. It is ever changing, like an amoeba changing shape or water changing to vapour and back. And it is difficult, if not impossible, to forecast it with any degree of accuracy. I have tried, and clearly failed, to do so. If you have any more robust model, feel free to share it here.

Rag Trade

"Rag Trade" is the rather ironic name of the business of high fashion and designer wear. The fashion industry is dynamic, erratic, extremely competitive and the perfect setting for entrepreneurs. The business is not driven by design or style, but by information. It thrives on individuals' needs to identify themselves with certain social groups, with their need to project a particular image and a status. It is this hallmark of human behaviour that the industry strives to understand, predict and cater to. Successful business combines an effective strategy on this front with a robust business model.

The business can be segmented into design, manufacture, distribution and sales. The design stage is critical as it must identify the leaders and the followers in the social fashion order and bring the style of the the former to the latter. It is never easy to know which particular trend will capture the imagination of others, but it might be fairly simple to identify the groupings. For instance, music and movie stars typically assert a great degree of influence on the fashions of an age. I came across an excellent example of this in the razor blade accessories that were immensely popular a few years ago. A razor blade is used to cut up cocaine crystals and spread the powder into thin lines. In the early '70s, cocaine was mostly consumed by popular artists and stars. A razor blade worn on a chain around the neck became an easy way to be identified with these groups and spread from them to those following the trends set by these groups. The trend itself lost the link to its notorious origins but influenced a large section of society.

Good business must be able to identify these sets and those styles that it might propagate. Perhaps even more critical in the fashion business is time. In an industry as dynamic and unpredictable as fashion retail, it is imperative that new designs are delivered and made available in the market with very little time lag. Any unnecessary delay might see fashions fade and production wasted. Several companies opt for vertical integration to control the entire process and ensure efficient distribution. Zara, a garment company based in Spain, adopts a highly vertically integrated business model with an average term of two weeks for the manufacture of new models and their availability in their stores worldwide. Garments manufacture in-house as well as those purchased from external suppliers arrive at their hubs in Spain for dispatch to stores twice a week, to ensure a continuous renewal of their retail stock. It is this incredible time to market that has led to the success of brands like H&M and Mango.

There are several other risks involved and strategies adopted to manage them. A major challenge in this business is to manage seasonality risk. Companies have done this by introducing several pre-collection and intermediate lines along with their Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter collections, increasing the number of collections to about six a year. The design function is of vital importance. The bottomline depends on the design, and brands put in a lot of effort to attract and retain bright, upcoming creative talent. Creative departments might be integrated or exclusive for each collection.

The greatest challenge, perhaps, is to know when to let go of successful fashions. Fashions tend to re-invent themselves and it is not always possible to know when one has become outdated. It is important for businesses to identify new trends, but equally important to know when a style, particularly their own successful lines, are no longer as popular and move onto fresh offerings. Only some get this right, and even fewer make it to riches in this business. 

Friday, 22 July 2011

Fashion Street

Clothing is a necessity and fashion a fascination. Everyone likes to look good, and not all are willing to spend inordinate amounts to achieve it. Indians, in particular, seem to have mastered the skill of looking fashionable at little or no cost. Some of the most popular styles in the country can be adopted with no burden on one’s wallets. The last post on this blog explored the small, growing market of the rich. This one is dedicated to the much larger market for affordable fashion.

The Jhola
India is often referred to as a bright, colourful, vibrant country, one, in the words of an erstwhile colleague, that is “just all over you”. Whether India is or not, one of the things all over the young college student, artist, actor or potential poet is the multi-coloured jhola. Inexpensive, convenient and very fashionable, it seems to have emerged as the sign of those who refuse to be a part of the fabled rat race, those who shun the binds of corporate employment, the symbol of free spirits and rebels. I would hesitate to comment on the meaning and passion of its bearers, but the bag itself certainly adds flair to any outfit or individual.


