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Trend Mechanisms in

Contemporary Fashion
Maria Mackinney-Valentin

Figure 1
Gymnocarpium Newman, 1829.
©The Royal Library Copenhagen.

Introduction
This paper explores the possibility of conceptualizing a “natural”
law of trend mechanisms in fashion. While fashion belongs to the
realm of artifice, sociality, and culture, “natural” is here to be
understood as an inherent mechanism beyond the whims of human
actions. Fashion is studied within an Anglo-American context as
both a production system and a meaning system. Fashion as an
© 2012 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
DesignIssues: Volume 29, Number 1 Winter 2013 67
industry covers fashionable clothes, but it also is related to, for
instance, accessories and the beauty industry. Fashion studies is a
multi-disciplinary field, concerned with a broad range of topics
related to fashion from gender, sexuality, and body perception to
consumer behavior, creative process, cultural history, and business.
This paper looks specifically at fashion as a “system of inno-
vation,” according to which the basic parameter of change revolves
around industry and consumers in the context of social and cul-
tural agendas.1 Here, such change is defined as trends, understood
as the visual manifestation of trend mechanisms. Reviewing the
literature on fashion and change from the early nineteenth century
to the present, concepts of dichotomy, point of origin, hierarchy,
and line of development have generally been considered the main
organizing paradigms of trends in fashion. However, these para-
digms have been challenged as the conditions for fashion produc-
tion and consumption have been altered by globalization and mass
fashion, especially in the course of the twentieth century and with
the explosion of digital communication in the early twenty-first
century. The research objective is to challenge the traditional tem-
poral organization of trend mechanisms by proposing a spatial
alternative that may constitute a comprehensive and contemporary
description of such mechanisms. This spatial conception is charac-
terized by being relational, formative, and horizontal rather than
oppositional, finite, and hierarchical. Although this endeavor is
predominantly theoretical, examples will be provided primarily
from the retro trend in fashion as it appears in the early twenty-
first century.
This novel understanding of trend mechanisms is inspired
by the “rhizome,” as both a botanical phenomenon and philosoph-
ical model or concept. Botanically speaking, rhizomes—also
referred to as creeping rootstalks or rootstocks—are horizontal,
underground stems that strike new roots down into the soil, and
shoot new stems up to the surface. These plants grow mainly by
vegetative reproduction through the rhizome. Depending on the
context, this underground procreation might be described as either
invasive—by gardeners trying to rid their flowerbeds of the vigor-
ous bishop’s weed—or inspirational—by trend scholars interested
in understanding the nature of trends using the sprawling net-
work of the rhizome. In the latter case, this organic understanding
is concerned with the complicated, subterranean structure—the
trend mechanism—that produces the visual, material or otherwise
aesthetic superterranean manifestations: the trend (see Figure 1).

Rhizome as Philosophical Concept


The rhizome is popular outside its earthy origin. Carl Jung took up
the rhizome as an image of life. In his memoirs, Erinnerungen,
Träume, Gedanken [Memories, Dreams, Reflections], he aligns his
1 Christopher Breward, Fashion (Oxford:
Oxford University, 2003), 63. life with a plant that lives on its rhizome. Its true life is invisible,

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hidden in the rhizome. The part that appears above the ground
lasts only a single summer. Then it withers away—an ephemeral
apparition.2 While a fitting image for life, the rhizome also seems
to hold potential as a concept for describing the invisible mecha-
nisms generating trends as “ephemeral apparitions” in fashion.
French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and psychoanalyst Félix Guat-
tari perceive the rhizome as a conceptual vehicle for renegotiating
binary logic—what they visualize as a tree (arbor), in philosophy.3
The stable structure of the tree with its vertical trunk, roots, and
crown is perceived of a system organized according to dichotomy,
hierarchy, and points of origin: “Arborescent systems are hierarchi-
cal systems with centers of significance.”4 Translating this arbores-
cent system to fashion corresponds with a centralized or
polycentric structure and focuses on fashion cities, designer, lead-
ers, narratives, novelty, and class as organizing paradigms.
In contrast to the arborescent system, the rhizome is an
open or “uncertain” system that operates horizontally without a
center.5 This image departs from much of the existing trend theory,
which tends to be determined by human agency in some form:
status anxiety, sexual allure, trade opportunities, current events,
pleasure of novelty, or adoption process. Trends according to the
natural law of the rhizome seemingly cultivate themselves: “a
model that is perpetually in construction or collapsing […] a pro-
cess that is perpetually prolonging itself.”6 The rhizome as an
attempt to conceptualize trend mechanisms is concerned with this
“ability” to transform, rather than with “what” is being trans-
formed. In this sense, the focus is more on the trend mechanisms
than on the trends as such.

