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Sustainability and Outré Styles Cast a Spell Over Winter Magic Event

Spared from the Coronavirus cancellations that have shuttered trade events on a global basis, this year's Winter Magic show delivered its expected array of new looks, style forecasts and keen insights into new US consumer purchase trends.

Photo: Well-heeled worries: High-end footwear is continuing to lose out to leisure styles.
Well-heeled worries: High-end footwear is continuing to lose out to leisure styles.
Photo: Well-heeled worries: High-end footwear is continuing to lose out to leisure styles.
Well-heeled worries: High-end footwear is continuing to lose out to leisure styles.

The most recent iteration of the Magic fashion trade shows – the Las Vegas-hosted events seen as among North America's leading apparel showcases – found themselves taking place against the background of a growing international health emergency. Thankfully – possibly because all its component events, other than Sourcing, largely attract US industry insiders – the impact appeared somewhat minimal.

With a number of celebrities on hand – notably rapper Nelly and television star Tori Spelling – it's fair to say the vibe was almost remorselessly upbeat. For the most part, the conversation across the showfloor was far more focused on up-and-coming fashion trends and changes in US consumer behaviour than on transmissible respiratory conditions.

Fashion Outlook

Spring 2021 will welcome a series of fashion trends that range from flirty and feminine to bright and bold, while falling into one of four overall categories, at least according to Melissa Moylan, Creative Director of Fashion Snoops, a New York-headquartered retail trend forecaster.

The first category to be identified during her well-attended seminar was Solstice, a style said to be defined by reinvented perennial pastels and gentle yet tenacious hues. Expanding on this look, she said: "We are living in a time of extreme abundance, and we're questioning what's missing, while wanting to connect with our true and authentic selves.

"The key concepts here are vulnerability, self-care, doing less, and spending time alone. In womenswear, this will translate into handcrafted dresses, rich embroideries, lace trims, and maxi dresses with puff sleeves. For men, meanwhile, it will be more about ultralight materials that feel like a second skin, reprocessed dyes, and updated hiker boots that can help highlight patterned socks."

Turning to the second category – Dharma – Moylan maintained this drew on inspiration from the natural world to inform shape and structure, while utilising fluid shapes, draping and knotting techniques. Drilling down a little further into this style, she said: "It's about mineral, spicy colours and botanic lush. Biomimicry is the new design code, so prepare to stand in awe as you become one with nature.

"As a movement, it's rooted in the concept of shifting into a conscious realm where excess doesn't equal more. In apparel, this will translate to botanic imprints and patterns, natural stone beadwork, elongated sweaters, caftan dresses and voluminous trousers."

As the third defining category for 2021, she singled out Symphony. Defining its particular characteristics, she said: "It involves coming to consider a new generation of artisans as the engineers of the future, while seeing craft as that cultural tool that links us to a shared past. It's about looking to reinvent processes and human connections.

"For apparel, this means getting in tune with a truly global beat, particularly anything exotic. In the women's sector, think travel-ready tailored suits with a sophisticated edge, statement bracelets and clutches, market stripes for dresses and leather midi-skirts paired with blazers. For men, it will be more about awkward texture combinations, patterned panels and new bold cultural contrasts."

The final category – Pleasure – will, by contrast, be more about aggressive stitching, feathers and bows, and multicoloured chain links to single out just a few headline components. Considering how this will actually manifest itself on the fashion front, Moylan said: "It very much represents the spark that we all need if we are to satisfy our innate need to play. As such, it's a trend that marks a drastic departure from the cool, conscious and culture-based aesthetics of the previous three categories.

"In more absolute terms, modern, exaggerated shapes, bold colours – such as hot pinks – and large dots and narcissistic graphics will be punctuated by the kind of sensual details most usually associated with classic lingerie. The key items here will be asymmetric skirts in silk, slingback shoes in bright colours and scrunchies."

Footwear Outlook

Apart from Moylan's insights into the general fashion sector, another of the most anticipated seminars – this time focusing on footwear – came courtesy of Beth Goldstein, an Executive Director of NPD, the New York-headquartered retail analyst. She trailed her presentation by quickly bringing attendees up to speed on the current state of the sector.

