“Future is About Fashion Tribes More Than Individuality,” Says Aki Choklat
“Future is About Fashion Tribes More Than Individuality,” Says Aki Choklat
Aki Choklat, before anything else, is a multitalented and fun person. A live-wire personality, and a wandering soul, always ready to speak his mind, and change it as quickly. Formerly, a professor of Masters in Trend Forecasting at Polimoda, he is currently the Fashion Accessories Chair, at the College for Creative Studies, a trend casting consultant with multiple brands, acclaimed shoe designer, and also a professor of footwear design, foraying into designing bags, he has also authored three books.
His books have ranged from being authoritative guides on menswear to celebrating BearCulture (more on that in the interview) An optimistic point of view serves him well, especially in the fashion industry. That and a keen eye and a nose for news – he is able to pick out the shift in the air; the artificiality of the ‘ding’ sound in casinos even though everyone now uses plastic coins; a keen understanding of human identity that wants to stand out and belong at the same time.
He has lived a myriad ever changing life that went from being a travel agent, to studying for Foreign Policy, abandoning the so called American Dream and flinging himself in a field that is kinder to young dilettantes. “Jack of all trades, master of none, though ofttimes better than master of one.” – He is a renaissance man, able to flit from one calling to another and a deep affinity with Da Vinci
FFT: In your role as a professor of trend forecasting, and a trend forecasting consultant for various brands – how do you find relevance for your work in an era where inspirations are becoming more and more individualistic; and fast fashion means that we are buying all the time so the season-wise reports are already losing their relevance?
AC: Some people in our industry say that we will reach an “individualistic” moment in fashion and others say the opposite that we will, in fact, become more and more the same. In my opinion the future is about fashion tribes more than individuality.
You can stand out in the mass market but still have your own group to belong to. People want to have a personal identity yet have a need to belong. This is old school sociological thinking but I think it still holds water.
As far as seasonal report thinking is considered, I see it more as short term trend analysis. Again there is so much out there that it is difficult to decipher what the real directions will be. Therefore seasonal trend thinking is still needed at a more professional level to avoid the temptation to simply copy catwalks. Long term forecasting is more difficult and also not so garment specific making it challenging, but very interesting.
AC: Of course not. Some people from fashion press and even some academics do not understand what our business is really about. However, the business model of trend forecasting has changed. It’s no longer about us “trend folk” having access to industry fairs and having the cultural interest and possibilities
to hunt for early signals. Now the internet does it all….people have access to everything. The main problem is that people/companies do not know what to do with this information, therefore the easy way out is to copy. Trend agencies should become a critical strategic partner with companies advising them on how to be in touch with the moment and the near future and, how to use and apply trend information to stay competitive. Therefore, I do not believe it’s the end of trends as a business.
FFT: Can someone be taught to see the patterns that will eventually become a trend? What are the tools one can pick up; what are some of the strategies you rely on when looking for a trend?
AC: I believe in methodology which is the reason I wrote the trend forecasting master for Polimoda as well as my new book on Menswear Trends. I will also incorporate trends in the curriculum in my new role as the Chair of Fashion Accessories programs at College for Creative Studies in Detroit. I want the students to have a vision but also understand consumer realities and futures, so when they graduate they will be ready for the market place.
In fashion analysis and forecasting it is a summary of observation from socio-cultural sources, street, fashion retail, opinion leaders etc. You simply look for unifying patterns to come to a trend conclusion.
FFT: How important is it to not be queasy about the material? The shoe industry gets a rap for dealing so much with leather and sheepskin, what is your stance on that? Are you looking at eco friendly shoes in the future?
AC: Leather shoes are eco friendly. I love leather and think I do a favour by using the side product pf the meat industry. Actually majority of the world’s shoes are not leather and this is more problematic in the long run than using organic material. However, I do use felt and do an eco friendly product with a Finnish company called Lahtiset. The product is made by hand using wool and local spring water.
FFT: Where do you see technology combining with fashion in the next 5 years? You have yourself used NFC technology for the first time with bags. With names like Apple and Intel combining with fashion designers, what is the future that we are looking at?
AC: Wearable technologies are the no.1 focus for tech companies. For fashion companies it’s not so clear. Somehow fashion brands are afraid of technology. Of course there are designers like Hussein Chalayan that explore it further and performance sport companies such as Nike. Material producers do have intelligent materials that could be used in fashion but it has not really taken off yet.
FFT: Fashion gets pre-judged because it carries a connotation of vanity. Do you think fashion overlooks the important issues of the world today like Climate Change, Syria, and Terrorism etc”? Or do you think fashion is ideally placed to express this dissatisfaction but does it subtly not directly.
AC: It really depends how you define fashion and what part you are referring to. The fashion industry does get involved with various social issues and designers, especially graduate designers, sometimes make a point of view. However, fashion (if we talk about high end catwalk) is offering an escape, a fantasy, maybe even a tool to face with the horrors of the world of today. In the end of the day people want to feel relatively comfortable and look good while at it.
AC: Bearflavoured started as book in 2007 with a friend of mine Christian Trippe. The book highlighted a subculture of Bears and its connection to creative expression. To be clear, a Bear is a gay male that either is bigger physically or participates in the culture bigger gay men. Bearflavoured today is important simply since we find bigger male bodies equal in beauty, as supposed to the standard model-like bodies. We celebrate that in our street style coverage and photo-shoots.
FFT: In terms of inspiration: Is there a limit to what you can do with the shoe? I like to call the one from your privé collection the ‘pagoda shoe’ because it turns up like one, very similar to the Indian mojari. What was your influence?
AC: Absolutely no limits. We’ve seen lots of weird shoes lately as well as very nice basic models. My pointy shoe actually came from a Laplander shoe called Finnsko….the early 20th century Antarctic explorers wore this type of shoes that were found in their deserted camp hut close to 100 year later. The story was my inspiration for the collection.
FFT: Footwear designer, trend forecaster, professor, and author – you’ve switched a lot careers. How did you finally take the leap to a creative profession?
AC: Every part of past and present is somehow part of my profession. Everything is designed in our surrounding and some are very badly designed. This is why I believe in education, to bring trained talent to the world which can make better products. However, you do have to love fashion and design to be in this profession. It’s hard work but in the end it doesn’t matter. It is a question of love…
FFT: Forecasting is a never ending machine and normcore in many ways was an answer to this leading to trend fatigue. Is this adding to the short attention span of our generation and therefore leading to even more boredom? Is 2010-2020 the decade of ‘the death of fashion’?
AC: It, again, really depends how you define fashion. For me it’s just a style that is adopted by a larger group of a given group. Therefore it will not die. I think the fashion system as we know it, should be completely re-thought. Buying system, shows, etc. It’s all so big and not very exciting. However, I think it’s the quiet before the storm.
FFT: What do you think is THE fashion forecast for 2016?
AC: I think the main trend for fashion, men or women is the new volume. Bigger, oversize but cut well. Big coats, trousers width getting wider, oversize tops…I’ve seen early signals everywhere.