From Temporal to Spatial


Fashion trends and trend mechanisms are considered a temporal
phenomenon on several levels. The fashion industry is organized
in seasons; fashion adoption is a temporal process, indicated with
terms such as “early adopters” and “late majority;” and the entire
notion of novelty is imagined as a condition of “ceaseless revolu-
tion.”7 Each of these phenomena assumes a diachronic progression
2 Carl Jung, Erinnerungen, Träume,
Gedanken [Memories, dreams, reflec- of time.
tions] (Meilen: Walter-Verlag, 1993), 16. Especially since the 1980s, a gradual shift has occurred in
3 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A fashion production, mediation, and consumption; a larger degree
Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and
Schizophrenia (Minneapolis: University of
of decentralization has emerged because of, among other things,
Minnesota Press, 1996), 3-25. developments in globalization, digital communication, and social
4 Ibid., 16. change. Not only do design, production, and consumption happen
5 Gilles Deleuze, Negotiations 1972-1990
in different places; fashion trends also are no longer governed by
(New York: Columbia University Press,
1995), 149. designers, brands, or innovators alone but instead operate on a
6 Ibid., 21. more democratic premise, where anyone is potentially a designer
7 John Rae, Statement of Some New or innovator and anything is potentially a trend. One of the results
Principles on the Subject of Political
of this shift has been the assumption that trends in contemporary
Economy (New York: Augustus M. Kelley
Publications, 1983), 266. fashion are relative, individualistic, and therefore move so errati-

DesignIssues: Volume 29, Number 1 Winter 2013 69


cally that they may in fact have diminished their relevance, as sug-
gested by Teri Agins, Dana Thomas, and Erin Magner. 8 To
determine whether this outlook is true, we turn to a spatial model
to describe trends and trend mechanisms, first by identifying how
the spatial mode challenges implicit characteristics of the temporal
understanding:9
• Issue 1: Dichotomy. Complication of the opposition
between innovators and late adopters, high and low,
novel and old, unique and mass-produced, in and out,
cheap and rich, young and old, right and wrong,
consumer and designer, erotic and chaste, covered
and exposed, past and present, new and used.
• Issue 2: Point of Origin. Complication of the role of fashion
leader, designer, brand, dominating event, ideal, attitude,
technology, and erogenous zone.
• Issue 3: Hierarchy. Complication of social, creative, and
economic hierarchies.
• Issue 4: Line of Development. Complication of temporal,
traceable trajectories.

The rhizomatic understanding of trend mechanisms tries to exam-


ine and resolve these issues, which generally are rooted in an
understanding of trend mechanisms as a temporal process. The
conceptual framework provided by the rhizome opens new ways
of understanding and describing trend mechanisms as they
8 See Teri Agins, The End of Fashion: The evolve, rather than after the fact. In addition, this system intro-
Mass Marketing of the Clothing Business duces a multi-direction process of development that moves accord-
(New York: William Morrow, 1999); Dana ing to variation rather than revolution, which allows for the
Thomas, Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its
coexistence of apparent contradictions as potentially productive
Luster (New York: The Penguin Press,
2007); and Erin Magner, “The Death of rather than as a limitation.
Trends: Part I,” JC Report, August 4, While the arborescent system is understood as fixing social
2008, http://jcreport.com/features/fash- orders, meaning constructions, or creative authenticity, the rhi-
ion-features/lifestyle/2008/08/04/the-
death-of-trends-part-i/ (accessed August
zome is defined by the opposite— namely, as open, changing, and
20, 2011); Erin Magner, “The Death of connectable: “Any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything
Trends: Part II,” JC Report, August 11, other, and must be. This is very different from the tree or root,
2008, http://jcreport.com/features/fash-
which plots a point, fixes an order.”10 This dynamic and open
ion-features/lifestyle/2008/08/11/the-
death-of-trends-part-ii/ (accessed August system is driven by an inherent mechanism of motion, created
20, 2011); Erin Magner, “The Death of through conjunction.
Trends: Part III,” JC Report, August 18, The attempt to explore the inherent mechanisms of trends is
2008, http://jcreport.com/features/
not new. An early example is seen in Recurring Cycles of Fashion
fashion-features/lifestyle/2008/08/18/
the-death-of-trends-iii/ (accessed August (1937), in which Agnes Brooks Young performs quantitative analy-
20, 2011). sis of the shape of dresses, as an attempt to determine whether
9 Based on Maria Mackinney-Valentin, On universal laws govern changes in fashion trends, in the period
the Nature of Trends: A Study of Trend
from 1760 to 1937. Although her concept of studying skirt yokes as
Mechanisms in Contemporary Fashion,
PhD thesis, Copenhagen: The Royal a parameter of change and her assumption that trends move in
Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of cycles of 30 to 40 years is not applicable to the current fashion
Design, 2010. premise, her suggestion that fashion trends change according to
10 Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand
Plateaus, 7.