Beaded necklaces, bracelets, earrings and anklets are all the rage today. Cheap and easy to make, they are that rare accessory favoured by men and women alike. While the former prefer neck-pieces and bracelets in subdues colours, the latter are more experimental with the colour, quantity and style. There is an increased market for beads made out of recycled materials, giving the buyer/maker the ability to use their fashion statement to declare environmental stands.

Kolhapuris and Jootis
When it comes to footwear, nothing could be as stylish or inexpensive as Kolhapuri chappals and jootis. Although traditionally worn with Indian clothing, they are now worn with all kinds of garments, making a colourful statement with any outfit. They can have high heels or be flat, dull or covered in mirrors, pointed or rounded, and worn by women of all ages.  An added advantage is the high comfort level they offer, making them the ideal choice for working women and students. 

They can be worn with any outfit, from skirts to tunics, on any part of the body, be it around the neck or over the head, in any length, from short and crushed to long and flowy, in any colour, material and texture. And they can make one look very stylish at no cost at all. Any piece of cloth can be easily fashioned into a scarf and be worn in place of shawls, mufflers and dupattas. The scarf has become an extremely popular accessory in recent times with the increasing number of celebrities seen wearing it and being emulated by both men and women.

These fashions are not new or unique. Styles are more often recycled than created, like a new way of doing the same things. Popular trends are generally those that have been popular in the past, faded from memory, and then returned like the proverbial bad penny. Large sunglasses, skinny trousers, long tunics and short dresses have all been famous trends a few generations back and are now in vogue again. Is it not then, assuming all trends are bound to reappear, possible to predict when this will occur and how fashion will evolve? What impact is that likely to have on the market? Is there a logical, accurate way of doing this? I suppose we can only try.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

In the Lap of Luxury

Fashion, as commented previously on this blog, comes, unfortunately, with a price tag. Luxury goods make up a large part of the fashion market, in value if not volume. Luxury brands play an important role in defining trends globally. The market has consistently been expanding over the last few decades, and has seen unprecedented growth in the last few years, barring the effects of the recession in the western world. The growth seems to be driven primarily by increasing income levels in the developing world. This new driver has significant impact on the industry and bears testimony to the rapid development in the "emerging economies".

Growth in this sector is typically fed by a strong business and trading environment. It is associated with prestige value and status symbol. Technically speaking, luxury products are Veblen goods with a high price-elasticity of demand. Catering to the upper classes in society, the industry is cyclical in nature and shows a close correlation with macro-economic changes. During the economic recession, the industry suffered a massive setback in countries of North America, Western Europe and Japan, which were severely affected, and where lavish lifestyles were curbed. These markets are picking up again, but the sector relied upon the rising demand from countries like China to tide over the setback.

Recent reports expect the global luxury goods market to reach $300 billion by 2015. China has emerged as one of the largest new markets, owing particularly to the large number of young millionaires in the country. It takes a large amount of initial capital and advertising to establish a presence in this sector and brands that have been around for the last 10-15 years are flourishing in China. Younger people with money to spend means increased brand awareness and spending. It isn't just the old French and Italian brands doing steady business here. A range of new Hong Kong based brands are very popular among the Chinese.

Another large and rapidly growing market is India. In the last few years, various brands ranging from Gucci to Dior to Louis Vuitton have established offices and stores in the country. The demand comes mainly from the younger generations of newly wealth-ied business families. A strange feature of the Indian market is that India's share of the global luxury goods market is smaller than the share of Indians in the global market. A certain status is sought in society through frequent trips abroad and this seems the ideal time to make purchases. Studies show that most Indians who purchase luxury products prefer to do so while travelling abroad, even if the same is available in India, as a status symbol. Thanks to this kind of tourism purchasing in various countries, Europe enjoys the largest share in the global market.

