Fashion Forward Thinking for Design Pros / by Bobby Berk

Bobby Berk seeks innovative, creative answers to essential questions

It’s that time of year again, and I can already hear the sounds of designers, retailers and shoppers abuzz with excitement, shuffling their way through the Suites at Market Square and Interhall. We all come here in droves year after year, not only because of our love of new and exciting design sources, but also to keep our fingers on the pulse of the industry we are so passionate about. In High Point’s showrooms, we see how human creativity and imagination can transform utilitarian objects into elements of self-expression, elevating furniture from “I need” to “I want."

“Staying on the cusp of emerging trends is essential as a designer, retailer, or manufacturer. It allows us to take stock of current consumer mindsets, new products, new technologies, and new possibilities."

Though ours is an ever-changing marketplace, we all know the worlds of interior design and furniture don’t move at the same speed as the fashion business. Like our fashion designer counterparts, we as interior designers are able to spot the trends from our perches at the top tier of our industry as we see them emerging. And yet, we have all seen how long it takes for our market’s equivalent of the proverbial “cerulean blue sweater” to trickle down from the runway of Oscar de la Renta, through the department stores, down into some “casual corner” where the masses fish it out of the clearance bin, a la Devil Wears Prada. How many of us are beyond sick of the graphic chevron prints that were on trend 8 years ago – and still being touted at our local superstore’s home furnishings section? How many haven’t experienced the frustration of catching on to new ideas and new styles, and then having to drag a client with a soon-expiring design aesthetic kicking and screaming to the realization that the beige granite countertop they fell in love with is so over.

“It makes sense that home décor doesn’t have the turnover that fashion does. After all, swapping a sofa isn’t like changing your trousers."

Although things can move more slowly, we’re starting to see our industry pick up the pace as we accelerate forward, faster and faster into the future. The proliferation of the internet and sites like Pinterest and Houzz have slowly given rise to a savvy new generation of consumers who are very knowledgeable about what is available. With the world at their fingertips, people are able to envision the impact of giving their spaces a fresh style update, and are starting to take on their own design projects. This expansion of possibilities is causing interior design’s collective consciousness to catch up to the pace of industries like fashion.

“If you’re like me, you probably already pull inspiration from what’s going down the runway when you’re conceptualizing your own design work."

There are many cues we can take from fashion in general. Fashion sells a product that says a lot about us, the consumer. It carries with it the power to shape the way we present ourselves to the world. Do we want to project sex appeal? Do we want to highlight femininity or masculinity? What other things can we say with our clothing? Are we rigid and structured? Are we relaxed or casual? The fact that clothing can give us the ability to control how we frame the many dynamic facets of our identity, and echo our own values and sensibilities, imbues us with great potential if we choose to take control of that power.

“Fashion connects us to the emotional part of ourselves that wants to be both an individual and a part of the greater whole."

In design, we need to connect to this same emotional place. In doing so, we are forced to really examine who we are. One of our challenges is to interpret and draw out the personalities of our clients. We have to act as empathetic interpreters, explicating the inner nature of others, which often lies below the surface. We’re not just putting together a pretty room. Design seeks to take a holistic approach to address the issues of how we live. Isn’t how we live essentially how we act – and don’t our actions make us who we are? We need to dig deep and really seek to address these essential questions.

“If we can get our clients and customers to see design as a tool that lets us live in a way that expresses who we are, we are on our way to helping them develop and articulate their personal style."

This idea carries into the way we brand and merchandise our own showrooms, stores, websites, and marketing materials. Who are we as professionals? What is our brand? Our demographic? What are our values, and what do we want to say that connects us to our customers? Ask yourself, have I really done my due diligence to discover what and who I am and where I fit into this complex whole?

One of the things I think fashion does, perhaps less introspectively, but incredibly well, is to connect us with product through the most spectacular form of visual merchandising. Runway shows are flamboyant and theatrical product showcases. They catch our attention by combining movement, music, sexuality, color, texture, shape, and beauty in a visually amazing advertisement that is orchestrated to unify the designer’s brand and vision.

“The way we showcase our products matters. We are a visual industry. Just because the products we design should stand alone and speak for themselves doesn’t mean they do."

How can we possibly optimize the consumer experience to best showcase our products and our talents by letting things fall one-note? In the same way that a look on the runway is brought to life by the accessories a designer pairs with their clothing, or even the hair and makeup chosen for a particular model, we have to look at our products and merchandising as a well thought through concept. Think fashion-forward. Bring theatricality or drama into the equation. Deliver an integrated and comprehensive concept.

I think we often get to a place in life and work, where we think we have “arrived.” You became good at doing something, and you did it well. It’s easy and even perhaps logical to keep trying to do the thing that gave you good results so many times over, and keep expecting those same results. 

“The mark of a truly innovative creative force is someone that keeps reinventing, keeps pushing onward and keeps striving to best themselves."

Fashion is always reinventing and finding new ways to mix things up. The freshness of it all, the quick turnaround and recycling and remixing of ideas is all a part of the machine that drives it forward. That is the spirit we need to bring to the table in home furnishings. If we don’t, we will stagnate, mired down by the bog of the status-quo. Don't be afraid to keep moving the arrow forward. The clearance bin will eventually catch everything else, anyways. For designers, retailers, and consumers alike, the real excitement is in the hunt for something new.