About Leigh Rudd, Diary of a Fashion Forecaster, Fashion Sharks, Swinging Sixties, The People's Fashion

How I Became a Fashion Forecaster

August 3, 2017, by Leigh Rudd

“The People’s Fashion”… from the Streets Up

My goal in writing this is to share my many years of experience as a prominent Fashion Forecaster in the international fashion industry from 1968 – 1988 with my company IM International. I had offices around the world with hundreds of A-list clients, many of them designer names familiar to all of us.  In fact I was personally responsible for establishing my own intuitive system for coming up with Fashion Trends a few years ahead of the marketplace.  It became a niche in the fashion industry called “Fashion Forecasting” – in 1966/67 in Paris. Eventually they became known as the IM Trend Report.

For two decades I published the IM Trends for hundreds of clients in the fashion industry in more than eleven countries.

It was a special time in history. In some ways simpler. We had no voicemails or fax machines, no cell phones or cordless phones. We didn’t use computers. So communication, believe it or not, was the written word – snail mail. My Trend Reports were very hands-on: real drawing and writing. Headlines and pages of the Report were done by hand with Letraset.   Swatches were glued on by hand. There was nothing digital. It was a huge ordeal to get out a monthly Trend Report plus Color Supplements plus Fashion Presentations plus consulting. But we were young with boundless energy.  However, it was a 24/7 job. None of us had what you would call social lives. Nothing personal. We were a team.  It was all work, but amazing fun and adventure.

IM International: 1968-1988

I always had an amazing team of very young creatives: artists, photographers, editors, on-the-street reports, textile experts, color experts and “sleuths”.  We traveled around the world doing research picking up cultural information for our Fashion Trends.  I always thought of us as Fashion CIA Agents.  We were everywhere! It wasn’t always easy. Sometimes we had to sneak into European fashion shows, crash celebrity parties… or what-have-you just to feel the vibes – and that was extremely important. From there we would meet as a Team, writing and drawing for our various publications – the IM publications and audio-visual presentations which were shown all over the world mostly by David Wolfe, my Creative Director. Here is a sketch of the King’s Road David drew for me to show our stamping grounds in Chelsea, London.

The King’s Road by David Wolfe, IM Creative Director

The King’s Road in Chelsea, London in 1968. Drawing by my Creative Director at IM International, David Wolfe.

The IM clients would use our Cultural and Fashion Trends for their own collections. For example… Fashion Trends we predicted and published were “Glam Rock”… “Disco Craze”… “Luxe Hippie”… “Distressed Jeans”… “Euro Trash”.  Many young people have asked me over the years how to predict fashion and how to become a forecaster. So I decided to document it.

Leigh Rudd and David Wolfe

So here goes…

I always have been an “Intuitive Creative”, even as a child. Somehow I was always a few years ahead of my school friends in fashion, even in grade school. I came up with design concoctions that none of my friends had ever considered – or even liked. My family sort of snickered at my artistic personality. My mother would say… “Oh that’s just Leigh… She’s like that”… as if it were some sort of disease. But that’s the only way I knew how to be. So there you go. For example, I wore feathers or seed pearls in my hair way before anyone even thought of them. I would create teeny-tiny little pigtails all over my head. And I would paint flowers over everything I could find in the house. I would strip furniture and then paint flowers on them.  It was extremely messy.  But it was a natural mess as far as my family was concerned. So fashion was always in my blood, in fact, the majority of my family were artistic people. Writers, actors, performers, journalists, poets and studio artists.   Sir Clarence Mangan, Irish poet was one of the most famous ones. He was my mother’s (a Mangan) great- Uncles or great-great Uncles.  Also my Aunt Mona was a pretty well-known actress and writer.  Mona Radford was her working name, and she was a feminist as was my mother and grandmother.

So… it wasn’t surprising that I began my career in fashion at the age of nine.

So I recently (yesterday) decided to talk about my story in the fashion industry – and how I got to be a professional “fashion forecaster” as a young woman. Over the years so many have inquired how I ended up as a “famous” fashion savant… or prognosticator of fashion trends… Years ahead of the market. So I’m going to explain it all over the course of the next month or so, so that if you have this interest in the create side of fashion you will follow your heart the way I did.

Oh I forgot… so I designed a hundred-page coloring book called “FASHION TRENDS: THE LONDON LOOK OF THE 60’S” about my life in London during the “swinging 60’s” using my alter-ego Jordan Parker as the main character.

