She predicts the big trends long before they happen

September 25, 1991|By Meg Sullivan | Meg Sullivan,Los Angeles Daily News

LOS ANGELES -- Li Edelkoort went out of her way to find a shirt decorated with blocks of color to wear to an exhibit of paintings by a Russian abstract artist known for his geometric works.

Now, Edelkoort believes that, without knowing it, she had tapped into the current trend in fashion for '60s-style color blocking.

Some people forecast the weather. Others do fortunes. Edelkoort specializes in the shape of things to come.

"We've been looking for an alternative to the grids and aggressive lines of high tech, and the answer is to mix in rounded, almost '70s-inspired lines," she told a gathering in Los Angeles of architects and designers.

As the director of the trendiest trend-forecasting company in Paris, Edelkoort predicts the shapes as well as the colors and styles that will be popular with shoppers anywhere from two to four years in advance.

Her clients not only include interior designers and furniture manufacturers, but also textile, clothing, cosmetics and even car manufacturers.

No less than five major Italian and French couturier houses subscribe to her forecasting service. Other clients include Estee Lauder, Nissan and Esprit.

"If I didn't have Li, I would think I was going out on my own trip," said Susie Tompkins, Esprit's co-owner and creative director. "She really confirms your intuitions."

Occasionally, Edelkoort, a sober-looking woman who wears her dark hair in a tight chignon, puts her insight to practical application. Over the years, she has designed fabric for IKEA, the Sweden-based furniture company, and helped promote linen for a Belgian trade group. She also is at work on a perfume line so secretive that the project has a code name.

Mostly, however, Edelkoort is known for telling other people what to do.

Edelkoort predicted in the early 1980s that consumers would hunger for a style embodying traditional American values that she called "pioneer" for its emphasis on Canadian jackets, wool blankets, patchwork quilts and feminine leisure wear.

"This is what ultimately became the Ralph Lauren look," she said.

Having become enamored of the get-ups worn by New York's bicycle messengers, she forecasted a wide-spread acceptance of their biking shorts in combination with bold ethnic prints.

She also predicted consumers would go for the pumpkin color that has been so pervasive over the past two years.

Edelkoort, a native of Holland, said she discovered her talents in art school.

"I always knew exactly what should be done, but I'm not a good sketcher or designer, so I was always telling my classmates what to do," she said.

Now she has a 10-year-old trend-predicting service in an old manufacturing plant on Paris' Left Bank and heads an offshoot pool of free-lance forecasters called Trend Union.

Every six months, the group, whose name comes from the union of their efforts, produces a slide show and a book that resembles a photo album. It is filled with photographs and fabrics in unusual combinations. A recent combination: white linen and gray flannel.

"To the average person, that may sound like nothing," Edelkoort said. "But several clothing designers stopped at the page and said, 'I could design a whole line around this!'"

Edelkoort claims she doesn't know how her firm picks up trends.

"We don't do anything on purpose," she insisted.

But she reads at least two newspapers a day, travels four times a year to the United States, twice a year to Japan and at least twice a year to all the countries in the European Common Market. Her staff also leafs through nearly 50 magazines a month.

She credits a visit to a Buddhist monk 10 years ago for the realization that cooler colors were going to be upstaged by oranges, browns and reds.

"I listen to fate," she said.

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