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“variations and modifications” is an early indication that trends
are perhaps not driven by continuous revolutions in which the
trend in power is overthrown to install a new sovereign.11 So
although conditions for trends have changed since Recurring Cycles
of Fashion was written, its perspective provides an early sign of the
potential to perceive trends according to spatial dimensions: “The
rhizome operates by variation, expansion, conquest, capture, off-
shoots.”12 The rhizome visualizes how shifts in fashion might take
place according to an inherent, self-generating logic, rather than as
radical shifts.
The four issues that run across disciplines, agendas, and
historical context seem to impede the goal of achieving a more
comprehensive and contemporary description of trend mecha-
nisms. The following sections provide an account of each issue and
how the rhizomatic understanding might offer tools for describing
the natural laws of trends.

Dichotomy
Perhaps the most important issue raised is that of “dichotomy”
because the binary structure is a fundamental organizing principle
in the traditional way of understanding trends and trend mecha-
nisms. The following paragraphs explore how such dichotomy has
organized trends and trend mechanisms so that we might deter-
mine how the rhizome resolves these issues in relation to contem-
porary fashion.
For instance, when trend theory operates with status repre-
sentation as the key driver of change, we see dichotomy’s influence.
The process of distinction and imitation to create social identity
through the demonstration of social currency can range from eco-
nomic standing to more subversive values, such as social courage.
This social take on trend theory can be seen as generally based on
the opposition between fashion leaders and fashion followers, them
and us, right and wrong, young and old.13 These dichotomies have
become more difficult to uphold because of the new, destabilizing
social strategies used to create and maintain social distinction. This
new “logic of wrong” involves the intentional fashion error that
serves as an ambiguous tool in status representation. The key lies in
the social paradox of celebrating the old, imperfect, out-dated, and
even ugly in an age obsessed with youth, perfection, beauty, and
the new. Examples of logic of wrong are seen in promoting, for
instance, grandmothers in a culture obsessed with youth (e.g., the
11 Agnes Brooks Young, Recurring Cycles of use of grey wigs in designer Jean Paul Gaultier’s autumn/winter
Fashion (New York: Harper and Brothers collection, 2011); the homeless in an age of relative prosperity (e.g.,
Publishers, 1937), 3.
12 Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand
the homeless aesthetic of designer Vivienne Westwood’s autumn/
Plateaus, 21. winter collection, 2010); outcasts (e.g., albino model Stephen
13 As seen in Georg Simmel’s theory of Thompson, face of fashion brand Givenchy in 2011); or nerds (e.g.,
distinction and imitation, On Individuality
Norwegian chess player Magnus Carlsen as face in a campaign for
and Social Forms (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1971). Dutch fashion brand G-Star, 2010).

