Victor, the futurologist, predicts trends not just in fashion but all sorts of design fields and invariably he is spot on
The man who stays ahead of the trends
Think what would happen if you took a hippy dress and a really glamorous 1980s Dallas dress. Now imagine if they had a baby..." This is the sort of talk my husband must put up with when we get together with my old chum Victor, the futurologist. Victor was describing the "It" dress for 2009. He predicts trends not just in fashion but all sorts of design fields from household products and gadgets, to furniture, cars and nightclub decor.
Although what he's saying initially sounds bonkers, invariably he is spot on. He is a marvel at putting into words those trends and feelings about clothes or spending habits or the environment that are obvious, and yet we are oblivious to. He scours the world looking at anything from student art shows and emerging architecture to spores in a science lab. He picks up on music - you name it, he's clocked it, long before anyone else. And he's not just my friend. He's a friend to a great many fashion designers whose names I dare not mention.
I've always found it fascinating the way catwalk trends tally up and designers seem to be all on the same wavelength. I appreciate that fashion is a sort of mirror for our times, but Victor tells me the real reason great fashion minds think alike is the fact that a vast and highly organised forecasting and predicting industry lurks behind the designer clothing industry. Designers drink from the same well, as it were, visiting fabric and textile trade exhibitions that advise on moods, shapes and influences.
It's not enough to be innovative or a whizz at cutting. If you can't guess what women will want to wear in six months, you are finished in this game. Take Vivienne Westwood, the woman responsible for introducing virtually every new trend of the late 20th century, from underwear as outerwear to sportswear as streetwear. She has long been accused of being too far ahead, rarely benefiting from her own near psychic fashion talent and leaving others to pick at her ideas and take them mainstream.
Victor is, in a way, even more important. He is at the epicentre of the fashion food chain. He throws the first thought. The one he threw me the other night is helping me - slightly - unravel complex trends for spring/summer 2009. He believes "we are in the grip of mixed era and mixed culture fashion. It's no longer simply about wearing Eighties or Nineties. So you wear the power suit jacket with the hippy skirt and biker boots. BUT, and here is the catch, you have got to know what jacket to go with what skirt to pull it off."
Having spent this week writing a nostalgic piece about Eighties fashions, I'd argue that even this is simplistic. I had forgotten how much can happen in a decade. The influences currently flying around are a lot to do with Anthony Price circa London, 1985, as well as Norma Kamali in New York in the early Nineties. Dresses are a mixture of Azzedine Alaia, Claude Montana, Herve Leger and Thierry Mugler, here, there and everywhere in 1981. Anyone who has ever found fashion mind-boggling is going to find next summer tricky, unless of course they are a clued-up futurologist chasing the zeitgeist and coming up with intriguing words and theories to describe why it's happening and what will - visually - be the result.
But should it be this hard? I feel like I'm having to learn my French irregular verbs all over again. I know it's going to make perfect sense, only it doesn't now. What is the sense in analysing a fashion trend? I'd compare this to when the 19th century English poet Keats accused the physicist Sir Isaac Newton of "unweaving the rainbow" - destroying the beauty of the rainbow by explaining it. When Marc Jacobs was asked to name the inspiration behind his spring/summer 2009 show, he refused. "Who cares what it's about? What matters is my customers like it." Precisely. Now run that Dallas baby thing by me again, Victor. There's a dear.