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FASHION TRENDS & EXPERIENCES
How the macrotrends that guide fashion should influence the experiences we design
I’ve had the unique experience of being able to work both in the fashion industry and in the themed entertainment industry. My background in the fashion industry involved designing costumes for young ballet and tap dancers.
One of the things I always look forward to in the fashion industry is the yearly trends presentation. These presentations are where the trends for the upcoming season are unveiled and discussed in detail. These trends influenced all aspects of design—from sourcing materials and fabrics, to design details, to how we would market the products.
Something I’ve noticed since working in the themed entertainment industry is that we don't study and approach trends in the same way as we do in the fashion industry. And I have always been curious to see if the fashion industry's model for trend reports could be applied to the work we do here. The fashion industry certainly has learned from themed entertainment. Just a quick google of “iconic fashion sets” clearly shows that the fashion world has a flair for themed entertainment.
For spring/summer 2017, Tommy Hilfiger created Tommyland in Los Angeles's Venice Beach, complete with amusement park rides and food stalls.
Marc Jacobs erected a carousel for Louis Vuitton's SS 2012 show.
In 2019 Balenciaga’s SS show took place inside of a giant LED Tunnel
And just this year Valentino took the color pink to an extreme with their runway set!
And that’s the beauty of trends—they extend beyond the fashion industry alone, drawing inspiration and sources from retail, cultural events, film, TV, the list goes on and on…
For example, have you ever heard of #barbiecore
If not, that’s okay. It probably just means you're not a girl in her 20s who spends too much time on Instagram. For those of you who are not familiar, #barbiecore is a fashion sensation that went viral the summer of 2022. What it basically means is that you’re dressing like you are living your very extra Barbie dream life.
The forecasting company Fashion Snoops even developed a timeline showing how the current fashion phenomenon actually started many seasons ago and was influenced by trends determined back in 2019 as well as influences beyond the fashion industry.
And so, if the fashion industry can study and borrow from other industries, then certainly there is something for us to learn by studying the fashion industry. After all, something we share with the fashion industry is that we are designing for things that won’t open for months or years in advance. That’s why tracking trends is so important. We need to know what's up and coming so we can design for future seasons.
So, how do we track trends in the fashion industry? Well, prior to the yearly trends being released, forecasting teams study the industry, social media, cultural events, emerging technologies and other key influences and condense their research down into a few main stories called macrotrends. While there are companies that deliver these trends to you for a fee, you also can simply scour the Internet and find hints to what these trends might be in 2024 and beyond.
For example, one company is predicting in 2024 that something called “liberation luxury” will be an important trend. However, this article isn’t about the specific forecasts for 2024 or defining what “liberation luxury” means. Rather, we are more concerned with what we can learn from macrotrends in general and how we should apply them to our experience design work.
As each year’s macrotrends encapsulate the popular mentality and aesthetic being seen in today's culture and trends, it’s important to dive into the major cultural influences that contributed to this mentality and aesthetic becoming popular. We should also look at what each of these macrotrends might look like on the runway, on the street, in kids fashion, and on stage.
In the fashion industry, fabrics would be selected by the sourcing team that fit each macrotrend. We would also take a look at color and create color palettes that fit within each macrotrend. And we would identify fashion details within the macrotrends that we wanted to incorporate into our costumes.
Taking all of this into account, we could then design a costume. Using the macrotrend as a template and a guide, we could take inspiration from the color, the fabrics and fashion details and combine them to make a costume that is on trend!
The key is that trend reports should give you tools to create great products. And clearly, within the fashion industry, designers have mastered how to use trends as a tool to design. But how can we apply this to themed entertainment? How can we use trends to help us design when creating an experience.
Well, at its core every experience has a story. And if you can simplify that story down into a few words then you can make thoughtful and correct design decisions.
And when you think about it, each of the macrotrends we study in fashion are in essence a story. And if you were to create an attraction with a macrotrend in mind you could easily make decisions about what it would look like and what experiences it would include.
For example, a macrotrend whose key story is about ethereal escapism would look and feel very different than a macrotrend whose key story is about boldness and individuality.
In fact, I used Midjourney to create four different museum exhibits using four different macrotrends for 2024. You can see the difference without even reading the prompts:
Now as important as trends are, they are not the only thing we should consider when designing. Let me give an example from the fashion world to explain-
When designing, of course it was important for us to have those “trendy” styles with a shorter lifespan. But it was also important each year to have a larger assortment of “core classic” styles. Styles that are aware of the trends but were not risky and pulled from tried and true fabrics and silhouettes. And instead incorporated the trends in smaller ways like trims or color.
So when designing your next attraction or experience—think—just like the little black dress, what are the core styles of the themed entertainment industry? And how can I spice up my next experience with a little bit of flair from a macrotrend?
And of course, I know in reality, designing an attraction or an experience is not as cut and dry as I just made it. BUT if you know the brand, and you know the content and story of the experience you are designing- then by assigning it a macrotrend it can help you make design decisions that will keep your experience fresh and following the trends. At the end of the day trends should be another tool to help you make design decisions.
And finally, as trends are ever evolving and changing we need to be able to track them and be aware of what’s new in the world and in the industry.
What’s nice about the fashion industry is that there are forecasting companies that focus solely on tracking trends. And you can subscribe to them so your yearly forecast is handed to you when you need it. And since everyone is getting the same thing- it’s fairly safe to say we know what everyone will be designing around. However, as you all know- that is far from how it works in our industry. So what can we do to stay current?.
In general, the macrotrends are an evolution year to year with small bits changing here and there but often they tell similar stories. However, major disruptions like COVID, technology revolutions, or other factors can change the course of macrotrends dramatically over the course of a few years.
So when we are watching for trends- it’s important to know about the small influences that will tweak the course of a trend year to year- but it is much more important to look for disruptors that might change the course of our industry dramatically.
When it comes to actually tracking the trends yourself. I have 4 suggestions to help you get the best results.
First- Be involved. Go to as many experiences and attractions as you can - experiencing them first hand will teach you more than looking at pictures or videos. And of course attend conferences and conventions- this is where what’s next will be discussed and unveiled.
Second: Don't be afraid to look outside your industry as well. Hopefully if this article has taught you anything- it’s that we can learn from applying what other industries do to our work.
Third: Follow relevant and trusted trendsetters. At a minimum this means following the news & announcements within our industry. But don’t forget to look at the young voices. Whether it’s new faces joining the industry or YouTubers who are just very passionate about what we create they have a unique point of view and with the latter- a large following of listeners. This can also mean checking in on what the innovative companies are doing. Just because no theme park has utilized a particular type of dark ride technology yet- doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Or maybe you find new technology that no one has thought to apply to an experience or attraction yet.
And Finally- Ask yourself why this is happening- When you come across a surge of desire for a particular product or type of experience ask yourself why. Thinking about this will lead you to the cultural influences that will create the macrotrends of the future.
Now go out and be the next trend setter!
This post was condensed from Zoe Thatcher’s presentation at the October 2022 SATE Conference in Las Vegas sponsored by the Themed Entertainment Association. “SATE” stands for the formula Story + Architecture + Technology = Experience. Zoe is a designer and illustrator for Creative Principals.
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