DesignIssues: Volume 29, Number 1 Winter 2013 71


Celebrating something—that is generally considered to be cultur-
ally or socially unacceptable—blurs dichotomies of fashion leader
and fashion follower, or outcast. This celebration of the unaccept-
able serves to delay the process of emulation, which is essential to
the social dynamic of distinction and imitation. This apparent con-
fusion creates trend patterns that are less cyclically determined
and therefore less temporally organized than the more unilinear
models, such as Everett Rogers’s “S-curve” model of the innova-
tion adoption process.14 The rhizomatic understanding of trend
mechanisms allows for the social dynamic to be viewed as multi-
directional, rather than chaotic or individualistic.
The fashion market, concerned as it is with the exchange of
fashion goods, generally finds itself in the precarious situation of
needing to produce and promote novelty—and to do so in the con-
text of both increased decentralization and democratization while
still maintaining the cyclical structure of fashion production and
presentation (fashion weeks, textile fairs, forecasting books, etc.).
The fashion industry is working to accommodate this dis-
junction through, for instance, the introduction of new mid-sea-
sons, such as pre-fall and pre-spring, and by redefining exclusivity
as equal to luxury items. However, the operation according to
dichotomies—of old and new, consumer and designer, high-end
and high-street, this season and last, in and out—still poses chal-
lenges in the face of the decentralized forces seen in, for example,
do-it-yourself (DIY) production that allows everyone to be a
designer, micro e-commerce (e.g., Etsy.com), and user-driven fash-
ion companies (e.g., threadless.com).
Dichotomy organizes other areas of trend mechanisms as
well. Trends as driven by shifting seductive ideals operate with a
tension between, for instance, the erotic and chaste or the covered
and uncovered.15 However, opposing ideals co-exist—skinny and
voluptuous, androgynous and bombshell—which complicates the
14 Everett Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations clear dichotomy. In addition, zeitgeist—a notion establishing fash-
(Florence: Free Press, 2003). ion trends as reflections of current events, moods, and attitudes—
15 For a theory of contemporary seductive- assumes a dichotomy between true and false.16 In mediated
ness and shifting erogenous zones, see
fashion, this understanding of the connection between zeitgeist
James Laver, “Fashion: A Detective
Story,” Vogue, January 1, 1959, www. and trend is often more a cabinet of mirrors playing reflections up
gbacg.org/costume-resources/original/ against each other than a 1:1 image. These distorted zeitgeist
articles/LaverFashion.pdf (accessed June reflections make for compelling but often contrasting media narra-
5, 2007).
tives. When Dutch designing-duo Viktor & Rolf presented their
16 See Paul Nystrom, Economics of Fashion
(New York: Ronald Press, 1928) and 2006 collections, fashion editor of the International Herald Tribune,
Evelyn Brannon, Fashion Forecasting Suzy Menkes, argued that the use of veils, layering, hoods, and
(New York: Fairchild Publications, 2005). long lengths was symptomatic of a “muslimization of fashion.”
17 Suzy Menkes, “The New Sobriety:
Covering Up the Body,” International
Menkes suggested that the designers were giving their customers
Herald Tribune, February 27, 2006, protection in uneasy times, characterized by wars in Afghanistan
www.nytimes.com/2006/02/27/style/2 and Iraq, riots in the suburbs of Paris, and the “Danish Cartoon
7ihtrdarkhtml?scp=1&sq=%22the%20
Crisis.”17 However, at “The House of Viktor & Rolf,” a retrospective
new%20sobriety%22&st=cse (accessed
April 22, 2011). exhibition at the Barbican in London (2008), the designers cited

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nostalgia and the popularity of veiling in the 1950s rather than
contemporary political events as the inspiration of the collection.
These challenges concerning dichotomy as an organizing principle
in trend theory appear to be a theoretical weakness: How is it pos-
sible to be in and out of fashion at the same time? How can the old
be new? However, the organic understanding of trend mechanisms
in the rhizome turns the challenges into potentials. In the rhizom-
atic model, contradictions become part of the polymorphous struc-
ture of the trend mechanisms. Concerning the rhizome and
dichotomy, Deleuze and Guattari explain in A Thousand Plateaus
that “there is no dualism, no ontological dualism between here and
there, no axiological dualism between good and bad.”18 The rhi-
zome allows for a way to imagine trends without dichotomy
because the organization of trend mechanisms is not oppositional
but relational. So the absence of a reliable dichotomy does not
equal anarchy or the loss of relevance for trends. What binds com-
posite phenomena together in a trend is the subterranean network;
each surface manifestation is related, rather than in opposition,
because each one is rooted in the same, open system. Thus, the
visual expressions in a trend are neither the same nor in contrast,
neither good nor bad, neither right nor wrong; but are part of the
same network and, therefore, enter into a proliferating alliance.

