The Real Power in Fashion is the Consumer

When I was sat in a bar waiting for a friend recently, I listened to the conversation of some hair-flicking, bangle-wearing fashionistas. Unsurprisingly, my ears pricked when the conversation turned to trends.

“Why are slim trousers still trendy? It’s been like 7 or 8 years now of skinny jeans and slim trousers. Loads of fashion designers have stopped making slim cuts now. When is the fashion going to change?”

“Ah yes!” I thought, sipping on a Manhattan “The ‘might’ of fashion designers.”

The curious thing is that though the fashion industry is perceived to be a ruthless enforcer of trend, there are some things that it is powerless to change. One of those things is ‘fashion’ itself.

This is the central paradox of modern style.

Information is the fuel of fashion. Those closest to fashion, emotionally and literally, adopt it quickest. A fashion professional stays closer through interest, a central city dweller often stays closest through availability of information.

A person not interested in fashion, or a person remote from a fast-paced metropolis, often takes the longest time to adopt fashions through a lack of interest or a lack of information. Though this is changing, thanks to the revolution of the internet, this is still largely true. However, there is an acknowledge rule that fashion does, eventually, filter down – even to those who claim no interest.

The important thing to remember is that fashion houses, who rather like people to see them as the great puppeteers, are nowhere near as influential as they would like to be, or as people think they are.

Fashion is created by an extraordinary mess of influences, like a massive jumble of string that is impossible to unwind. Each new item of clothing that appears for general sale has a myriad of reasons to exist, far beyond the creativity of a single label or designer. You will often hear cries of “copying Chanel” or “ripping off Gucci” in stores like Zara and H&M and, though this is sometimes true, there is little need to complain. Brands have been copying each other and raiding their own archives for ideas for years. The clothing market is now so fast-moving and saturated with variety that it is impossible for a brand to control the intellectual property theft that is occurring and still remain nimble enough to be relevant to the market.

Power to change no longer rests with a brand. There is no doubt that ‘high fashion’ still has an influence on trends. However, their authority is nowhere near as significant as it was when Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent were defining the mode of the beau monde.

The internet has changed the world, and the way in which fashion reaches the masses. Before bloggers, the designers and a handful of publishers held sway and were revered for their ability to make or break fashion. Now that publishing is on its knees, high fashion no longer has its grand vizier and mouthpiece of supremacy. The mouthpiece belongs to the purchaser. Communication channels are clogged with expressions of individuality that are respected for originality and style. The control-freakery of backstage designer divas is outdated in an age when aesthetic vision is essentially Darwinist; survival of the fittest interpretation.

The more designers need the public and their tastes for inspiration, the less the public needs designers. It has long been a supsicion of the blogosphere that fashion houses, of varying levels of grandeur, are employing researchers to scour the websites of the best bloggers for inspiration.

It should come as no surprise. It is impossible that such ideas for experimentation should only exist in the minds of a few, and these portals present the temptation of an Aladdin’s cave; for example, the ‘daily outfit’ blog – of which there are thousands – represents treasure for both creatives and marketeers. Where else can a brand get aesthetic experimentation with immediate qualitative feedback from potential customers? They couldn’t have made the system better had they designed it themselves. The next time you’re wondering why the “fashion hasn’t changed”, look around you; the collective power of the consumer, more than the whims of a horn-rimmed, pencil-chewing designer, is likely responsible.