Life-style and fashion are increasingly important in the creation of everyday products. Not just fashion as such, but cosmetics, domestic equipment, and electronics are also expected to develop with increasing rapidity, season after season.What happens when trends are spread throughout the world? Kinnarps Magazine asked the design and style agency Carlin in Paris, one of the four largest in this field.
“In the last five years, the world of fashion has changed completely”, says Bengt Jacobsson, a Paris-based Swedish designer who has worked for Carlin over many years, but who has recently branched out on his own.
“Multinational low-price chains such as H&M and Zara are increasingly sophisticated in terms of fashion-consciousness and design”, he explains.“This has led to new demands on design centres.”
The largest and most well-established style agencies are in the fashion capital of Paris. This late winter day, as we zigzag across the slush of the Boulevard Haussmann, unexpectedly filthy weather has descended upon the French capital. Well-dressed Parisians can’t resist using the wet snow on car roofs to start little snowball fights. Eventually we breathe a sigh of relief when, still reasonably dry-shod, we reach No 79 rue de Miromesnil, the address of Carlin’s French headquarters.
“As we see it, the four main style agencies in the world are Promostyl, Peclers, Nelly Rodi and Carlin”, explains Fleur Mirzayants who welcomed us. “They are all in Paris. Carlin, founded by Fred Carlin in the 1940s, is the oldest.”
“The well-known Dutch firm, Li Edelkoort, is not what we mean by a style agency”, she continues. “This is because Li Edelkoort only produces forecasts, not designs.”
People in general, who notice when a fashion is launched and when it becomes available in stores, probably have little idea of the extensive, almost scientific machine that starts up long before any particular collection has been thought of. Everything tends to begin in the textile industry with ideas about the colours, qualities, and textures that are currently most marketable.This is where style agencies and analysts are playing an increasingly important role in helping fashion companies choose from all the patterns, lines, and materials.
More than fifty people work at Carlin.They are called designers, but they are all involved in trend-spotting and sketching out customers’ collections. They all travel the world, busily collecting impressions from major cities, as well as from the more solid realities in tasks for various client companies. Back home at the Paris HQ, all impressions are aired and incorporated into known – and sometimes unknown – trend paths. “You can say that the world of modern fashion consists mainly of three trend types” explains Luc-Dominique Demettre, responsible for Carlin’s network of international contacts.“There are very long-term megatrends extending over many years, and short-term trends that vary season by season. Then there are medium-term trends which lie between these two extremes, which are both in progress and changing. It is here, in these medium-term trends, that our strength lies.”
The solid results of the designers’ trend-spotting are collected into a number of ‘books’. Carlin currently has 18 different ‘trend books’, concentrating on themes such as ‘woman in the city’, ‘woman at leisure’, ‘children’, ‘men’, ‘lingerie’,‘domestic equipment’ and ‘colours’. But there are also more general books with themes such as ‘impulses’, ‘graphic moods’, and ‘mood and colour’.
These books – very often updated twice a year – are purchased by fashion-related companies worldwide as a source of inspiration and knowledge. But the company also applies its designers to more direct tasks, such as sketching out a collection or making special studies of a given country or fashion area.
Home equipment is one of the areas which is increasingly clearly affected by the same trend thinking that has controlled fashion for many decades.
“For about two or three years now, it’s been clear that equipment companies have been acting differently”, says Bengt Jacobsson. “Many clothing manufacturers have also started their own equipment brands.The home is on the point of becoming something like an outdoor garment. We expect that we will begin to regard it in the same way as our wardrobe.”
Among Carlin’s prominent fashion clients is H&M, which has worked with the agency since the Swedish multinational opened its first store in Paris seven years ago. So the handsome garments on the hangers of H&M stores might have been designed here in the rue de Miromesnil in Paris. Bengt Jacobsson also works as a freelance for H&M. He feels that it is this type of trendy lowprice chain – like for example H&M’s Spanish rival Zara, now also established in Sweden – which is likely to make basic changes to the world of fashion.
“They have changed their working methods, and are now much more conscious of fashion and design”, he explains. “As the range offered by the chains changes so quickly, it places new demands on style agencies.”
Bengt Jacobsson obtained his training in fashion in Sweden in the 1980s. But, when he left Beckmans fashion line in 1985, there was nothing very exciting to do in Sweden for a fashion talent with ambitions. Even during his time at Beckmans, he had worked at Carlin. So when he passed the Swedish examination, he decided to head for the fashion capital of Paris.
“My work as an analyst has always been combined with designing collections, in my own name, too”, he told us. “and this is what I intend to go on doing.”
Along with this, he has kept an eye on developments in new materials for companies such as H&M and Zara. The swings of fashion originate not only in lifestyle changes, but also in new conditions such as technical developments in materials. Here, fashion companies do not often have the resources to get down to details, and therefore turn to specialists like Bengt to extend their knowledge.
“My task is to reinforce the position of the designer”, he explains. “A lot of designers have great intuition. They’ve got that feeling for the patterns and colours that are right for the moment. But, when they have to talk to finance and marketing divisions in their companies, feelings and intuition aren’t good enough, and have to be backed up with a range of hard facts and statistics.That’s where I can help.”
Bengt Jacobsson has worked a lot in Japan and also, more recently, in China. Among his most exciting tasks when we spoke to him – and for which the client was none other than his longterm partner Carlin in Paris – is to design a new collection for the Chinese clothing market.
“Developments are happening very rapidly in China”, he revealed. “The Chinese have learned quickly, not least from Europeans. We tend to think of everything in China as low-price, but, in fact, there is now a growing middle class, and even an upper class, so they’re very keen to create ‘Made in China’ fashions that will be recognised as just as exclusive and elegant as anything coming from France or Italy.”
“This is something that we still haven’t grasped, here in the West.”