the Insiders


September 23, 2011 3:52 PM

Business, Retail

Fashion, Faster than Light

Things are speeding up everywhere and the old rules are failing. Even Einstein's been taken down a peg, but fashion before physics....

Things are speeding up everywhere and the old rules are failing.

Even Einstein's been taken down a peg, but fashion before physics.

H&M and Zara and the other fast-fashion chains are just one thing, a part of the acceleration. The whole industry seems over caffeinated. Deliveries are coming quicker, supply lines are shortening. Consumers -- whose behaviors analysts used to confidently predict 10 years out -- are frenetically bouncing from one thing to the next, from e-mail to blogs to YouTube to Facebook to Twitter to mobile everything and beyond. They are using all of these tools to absorb, dissect, discuss and forward fashion.

Young people today are not just coming of age in a time of economic disturbance and technological revolution, they are building a new shopping world.

They're using apps to check prices against competitors. They're choosing free delivery over food courts and mall parking lots. They're mixing and matching and making their own choices. In the words of consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow, whom I spoke with for a recent story on how fashion is evolving, Gen-Y shoppers don't want to "pay homage to a great designer. This generation wants to be involved. It's really, in effect, them being the designer."

This all suggests that the consumer's idea of what fashion is will only become more important and that stores and brands and designers will have to continue to stay relevant by only a great deal of effort and maybe some luck. By the time the economy bounces back, the rules of the game will likely be very different.

If there are rules at all. Long held beliefs have been falling right and left lately.

Scientists in Switzerland this week revealed that for three years they've been shooting tiny particles around a 454-mile track at what appears to be faster than the speed of light -- a revelation that if it's borne out would upturn Einstein, undue the cosmological constant and alter forever our basic understanding of how the universe works.

Faster than 186,000 miles a second?

Those still drawing a paycheck in retail and those who have jetted from New York to London to Milan for the spring shows can be forgiven a little yawn.

They've been moving faster than light for some time.
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