Point of Origin
A trend is traditionally understood according to a “center of signif-
icance,” such as a creative starting point, a center of power, or
meaningful content. However, the notion of points of origin is
problematic when considering contemporary fashion.
Because conceptions of status, luxury, and prestige are
terms currently being redefined, the point of origin understood as,
for instance, fashion leader is no longer reserved for the economic
or cultural elite. Rather, a multi-directional process of emulation
may be in operation, concurrently engaging conspicuous con-
sumption, upward diffusion, and simultaneous adoption.19 In this
open structure, the conception of a fashion leader may still be gov-
erned by the negotiation of social currency, but who holds this cur-
rency is continuously being redefined.
Especially through the twentieth century, the fashion indus-
try in general and the role of the designer in particular have been
18 Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand
the point of origin of fashion trends when understood as driven by
Plateaus, 20.
19 See Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of capitalist market logic. However, in considering that trends cur-
the Leisure Class: An Economic Study rently tend to operate in a more decentralized way in relation to
of Institutions (London: Unwin Books, both fashion-production and consumer-adoption, this notion of
1970); George A. Field, “The Status Float
Phenomenon—The Upward Diffusion of
market as point of origin is more ambiguous. Not only does the
Innovation,” Business Horizon 8 (1970): consumer compete with the designer as the source of creative
45-52; and Charles King, “Fashion expression and innovation; but the popularity of slow fashion and
Adoption: A Rebuttal to the ‘Trickle-
pre-owned clothes also challenges the role of the market, which is
Down’ Theory,” in Toward Scientific
Marketing (1963): 108-25. therefore no longer as omnipotent in dictating trends. However,

DesignIssues: Volume 29, Number 1 Winter 2013 73


the various forces in fashion as market operate relationally to each
other within the same, organic framework. For instance, looking at
the retro-fashion trend, key elements such as crafting, style reviv-
als in designer-wear, and second-hand fashion might represent
potentially different points of origin, but together they contribute
to the same trend by forming a relational alliance.
Zeitgeist implies a center of significance in the shape of cur-
rent events, values, or moods. However, identifying this center is
complicated when considering a contemporary trend such as
second hand or vintage fashion, which has been persistent in Euro-
American markets since the late 1990s. The zeitgeist narratives
explaining the trend have shifted from nostalgia with the turn of
the millennium, to investment shopping with the recession, to
green fashion with the concerns over climate changes. Seen in rela-
tion to the rhizome, these changing narratives are relational and
constitute a multiple, shifting point of origin but remain within the
same trend alliance.
With the democratization of fashion geographically, socially,
and industrially, the notion of a definite, stable center no longer
holds. Trends are not necessarily rooted in one place, one person,
one brand, one look, one meaning, or one seductive ideal or eroge-
nous zone. That no singular instance directs or controls trends cor-
responds with the organization of the rhizome as a “system
without a General and without an organizing memory.”20 In this
space, the notion of trends as “being” understood as organized
with a stable geographical center, origin, or meaning is replaced
with the notion of trends as “becoming.” Becoming is described by
Deleuze and Guattari as that which happens in the process, or
between points: “A line of becoming is not defined by points that it
connects, or by points that compose it; on the contrary, it passes
between points.”21 The focus here is on the spatiality of this con-
ception of trend mechanism. (The questions of line and linearity
are discussed in the section, “Line of Development.”) So rather
than developing diachronically according to a temporal trajectory
between points, such as a specific location, materiality, or direc-
tion, trends as becoming follow a spatial dynamic that moves
according to “determinations, magnitudes, and dimensions,”
according to which “discernibility of points disappear.”22 This
characterization raises the notion that trends grow not out of
points—inception, demise, innovators, brands, events—but from
the “middle.”23 If trends do in fact grow spatially out of the
“between” or middle in a process of becoming, rather than from
static being, we have a dynamic alternative to what may appear to
20 Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand
be anarchy, chaos, and even a termination of trends.24
Plateaus, 21. The impression, then, is that rather than “anything
21 Ibid., 293. goes,” trends seem to be moving by incremental steps. Instead of
22 Ibid., 8 and 294.
operating with temporal, unidirectional units or trajectories, trend
23 Ibid., 294.
24 Magner, “The Death of Trends: 1.”

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mutations seem to be spatial in the rhizomatic sense of growing
out of the middle in varying dimensions and expansions—what
Deleuze and Guattari call “directions in motion.”25 This description
emphasizes how trends neither remain the same nor shift radically
in ceaseless revolution. In other words, the concept of difference
is still central to trends but not necessarily in an oppositional,
centralized way.

