In one of the most memorable scenes in “The Devil Wears Prada,” the silver-haired editor Miranda Priestly lectures her lowly, fashion-unaware co-assistant, Andy, on the likely origin of her “lumpy blue sweater.” The sweater isn’t just any shade of blue, it is cerulean, which, Priestly points out, appeared prominently in a 2002 Oscar de la Renta collection and then again in an Yves Saint Laurent collection before being “filtered down through the department stores” and into “some clearance bin” in which Andy had presumably found it.
The specific shade of blue, Priestly states, “represents millions of dollars and countless jobs” before telling Andy, “It’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.”
But even before fashion designers and editors put together their collections and editorial spreads that tell us what’s “in,” trend forecasters conduct research and compile data to predict the styles, shapes and, yes, colors that will be popular in seasons to come.
One such person is Jane Monnington Boddy, the director of color at WGSN, a global trend forecasting agency based in London. WGSN is just one of a number of trend forecasting agencies in the industry; others include Trend Union, Design Options Inc. and Trendstop.
So, what exactly does the director of color at a trend forecasting agency do?
In Boddy’s words, she’s responsible for “developing the forecast of color for the business.” Think of her like a weather forecaster but for changing color trends instead of weather patterns.
Boddy started her career in the fashion industry as a designer after graduating from college with a degree in fashion and textiles. She’s designed for various brands, including Champion Sportswear and YSL Pour Homme, and her own line, Monnington Knitwear. The one thing that always excited her about fashion was getting to create the stories and trend boards that determined what a collection might look like.
“Everything I’ve worked on, I always wanted to have a narrative to it,” she told HuffPost. “That was kind of where I first started, and then I came across WGSN and used to get so excited about all the stories they used to create, because it was something I was always really interested in.”
For Boddy, the storytelling process is “a key part of fashion,” and she would incorporate it wherever she worked.
After about a decade as a designer, Boddy took a position with StyleSight, a U.S.-based trend forecasting agency that was then a WGSN competitor. In 2014, the two companies merged, and for the last two years, Boddy’s focus has been on color.
One of the most important parts of her job is conducting thorough research into topics “to find things which I feel are going to affect color and product design.”
Boddy said she and her team will look at a broad range of sources to conduct their research and find inspiration, one of them being street style. She noted that WGSN works with photographers all over the world to capture what people are wearing. Her team will also attend major trade shows for fashion, technology, automotive design and interiors around the world. Boddy and her team also attend fashion shows in places they think are “coming up with interesting designers, or we just want to connect with our country and see what’s happening.” Last year, for instance, she attended Seoul Fashion Week, and she’s also attended fashion shows in London and Brazil.
Boddy spoke about how she landed on WGSN’s color of 2021, A.I. Aqua. (The agency creates forecasts for up to five years into the future.) The shade, according to Boddy’s color-focused Instagram account, is “a digitally enhanced tone that reflects how we will immerse ourselves even more with technology in the future.”
A.I. Aqua is inspired by technology and technological advances, particularly the emergence of 5G mobile network speed, which Dezeen reports is set to be widely available by 2021. The bold color is described by WGSN’s website as “sporty and trend-forward, making it perfect for designs that inhabit the blurred space between active and fashion.”
Boddy elaborated on how she and her team came to choose A.I. Aqua as their “hero color” for 2021, explaining, “I found that blue is a color that is very predominant on the internet,” pointing to blue-heavy websites like Facebook and Twitter.
“I found this really interesting article in Wired magazine from a couple years ago, and it basically said half of the color on the internet is blue, so that was my first initial research,” she added. “The other side of it is that I am just seeing a lot more blue coming through in fashion in general.”
In Boddy’s opinion, sporty, futuristic looks will be key as we move toward 2021, which she called “such a futuristic sounding year.” She said she believes we’ll be seeing more “forward-looking design” in the seasons to come.
“We’ve seen it start to appear already in some of the runway shows, and I just have a really strong feeling toward it,” she said. “And I love it. I think it’s a really feel-good fresh color.”
If you’re wondering whether A.I. Aqua or something like it will actually gain popularity in 2021, we’ll note that WGSN’s spring 2020 color, Neo Mint, is already making its way into fashion. Boddy also noted that WGSN included a bright fuchsia in a past forecast, and that shade has been everywhere lately.
Aside from all the research, Boddy said she spends a fair amount of time communicating with clients, which helps her stay connected to the industry. WGSN counts both fast fashion and luxury fashion brands among its clientele, and while Boddy couldn’t name names, she did confirm “a huge amount of the industry looks at the information we’re providing,” including “some of the biggest luxury brands.”
There’s also a lot of team brainstorming involved, as well as report building. Through reports, Boddy said she gets a chance to validate “the reasons I’m saying these colors are going to be really important.”
Once the trend and color predictions are determined, the information is released onto WGSN’s digital platform for subscribers (and sometimes the general public) to see. Then clients can look at everything in one place and incorporate it into their work ― a new fashion collection or otherwise ― in a way that makes sense for them. For some brands, that means using a trend forecast to validate their own design direction. For others, that could mean using the forecasts in a more literal way in their product offering.
“I think sometimes people think trend forecasters just sit around dreaming up crazy ideas, not having an awareness of industry,” Boddy added. “Maybe trend forecasting was like that once upon a time, but now our role is to find commercial trends that are going to work for industry.”
The next time you find yourself sifting through the racks at your favorite store or scrolling through red carpet photos, perhaps you’ll stop, just for a second, to think that maybe it’s not a total coincidence you’re seeing so many mint green garments, bright fuchsia dresses or, eventually, A.I. Aqua clothes.
To use the words of Ms. Priestly, “That’s all.”