Interview: Renee Labbe – Senior Vice President of Global Trends at Stylesight

A few months back I had the pleasure of being introduced to Renee Labbe; Senior Vice President of Stylesight, the most trusted name in trend.  Their USP is combining accurate forecasting and expert trend research with cutting edge-technology, all on one site.  It links inspirational images, runway analysis, retail and trade show coverage, global events and cultural movements that impact the way we create, connect and live.  Stylesight is headquartered in New York City, London, Hong Kong and Shanghai, with satellite offices in Australia, Brazil, Guangzhou, India, Istanbul, Korea, Los Angeles, Malaysia, Taiwan and Tokyo.  Subscribers include thousands of the world’s leading manufacturers, retailers and designers.

In this exciting interview, we get a true insight into the mind and job role of such an influential figure, as well some precious information on future trend predictions…

PJI: Can you explain to us what SVP of Global Trends entail

RL: I manage a team of Trend Directors at Stylesight.  My team is client facing, meaning we work directly with designers and buyers to help them curate and dissect the trends that are most relevant and directional for their brands.

PJI: What is the best part about your job?

RL: The best part of my job is seeing the expression on a clients’ face turn from worry to excitement as we work with them.  The business of tracking trends is too often dismissed by outsiders as wishy-washy, but for our clients there is real fiscal responsibility attached to the design directives that stem from trend analysis.  Most of our clients are so heavily involved in the process of managing their products from concept to retail that they have little time to address trends in a deep and meaningful way.  In contrast, it’s all we do.

PJI: Who is your typical client?

RL:  Our typical clients are designers, buyers, and retail executives across multiple creative industries.  The fashion industry is our number one market, but interiors, industrial design, and tech industries make up a significant segment of our customer base too.

PJI: What can your clients expect to gain from Stylesight?

RL: Most people make the mistake of thinking that Stylesight is simply a trend service.  We are a full scale CLM system (Creative Life-cycle Management), so what clients can expect to gain is a single creative platform for understanding and tracking trends, selecting those trends to act on, and beginning the initial stages of the development process – all without having to leave our site.

PJI: Where do you source your information from and how long does it take to digest and translate into a trend report?

RL: Information can be sourced from anywhere, but the real talent in trend forecasting and analysis is to be able to see what upcoming designs, people, and products will have real impact with consumers.  It’s being able to feel the direction of the winds of change and being open to that change early.  Our team of forecasters are based in London, headed by our SVP of Trend Forecasting, Isham Sardouk.  He has 25 years of experience in the trend industry and he will always tell you that the first mistake is to continue looking at information in the same way.  If you’re open to change you have to think outside the box, or “throw away the box” as he likes to say.

PJI: How do you feel knowing the power of your position and that your forecasts will in turn influence thousands if not millions of industry individuals?

RL: It’s not a power position to me but I do see it is a huge responsibility.  Our Forecasting teams and our Analysis teams must uncover and track all the biggest and best trends across multiple design disciplines, as well as all of the culminating and potentially important “fringe” trends.  It’s very important to our customers that we leave no stone unturned.

PJI: Where do trends come from and who starts the movement?

RL: Trends come from a lot of different sources, sometimes they are economically-driven and sometimes they based on new technologies, but most often there is a person of influence behind each one.  Tastemakers, trendsetters, and influencers change too, so it’s important to monitor everything.

PJI: Who are the real leaders and biggest influences of trends?  Movie Stars?  Fashion Labels?  Stylesight?

RL: Movie stars are often the ambassadors but not the inventors of a trend.  They have tremendous pressure on them to always look new, so some of them often take hold of new trends quite early.  By the sheer size of their audiences, they can push a trend to mainstream quicker than most.

Fashion Labels can definitely start trends, but they also rely heavily on ambassadors like celebrities, stylists, and editors to propel their styles forward.