Photo: Den’iman’er: Gender-fluid fashion.
Den'iman'er: Gender-fluid fashion.
Photo: Den’iman’er: Gender-fluid fashion.
Den'iman'er: Gender-fluid fashion.
Photo: Catwalk-bound: The styles of 2021.
Catwalk-bound: The styles of 2021.
Photo: Catwalk-bound: The styles of 2021.
Catwalk-bound: The styles of 2021.

Despite the impact of the government shutdown, the tax changes and uncertainty on the trade front, she noted that the overall US footwear market grew by 2% in 2019. Within the sector, the leisure segment accounted for the largest market share, with demand for the more fashionable items continuing to decline.

Turning to the outlook for the next 12 months and beyond, she confessed to being optimistic that the market would continue to expand. In more specific terms, she also highlighted a number of trends that she saw as likely to drive the sector.

Outlining the more general changes first, she said: "Over the holiday season, it was noticeable that there was a considerable focus both on gifts that 'give back' as well as self-gifting. Footwear has become a gift, with fashion sneakers and athleisure accounting for 40% of such purchases in the US, while slippers and snow boots take third and fourth place.

"With Gen Z driving more than half the growth in consumer spending, there's now also more emphasis on a no-rules approach to fashion and gender neutrality. Gender norms are changing, a development that has been embraced by a number of brands, including Crocs, Vans, Dr Martens and Birkenstock. With Gen Z being much more open to fluidity, brands that traditionally market to one particular gender will face something of a challenge."

Turning to another element likely to impact on the footwear market, Goldstein highlighted "purposeful purchasing", another trend driven by younger consumers, which she believes will become more and more significant over the coming years. Essentially, this kind of purchasing will ensure that sustainability, social concern and cultivating a cause will be front of house for brands as they strive to align with the mindset of a new generation of green consumers.

Noting that many of these concerns are already having an impact across the sector, she said: "Some of these factors are propelling the direct-to-consumer explosion in footwear, with startup brands keen to emphasise kindred core values when marketing their products via Instagram and other social media. While currently they account for only about 1% of the market, that's sure to grow as such brands become more wholesale-oriented.

"In terms of other things likely to do well over the coming year, the popularity of relaxed and wide-jean fits will lead to rising demand for sneakers, ankle boots and the kind of chunkier heels that compliment that look. In terms of men's footwear, the safest bets will be fashion sneakers, clogs, fashion-oriented hiking boots, loafers and dress shoes with sneaker bottoms."

Scaling Sustainability

Above and beyond these two key presentations, it was clear that environmental awareness has become a powerful consumer driver, a development that the fashion industry is scrambling to adjust to. A challenge here is that the required infrastructure for recycling fabric and other apparel components is just not in place, a shortcoming that Jessica Schreiber, the founder of Fabscrap, a New York-based recycling non-profit, was keen to highlight.

Outlining the objectives of her organisation, she said: "Essentially, our goal is to divert as much fabric from landfills as possible. To that end, we accept shipments of various materials, from unused fabric waste to extra yardage, from designers and brands. We then sort it and sell it in its own stores or ensure it's recycled elsewhere. For their part, brands get reliable sustainability statistics, while consumers and designers can purchase second-hand fabric, and our volunteers can take whatever they want for free."

Asked during her seminar as to how companies could get involved in the initiative, she said: "We're actively looking to scale up, but that will require an industry-wide response. While we're looking at franchising to other fashion hubs and we're figuring out the shipping, it only all works if the industry helps to fund the initiative."

Photo: Winter Magic 2020: Looking back on another lively assembly of fashion functionaries.
Winter Magic 2020: Looking back on another lively assembly of fashion functionaries.
Photo: Winter Magic 2020: Looking back on another lively assembly of fashion functionaries.
Winter Magic 2020: Looking back on another lively assembly of fashion functionaries.

The 2020 edition of Winter Magic took place from 5-7 February at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas.

Anna Huddleston, Special Correspondent, Las Vegas

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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