In a Room in Paris: Fashion Forecasting

Sunday Telegraph Magazine  London, 1988, 2,300 words; extracts  

Fashion forecasting wasn’t a well-known business when Promostyl let me into their think-tank in Paris in the 1980s. Their working process – a kind of street semiology – was pioneering at the time and became the focus of this article. Trend-forecasting multiplied worldwide over the next two decades, but Promostyl remains preeminent. In 2007 I added a conversation with Rikke Rosbaek, who's worked in fashion forecasting and film in London, New York and Los Angeles.

"Defining fashion trends isn't such a big deal," says Sebastien de Diesbach, president of Promostyl, the world's leading fashion forecaster. "Once it was kept wrapped in mystique as if it was crystal-ball gazing. People would talk in hushed tones about what they had seen behind closed doors, on the couture catwalk or in Japan. But all that has changed. The prime forces in fashion today are matters of general information - movements in the arts, travel patterns, economics and politics, sport."

READING THE SIGNS

De Royère / ‘Movements start and develop quite clearly. Usually you perceive changes in the way of life before you see it in fashion.’

Nonetheless, the idea that fashion can be predicted two years in advance is hard to swallow. We want to believe in our own individual taste and spontaneity. But you stop and wonder when you discover who uses forecasting. Promostyl's 3,000 clients include, in the USA, Levi's and Estée Lauder and, in Britain, Marks & Spencer, Boots, Revlon, Mary Quant, Conran Design, Filofax and Jaeger. 

De Diesbach, in his fifties, makes it sound an easy if enigmatic process. "It really isn't difficult to get hold of the right information - to find the signs, if you like. The skill is the way you interpret them."

Lysianne de Royère, of Promostyl's creative team, argues that the interpretation is in many ways a rational process. "Movements start and develop quite clearly. Usually you perceive changes in the way of life before you see it in fashion. It's also one of our golden rules," she adds, overturning the assumption that fashion is a clever money-making conspiracy, "that the customer has to be ready for something before it can be sold."

MAKING CONNECTIONS

Promostyl was set up in 1966, the year of Courrèges's futuristic moongirl and Yves St Laurent's first ready-to-wear collection. Textile consultant Françoise Vincent-Ricard spotted the potential for a go-between who made sure that textile and accessory manufacturers understood what fashion designers would need a year later and that designers knew what clothes buyers would want to wear another year after that. Reasoning that everyone stood to benefit, she set up a small team (then all-female) with six textile manufacturers for clients.

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