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Trend story, a passê

Freedom of choice

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A decade ago, a handful of tastemakers decided what was in fashion. Today anyone with access to a television or computer can make up their own mind. Fashion analysts say the trend story is passê.

Kate Lanphear, the platinum thatched, leather-sheathed style director of Elle, is commonly peppered at dinner parties with questions about fashion's next wave.
"The thing I get asked most, " she said, "is, 'What's the "in" color next season ?' "

The query rankles. "If I hear it one more time . . . " She trailed off, exhaling gustily.

Identifying directions in color, shape and mood and interpreting them for the camera are, of course, Ms. Lanphear's mêtier, a means of placing the season's most covetable looks in some kind of edifying context. "As a reporter, " she said, "you always keep your eye on trends. " But as a shopper? Not so much.

Ms. Lanphear is one in an influential coterie of tastemakers - merchants, stylists, photographers and bloggers - who can tick off new fashion directions like items on a high-end grocer's list. Neon, they will chorus, is having a moment;patterns pop;the trouser suit reigns;leather leggings are the season's instant update. Oh, and speaking of leather, black is (what else) the new black.

All well and good, as far as such observations go. But often as not, as insiders will tell you, that may not be far at all. "Trends, they are not what they used to be, " said Garance Dorê, the blogger and street-style photographer. Until some time in the 1970s, Ms. Dorê pointed out, fashion tended to follow a single, clear direction, handed down to the faithful with the ringing authority of Moses on the mount.

Robert Burke, a consultant for luxury brands and once the fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman, amplified the point. "As little as a decade ago, " he said, "we would gather at the Ritz in Paris to come up with trend stories, which would then be translated into shop windows and advertising. Forty or 50 of us held the keys to that secret information. "

Now that anyone with a passion for style and access to a television or computer screen can draw her own conclusions, "the trend story is passê, " Mr. Burke said.

Trends persist, of course, still scrutinized by mass merchants, manufacturers and many consumers, who use them as a compass, a means of navigating a sea of often-conflicting messages. But as an impetus to buy, trend reports rank fairly low on consumer checklists. Shoppers instead glean their fashion intelligence from a welter of sources, among them the runways, the Internet and the seemingly anarchic streets. How, then, to sort it all out? It's a matter of instinct, front-row stalwarts will tell you, and of personal taste. As Ms. Dorê put it, "We wear what we like. " That said, she and her nuance-sensitive peers turn to a handful of designers whose idiosyncratic but reliably identifiable output sets fashion's course. "Designers, along with a cluster of innovative brands, realize the value of consistency and continuity, " Mr. Burke said. "And of having their own voice. "

Which of those voices speaks persuasively to women today? Mavericks like Phoebe Philo of Cêline, Francisco Costa of Calvin Klein and Nicolas Ghesquire of Balenciaga, whose ample, gently rounded coats are breaking new ground;David Neville and Marcus Wainwright of Rag & Bone and Alexander Wang, who have elevated urban-tough styling and free-spirited layering to a disciplined art. Also drawing high praise this year is Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy, whose gothtinctured regalia has taken fashion in a darkly romantic direction.

And that's just for starters.

"We buy what we love and what we're going to be able to sell, " said Roma Cohen, an owner of Alchemist in Miami Beach.

Mr. Cohen has placed his bets for fall on designer looks identifiable to the affluent Miamians who are his clients, and to the urbane visitors (New Yorkers, Italians, Brazilians) who descend on his two shops in high season.

Fall's most covetable pieces, he predicted, will include Joseph Altuzarra's nomadically inspired dresses and separates in a Moroccan-carpet print, their exoticism contrasting with his military-style jackets and coats;Rick Owens's bias-cut jerseys and tweeds, elaborations on his signature suedes;and the designs of Mr. Tisci, whose style is so much his own, Mr. Cohen said, "that people can look at a piece of his and right away read it as Givenchy".

A signature look from a favorite designer is a magnet to his clients.

"They are not looking for trends, " he said. "That's not what they care for. If they see something that everybody is doing, they'll go for something else. "

In most such conversations, overarching themes emerge. On the runways, Britannia rules, at least to some degree.

"London is having a moment, " said Ken Downing, the fashion director of Neiman Marcus, noting in particular fashion's infatuation with the Edwardian style of "Downton Abbey".

With the Jubilee fresh in their minds, he added, designers are no less inspired by the trappings of nobility: fur panels, lavish brocades, evening slippers and royalty's reigning emblem, the crown jewels. "Maybe that's why we are seeing so many brooches, " he suggested.

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