Stylesight is definitely a leader in trends but our business does not exist in a vacuum.  A trend always evolves from something else, if we can see its origins and evolution and realistically interpret how its new form (or a potential new form) will resonate with designers and ultimately consumers, we have to talk about it.  Our CEO, Frank Bober, always says that “innovation is about giving people what they don’t yet know they need”.  Stylesight exists to predict and track not just design trends but also consumer trends – so that we can intelligently hypothesize how new and future events, technologies, product offerings, or otherwise might affect their purchasing behaviour.  Predicting the need before they recognize the need itself.

PJI: How do you think ‘online’ has changed trends (Twitter, Bloggers etc) and do you write your own blog?

RL: I love what the Internet has done for the evolution and acceptance of trends.  What I love most about it is that it has paved the way for a whole new platform of individuals (bloggers, etc.) to have their voices heard.  In the past it was a very small group of individuals whose voices reached global design audiences – like Anna Wintour or Karl Lagerfeld.  The more “opinion makers” there are out there, the more “fringe” interpretations of trends can exist.   The world is no longer made up of “bests” chosen by a few, but rather “greats” chosen by many.

I do have my own blog but I’ve never publicized it.  Right now it’s just for me.

PJI: What is the effect of Eco with regards to trends?  Clearly, designers are more conscious of materials and the effect on the environment- what are the results of this?

RL: Some designers are more conscious of materials because they themselves are greenies.  Others are consciously green because their customers are.  Regardless, Eco-behaviours started as a “trendy” thing to do but needs to evolve into a permanent way of life.  Some Eco trends were more readily accepted than others, such as organic produce or paper vs. plastic.  In some product categories and markets now, eco is no longer a differentiator but rather a given.  That being said, I do think a lot of the groundwork for green living was swept away with the stresses consumers faced during the recession.  The good news is, Eco 2.0 is just around the corner.

PJI: What does the future hold for Stylesight?

RL: I can’t discuss all of our future plans, although they are so exciting I would love to!  What I can tell you is that we have always been and continue to be on a mission to improve the creative lives of our subscribers by offering them more efficient tools to get their research done faster, and more accurately with their unique professions and needs in mind.  Everyone wants trend information, but it needs to be both timely and relevant for their specific brands…we put a huge emphasis and investment into customized trend content for Stylesight subscribers so they have the right information for them in the way they need to see it.  Our product road map for the next 12 months alone is going to revolutionize the way people work with trend information.

PJI: Are you able to share with us any of your future trend predictions?

RL: Certainly! One of the things we think you’ll begin to see more of for commercial interiors are pieces of furniture that help achieve some public privacy.  Instead of a back room in a restaurant, picture instead a configuration of upholstered chairs with extremely high backs and sides.  The person sitting in each chair is really visible only to the other people at their table.  I think some of the best versions of these chairs are ones with collapsible sides, like the Duo sofa by Andreas Engesvik, which give you a choice of hiding or not hiding.  We anticipate seeing this more in offices as well, especially in open spaces where it’s necessary to hold small meetings without disturbing your co-workers.  Coalesse, Andreas Engesvik Davis, and Izzy are also doing some nice versions.

PJI: What is your home/fashion style?

RL: One of my friends told me years ago that my style is “effortless chic”, and it always stuck with me.  I don’t believe in fussy, so my environments (like my clothing) tend to in neutral palettes and generally pattern-free.  I tend to be a bit minimal (clutter makes me grouchy) and I need organization but I don’t go crazy if something is out of place.  I believe gallery white is essential for walls, the colour mink (half brown, half grey) is the perfect staple hue, a kitchen always needs a black chalkboard, and fragrant flowers are a must.  I always have lilies.  I plan on building my dream home one day, so I’ve started a list of “design truths” that my architect will need to know about me….for example #8 on the list is An Outdoor Shower is Essential.

PJI: Where is your favourite place in the world to visit?

RL: The French Riviera. I love the food, the sense of leisure that seems to be part of the local DNA, and of course the Mediterranean.

PJI: What is the one thing you can’t live without?

RL: Beautiful environments, indoors or out – they make me happy and calm and energized and restful all at the same time.

Stylesight also has a fantastic section on influential blogs, covering no less that 15 topics ranging from accessories right through to graphics, vintage, street and lifestyle.