Group E- Chapter 12 & 13 relating to fashion

Designers of High Fashion Enter the Age of High Tech

Published: September 7, 2008

Early this summer, Gianfranco Zani, director of trend and concept at the women’s clothing retailer White House Black Market, was looking for ideas for the company’s fall 2009 collection. He logged onto Stylesight, a subscription-based trend forecasting Web site for the fashion industry.

Mr. Zani browsed through photos, articles, color swatches, fabric samples and sketches and concluded that next year’s shoppers would probably favor a “moody” color palette of gray-greens and purples with a shot of pink, the return of the hourglass silhouette and fabrics printed with faux textures. White House Black Market, owned by Chico’s FAS, started designing the fall line based on these trends.

After dragging their stilettos for years, fashion designers are starting to embrace online tools. Fashion cycles are faster, and designers want help scoping out competitors’ designs, discovering trends, experimenting with colors and fabrics and mocking up designs. Trend forecasting publications, which designers have relied on for four decades to scout new trends, are trying to bolster their own businesses by offering Web sites with real-time video and photos, downloadable sketches and prints, and collaboration and design tools.

“All of these activities I used to have to perform in a disparate way are now being performed on the Web site,” said Frank Bober, the chief executive of Stylesight, who worked as an apparel manufacturer for 30 years. He founded the company in 2003 and will unveil a new version of its Web site this month.

Web sites for the fashion industry are also attracting the attention of investors and deal makers. Last week, Stylesight raised $16 million from Fidelity Ventures, an affiliate of Fidelity Investments, the giant money management firm. In March, funds advised by Apax Partners Worldwide and the Guardian Media Group completed their $2 billion acquisition of Emap’s business-to-business publications, which include an established trend forecaster, WGSN.

Fashion is unfamiliar territory for Fidelity Ventures, which invests in young technology companies. Larry Cheng, the Fidelity partner who led the investment and who serves on Stylesight’s board, said the $900 billion-a-year fashion industry has a great need for technological innovation.

“The old way of doing business and design, getting inspiration and making merchandising decisions doesn’t make sense in a digital world with broadband — you have to have all the content at your fingers instantaneously,” he said.

Stylesight offers its 1,000 clients, like Macy’s, Target, Victoria’s Secret and Liz Claiborne, a library of three million images. They include pictures of clothes from fashion shows, stores and streets, as well as inspiration shots of things like graffiti or scenery. The photos are tagged and indexed for easy searching. A designer could search for floral print dresses from the 1970s, for example, or for jeans that women in Amsterdam are wearing. Stylesight also provides sketches that designers can download and use as the basis for their designs, and designers can upload their own drawings or fabrics to work with on the site. A subscription costs $15,000 a year for 20 users.

Other trend forecasting services, like WGSN, Fashion Snoops, Trendstop, Mudpie and the Doneger Group, offer similar new features on their sites.

Ilene Nachbar, a designer for a private label lingerie manufacturer, Vandale Industries, said she uses the new Web services all the time. For example, she scoured Mudpie and Fashion Snoops for ideas for a recent presentation to clients on trends for fall 2009. Her company is considering using Stylesight, where she would be able to upload her own designs and incorporate runway photos, flat sketches and color swatches from the site.

The new sites simplify work that used to be done by fashion scouts whom design houses sent around the globe to attend fashion shows, shop in boutiques and photograph people on the streets.

“The Internet has made that, to some extent, futile,” Mr. Zani said. Designers can get faster — and more — information online. “The entire globe becomes your backyard,” he said.

Though designers typically think about colors and styles two seasons into the future, the fashion industry has not been as forward-looking in its embrace of Web tools. One reason is that fashion design has, until recently, been very hands-on.

“The Web as a research tool has been taken up late by fashion designers because they are creative and like to engage with the feel of fabrics and paper that they get from trend books, magazines and visits to important trade fairs,” said Fiona Jenvey, chief executive of Mudpie. Now fashion designers work more like graphic designers, using computer sketches, or “flats.”

Mudpie, founded 18 years ago, started a Web site in 2006. In the last six months, its downloadable file libraries have grown significantly, and its subscriber base will grow 150 percent this year, said Ms. Jenvey.

More Articles in Technology »A version of this article appeared in print on September 8, 2008, on page C4 of the New York edition.

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