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The new decade and the inversion of trends: who is leading and who is following now in the fashion industry?

If before big fashion houses were writing the rules, today with the rise of social media, fashion and luxury’s democratization, fast fashion and social phenomena, the funnel seems to have turned upside down

By Beatrice Jennifer Tagliabue

In 1899 US sociologist Veblen exposed the so-called Trickle-Down theory, based on the idea that trends move from the highest part of society to the lower one, arriving to the whole population.

This theory is founded on the vertical hierarchy of the social scale, in particular Veblen stated that richer social classes wanted to distinguish themselves from the rest, while the poorer ones kept trying to look like them. What happened was that as soon as the lower classes adapted the same style of the nobility, there was the need for them to find a newer one to mark the division.

It is not a case that the first real fashion influencer and trend setter was Marie Antoinette, wife of French King Louis XVI.

It’s the following Century, and in France many luxury fashion houses are being born: Chanel, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Madelaine Vionnet and many other couturiers of that time. These figures invented new silhouettes and created iconic pieces while shaping their own personal identity. It was them that used to tell people how to dress.

It’s then the turn of the Italian ready-to-wear, which brought the Italian taste, tradition, know-how and aesthetic all over the world. Everyone wanted to copy the looks seen on the Milan and Paris runways.

Parallelly to all of this, there are subcultures: phenomena like music and social movements that with their expressive language have always been key inspiration for many famous designers. We all know the strict connection between Vivienne Westwood and the punk movement, the style of the 80s hip-hop culture music and streetwear, or the 60s youth revolution and the birth of the miniskirt by Mary Quant.

Let’s move to the end of the 80s, when the term fast fashion started to really spread out: it was the New York Times that used the term for the first time ever in 1989 to indicate the opening of Zara’s store in the Big Apple, referring to the fast speed with which clothes were designed, produced and changed in the store.

They did not follow the seasonal calendar of fashion brands but had a highly intense rhythm. The focus of this business model was, in fact, the marketing at its finest, a model based no more on creativity, originality and values of the brand, but on a bigger and faster production instead.

Besides that, fast fashion had an important role in the mass diffusion of trends, offering a wide selection for all pockets: taking Zara as an example, it is not a secret that when entering in a store, you will find clothes inspired by the most acclaimed pieces of the latest fashion week.

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Un post condiviso da ZARA Official (@zara)

This led to two big phenomena: on one side fashion starts to democratize as evryone can afford now buying the newest trends, while on the other side fashion gets quicker proposing an always more frequent change of collections, influencing big fashion names as well.

If until a few years ago it was high fashion brands to show trends – and by “show” I mean shading lights on them, not inventing them – that would be copied by fast fashion and then adopted by people, more recently this funnel is turning upside down.

Internet and social media have for sure had a fundamental role in all of this, taking away the primary high fashion and trend forecasting agencies had on the discovery of a new trend and making it go viral (just think about last summer’s tie-dye trend).

Having a tool that doesn’t only give you the possibility to have a window to the world at your hands, but that gives you the power to increase the visibility of a content with just one click made many steps easier and faster: everyone can have access.

In the current situation, especially, the digital world seems to be the only reality we have to explore and open our minds, including that of designers, and the trends’ inversion is getting even more confirmed.

It is, in fact, from the digital world that trends are spreading today.

2020 saw the birth and growth of many online brands and retailers, whose business model is purely digitally developed: that’s why online fast fashion boomed, like the case of Pretty Little Thing, a brand that has started to define its identity online pushing items like bike shorts that are now seen on catwalks (check Saint Laurent’s SS21 collection).

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Un post condiviso da FASHION • BEAUTY • LIFESTYLE (@prettylittlething)

Not only, it is during the first lockdown that sustainable clothing brand Pangaia reached global success: the simple, clean and very comfortable hoodies and tracksuits were perfect for our days spent at home. Soon Zara started to sell very similar pieces, loungewear acquired more market share and began to appear in ready-to-wear collections. 

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Un post condiviso da PANGAIA (@thepangaia)

On Tik Tok the hashtag #DarkAcademia has hundreds of thousands of contents all over the world. Dark Academia is not only the trend inspired by the private English and Ivy League colleges preppy style (a bit nostalgic about school?), but a real subculture.

Lorenzo Serafini created a collection based on this exact feeling for Philosophy’s FW21 latest collection, taking the cold tones, the textile and the school uniforms on the runways adding a cooler touch. The Italian fashion designer says that it is an homage to the memories connected to school that today’s young generation can’t have.

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Un post condiviso da Philosophy di Lorenzo Serafini (@philosophyofficial)

Hence, it’s us to be, thanks to social media, the real protagonist: we don’t need fashion magazines anymore to tell us what will be in and what will be out, because we are now active players in this game, as with a simple “like” we can really contribute to the diffusion of new trends.