After publishing the adult coloring book I wrote a TV Pilot called “Fashion Sharks” about the same character Jordan Parker, a fashion forecaster who worked in New York City during the 1970’s.  It has won eleven screenwriting awards and I am trying to get it produced as we speak.  Also I am following up this year with a feature film about Jordan and her life in the fashion industry.  So, as usual, I am spinning and spinning with new ideas. Ugh… it gets tiring but it is just who I am. So sorry… but I get tons done!

As a follow-up to this Blog I am creating a DOCUMENTARY about the late 60’s through the 80’s, about the interaction of fashion, music and art and about the arc of the Cultural Revolution. Whew! Makes me feel busy just writing all this down. It is good for me to see how much I have about Jordan and the fashion industry during those crazy days back then – the mini-skirt, Mary Quant, Betsey Johnson, Mick Jagger, the Beatles, Andy Warhol… just to drop a few names.  It was all one story – the “Cultural Revolution”.  There is a huge arc to the revolution which I’d like to talk about with you. And I was there, so I want to share it and my life at the same time.

How did my life in fashion begin?

My career in fashion really began at nine-years-old when I started designing complex wardrobes for my paper dolls. Even then I analyzed the fashion outfits sent with the paper dolls. And they always seemed either too current or behind-the-times. At least I thought so. So I would trash them as quickly as I could. First I would create several Fashion Trends and name them. I remember one called “Rustic” and another one called “Dance Craze”. I would notice the world around me and come up with trends and names that would apply in two years.  I would get out my art supplies and begin designing.

Then I set about designing the wardrobe around that trend. So I would design, color, design the fabric patterns and shapes and make little tabs. Voila! It didn’t take too long before I had a large wardrobe for each doll. But – even better – I would design accessories for myself.  One group was called “Bandana Hair” which speaks for itself.  My school mates would make fun, but then a year later they were asking me to make “Bandana” hair decorations for them.  The question everyone asks is, “How do you know what fashion trends are coming in?”  The answer has always been the same. It is a formula I created for myself as a child. All fashion – in my opinion – comes from the streets. The “People’s Fashion”.  It comes from the culture around us – and I will explain that as I go along.  To me it has always been like that.

For example, fashion in the 60’s was very different in New York than it was in London.  I believe in a Cultural Revolution there are “catapult’ events” which throw a culture into an accelerated Trend. One of them was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Another was the assassination of Robert Kennedy, his brother. And, of course, Dr. Martin Luther King.  In the same way there are certain people who have been cultural leaders… and we’ll touch on that in a later blog. But the Beatles, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and Mary Quant are a few names that say it all.

The Autumn of 1963

November 22, 1963 was when America began a descent into Hell.  It was the day in Dallas when President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated. And in my opinion America was never the same after that. All innocence was lost, just like 9/11.

At the time of President Kennedy’s murder I was down in Florida, and I remember I was walking into a restaurant when I saw the look on peoples’ faces as I entered the main room. It was raw. It was shock and disbelief. It was clear that something unspeakable had just happened.  But who would have guessed? I think that was the first emotional response – one of denial, “How could this be?” There are a few events in history that change a country’s soul – and this was one of them.

Before this horrific event, America was bopping along with a movement to satirize the commercialization of America which included Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein who was a friend of mine.  There was a saucy, cynical look at consumerism, but it was clever, bright and amusing. It was a close community of artists. I remember going around on Saturday mornings with a painter friend of mine “Spike” and it was tradition to go to various painters lofts to talk “work” – art that is. All of the artists in this crowd were “pop” artists.

The “mod” look from Carnaby Street London had not hit America yet, nor had the Beatles. They were not on the Ed Sullivan show until 1964, and they hit just at the right time – as America was in deep grief and chaos.

But we’ll go back to that. In the summer of 1963 we had not yet bombed Vietnam,

Dylan had just released his first album. It was the high season of Peter, Paul and Mary.  The best-selling book that summer was Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique – new because it spoke to middle class suburban American housewives – the “ordinary, regular woman”. Andy Warhol was in the June 1963 issue of Harper’s Bazaar… as a New Face… Defining the Decade…” It was that year that Andy Warhol discovered “Baby Jane” Holzer.

Around that time I was a young intern-assistant to American fashion designers Bonnie Cashin… then to John Weitz – both amazing experiences.

Soon after that I moved to Paris and London.  And that was when I began my career as a “Fashion Forecaster”.

To be continued…

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6 thoughts on “How I Became a Fashion Forecaster

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