Growth in these emerging economies is led by improved living standards, aspirational purchases and increasing awareness. There is a marked demand for haute couture clothing in these countries. One study reports a growth rate of almost 16% in these markets. It is difficult to say whether the growth will be sustainable and how this sector will pick up in the recovering Western economies. In my opinion, the growth from Indians, Chinese and others will continues to rise with incomes, but it will be a long while before the emerging economies can capture a significant share of the global market. How long? That I cannot say. I can however state that these countries are far more experienced in pret and affordable fashions, which I shall describe in my next post. As for this one, your comments and opinions are most welcome.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Into the Wild

Fashion is more than a style or a fad. It is that which establishes the identity of a people, like the Scottish Kilt. It defines and influences generations, from Michael Jackson’s hat and gloves to Marilyn Monroe’s flaring dress. It contributes to the literature and language of our times and starts outrageous movements, like the term and spread of “wardrobe malfunction”. It also forms the content for this blog.
“Clothes make a man; naked people have little or no influence in society.”-Mark Twain.


If you are not one of them, fashion is important for you. Iconic fashion moments and trends have captivated generations and even spawned mass hysteria, from Princess Diana’s wedding gown to Elvis Presley’s jumpsuit. Here is an assortment of the strangest and most (in)famous of them:

Elvis Presley’s Jumpsuit
Not only was he the King of Rock n’ Roll, but also one of the most popular fashion icons of the 1960s and ‘70s. It would be tough to decide which trend he made most popular: the curled lip, the lock of hair over the forehead, the sideburns, the swagger or the black leather jacket. The strangest trend however, is easy to pick. Elvis ushered in the age of the jumpsuit. He wore them white, colourful, jewelled, plain, flared, unbuttoned and any which way. The flared bottoms are still in vogue today. His jumpsuits now form part of prized collections across the world. His favourite one, the Peacock Jumpsuit, was auctioned for $300,000 in 2008.

Marilyn Monroe’s Billowing Dress
This is probably the most iconic image in movie history: Marilyn Monroe standing over a New York subway vent as her dress billows up around her while filming “The Seven-Year Itch” (1955). It represented the glamour of the 50s and became synonymous with the legendary star. There was even a campaign, Save-The-Dress, to keep the dress on permanent public display in New York. The dress was sold last month in an auction to an unidentified bidder for an incredible $5.6 million. And that image is found plastered over t-shirts, bags, cushions, cards, wall clocks and every imaginable piece of merchandise even today.

Princess Leia’s Hairdo and Metal Bikini

Star Wars has created a whole class of fanatic fans and fantasy theorists. It has also given the male sex the memorable figure of Princess Leia Organa (played by Carrie Fisher) dressed in a metal bikini slave outfit after being captured by Jabba the Hutt in Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. There are websites (, video games, documentaries, and what-not dedicated entirely to this one outfit. It remains a popular outfit in the West, particularly for comic book conferences and Halloween parties.

Madonna’s Conical Bra

Madonna is probably the greatest influence on the fashion of the ‘80s and early ‘90s. Always changing, always outrageous, and yet it is easy to recall the most controversial of her outfits: the cone/bullet bra. It was designed by Jean Paul Gaultier and became the look for her Blonde Ambition tour. It stirred up widespread controversy on religious and moral objections and was thought to be too “sexual”. The design became hugely popular then and seems to be making a comeback now in Katy Perry videos, Kylie Minogue photoshoots and *cough* singers *cough* like Rihanna wearing it at award functions. The strangest part? The original was sold in an auction for almost $20,000 in 2001.

Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction

Uma Thurman was not director Quentin Tarantino’s first choice to play Mia Wallace. But what an incredible Mia Wallace she made. The flared pedal pushers, crisp white shirt and china doll wig she sported in the famous dance sequence with John Travolta became all the rage in 1994 and the outfit is the subject of various fashion magazine spreads even today. Simple and stylish, the look has been imitated and emulated endlessly. There certainly was a sharp spike in the number of blunt, banged haircuts.

Lady Gaga and her Meat Dress

Lady Gaga’s entire career is built on outlandish clothing, make-up and music videos. Every public appearance she has made has been in outfits ranging for the unusual to the grotesque. She toppled over into the utterly gross and horrible category with her dress, shoes, bag and headgear made of slabs of meat that she wore at an awards show. If the objective was to anger PETA and grab instant attention, however negative, she was hugely successful.