Hierarchy
Trend theory operates with several types of social, creative, and
economic hierarchies. Allowing any sense of time lag, status repre-
sentation, novelty, and obsolescence into the adoption process
assumes a vertical trending process and thereby a hierarchy. How-
ever, the very notion of decentralization and democratization
assumes a movement away from a vertical organization and
toward a more horizontal structure, which logically threatens to
dismantle the very idea of hierarchies.
In a social context, the multi-directional, simultaneous
adoption process and ambiguous status representation challenge
the traditional social hierarchy of fashion trends. Social identity
becomes a multi-directional dynamic that subverts sartorial sig-
nals and stalls the process of emulation, rather than operating
within the social hierarchy of conspicuous consumption.
Trends might be moving so fast that the conditions under
which trends can be perceived no longer exist. The reduction of the
time lag introduces a condition of simultaneity that seems incom-
patible with the structure of the fashion cycle. When the institu-
t ionalizat ion of sell-by dates as a means of st imulat ing
consumption is disturbed, the prospect of chaos seems eminent
because the hierarchy is disrupted.
So although the fashion systems still assume a hierarchy—
from designers, brands, and fashion weeks to media and celebri-
ties—the hierarchy of the fashion industry has been gradually
levelled as a result of globalization, the free flow of digital trend
information, democratization of the design process that scrambles
high and low, the consumer as designer, and the disruption of the
seasonal fashion cycles. The question is how the loss of hierarchy
in the fashion industry might give way to a new structure for
trends. The rhizome is described as “an acentered, nonhierarchical,
nonsignifying system”26—that is, one that operates through differ-
ence and relation, rather than according to hierarchical approaches
that set out to eliminate difference. Difference in the vocabulary of
Deleuze and Guattari is not a boundary, but rather a potential. In
this sense, dismantling hierarchical structures through decentral-
ization and democratization is replaced not by chaos but by an
open, adaptable system that sees difference as fundamental to
25 Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand
trends. The popularity of one-off designer collaborations with
Plateaus, 20.
26 Ibid., 20.

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mass fashion companies (“capsule collections”) epitomizes such
dismantling of hierarchy. It is seen most famously with H&M,
which has collaborated with high-end fashion brands such as Karl
Lagerfeld, Versace, Marni, Lanvin, and Maison Martin Margiela,
thus demonstrating the possibilities for production in an open
system where differences co-exist.
While the chronological progression of time may be chal-
lenged, the role of the past and memory seems invigorated in fash-
ion trends. Memory and the past as notions of temporal
simultaneity are constantly reorganized in fashion to come up with
new constellations. This perspective echoes T. S. Eliot’s dialectical
understanding of past and present in the essay, “Tradition and the
Individual Talent,” in which he argues that “the past is altered by
the present as much as the present is directed by the past.”27 This
understanding of the past challenges the hierarchy of time. Current
fashion is suspended in this perpetual present, where dress practice
takes place in a laboratory, a “Supermarket of Style,”28 in which the
distinction between past and present is distorted because of the
lack of organizing memory. The reprocessing of the past is seen not
as old news, but as a demonstration of how an inherent trend
mechanism operates on a premise of prolific variation of the fash-
ion wardrobe of all ages. The concern is less with what is mixed—
the points of origin—and more with the ability of a trend to connect
and proliferate according to the spatial themes of dimensions,
growing from the middle and in-between places.

Line of Development
The underground rhizome keeps growing, changing, and moving
as some superterranean fronds wither and new ones spring up. In
Webster’s New Encyclopedic Dictionary, a trend is defined as a “line
of development.” This definition seems to imply that a trend oper-
ates over time according to a linear progression. In Illusion of the
End, Jean Baudrillard, faced with the continuous presence of retro-
spection, contemplates the prospect of “the end of linearity.”29 The
question of linearity is pertinent to the rhizomatic understanding
of trends. Linearity was problematic in the previous three issues,
for instance, in terms of maintaining economic and social hierar-
chies or in terms of the expected lifespan of a trend, from incep-
tion to demise, as following a temporal trajectory. What this
section suggests is that lines are still key to defining trends and
trend mechanisms, but the lines are to be understood as spatial
rather than temporal.
27 T. S. Eliot, The Sacred Wood: Essays on The general practice among both trend scholars and trend
Poetry and Criticism (New York: Faber
and Faber, 1997), 41.
forecasters is to operate with a temporal understanding of trends. A
28 Ted Polhemus, Style Surfing: What to distinction is made according to the length of a trend over time.
Wear in the 3rd Millennium (London:
Thames and Hudson, 1996), 93.
29 Jean Baudrillard, Illusion of the End
(Boston: Polity Press, 1994), 10.

76 DesignIssues: Volume 29, Number 1 Winter 2013


A megatrend tends to run over a period of at least a decade and is
concerned with large-scale shifts in cultural indicators (e.g., cycles
in the economy). A fashion trend, meanwhile, is understood to run
over a period of three months to three years. However, if we con-
sider a trend such as retro, in its latest reincarnation, it can be
viewed as running from the late 1990s to 2012; a fashion trend
apparently can span over more than a decade without, however,
being a megatrend. The reason is that megatrends are seen as con-
cerned with values on a societal level, while a trend such as retro is
also driven by factors specific to trend mechanisms, such as social
identity, market logic, and seductive ideals. A weakness of termi-
nology thus seems to be rooted in this temporal paradigm. A spatial
understanding opens up the possibility of understanding trends as
a horizontal, spatial flow, rather than a temporal trajectory.
In Negotiations, Deleuze describes how he sees lines as the
basic component. He describes these lines spatially, as constituting
a geography or cartography. The lines are linked to the emphasis
on dynamic becoming rather than on static being. Linking the two
definitions of a trend, the line of development is understood as a
“line of becoming”—not a line defined by the points that it con-
nects but by the middle space it occupies. The multiple lines are
seen to operate spatially according to dimensions and directions in
motion. Similar to a map, a trend as a spatial construction is “con-
nectable in all of its dimensions.”30 This concept suggests that a
trend, because it grows from the middle, prolongs itself by being
always susceptible to modifications and by having multiple entry-
ways. As these lines are torn and reversed, taking part in variation
and expansion, a trend is constantly mutating and proliferating
while still being identifiable as a trend. Trends in a rhizomatic con-
text, then, are not temporal trajectories where lines are instrumen-
tal for connecting points. Rather the cartographic image visualizes
the open, multi-dimensional trend mechanism where the ability to
connect and mutate is key.
Deleuze and Guattari introduce the term “line of flight” to
describe this open process of connecting and modifying. A line of
flight and a line of development are understood here as similar.
Neither have an absolute origin nor a final destination. The pro-
gression is concerned with the process of becoming, rather than
with a state of being or the ability of the inherent trend mechanism
to progress by cultivating itself. One of the interesting perspectives
with the concept of line of flight is the suggestion that trends are,
in fact, not moving so quickly and erratically that they might be
considered irrelevant as a concept but might, in fact, be moving
relatively slowly and organically because they mutate and expand
dimensionally rather than changing radically.

30 Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand


Plateaus, 12.

DesignIssues: Volume 29, Number 1 Winter 2013 77


Conclusion
Note that while I have argued here for a spatial understanding
of trend mechanisms, I do not intend to suggest that temporal
dynamics are not a key factor in fashion trends. A temporal
dynamic is central to the organization of the fashion industry, to
the adoption process of new items, in the reflection of current
events in fashion, and to the shifting body and beauty ideals. Nev-
ertheless, I have noted the limits of a temporal understanding of
trends when considering democratization and decentralization. I
have thus called for an alternative to the temporal understanding
of trends and trend mechanisms by suggesting a spatial alternative
in the form of the rhizome philosophical model or concept
inspired by the botanical rhizome or rootstalk.
The rhizome forms an uncertain or open system, according
to which trends grow horizontally through mutation, variation,
and connection rather than through radical shifts organized by
dichotomy, points of origin, and hierarchies. This “spatial under-
standing” views trends as developing slowly and gradually, as
opposed to the temporal understanding of contemporary fashion
trends that tend to be viewed as chaotic, relative, and changing
radically with high frequency. The rhizome provides a conceptual
framework that contains complexity and discrepancy without
reducing the ambiguity and pluralism of trends. The rhizome pro-
vides tools for describing how a trend cultivates itself from the
middle by connecting disparate elements, exploring new territo-
ries, and perpetually prolonging itself.

78 DesignIssues: Volume 29, Number 1 Winter 2013


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