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The Psychology Behind Fashion's Current Obsession With Sparkle

Gloom plus fashion apparently equals glitter.
The runway at Coach Spring 2017. Photo: Thomas Concordia/Getty Images

The runway at Coach Spring 2017. Photo: Thomas Concordia/Getty Images

In case you missed it, sparkle has been a major trend on the runways in recent seasons. From Tom Ford's sequined "Beverly Hills" jumpers for Fall 2018 to Karl Lagerfeld's sea-faring glitter girls at Chanel cruise, there's no denying that the twinkly stuff and all of its various superlatives (gleaming! glimmering! shimmering! dazzling!) are having a serious moment. In fact, glitter boots were so pervasive last year — they made appearances at Saint Laurent, Marc Jacobs, Chanel, Isabel Marant and J. Crew, to name just a few — that several members of the Fashionista staff were inspired to purchase a pair. 

But what does the fashion industry's seemingly sudden penchant for shine really mean? Are designers really that inspired by the disco era, or is this simply a continuation of '80s mania? Are we so obsessed with the KiraKira app that we're trying to replicate it IRL with our wardrobes, or is the predilection for sparkly things part of a wider social commentary about a deep sense of cultural malaise? Whatever the answer, straightforward logic suggests that no brand worth its salt would carry on dousing its designs with glitter if there wasn't an ample demand for it.

Before dissecting the sartorial side effects of today's bumpy political climate, it's worth dialing back to the year 2015, when a little-known designer by the name of Alessandro Michele arrived on the scene. "The beginning of his reign at Gucci was a real catalyst for change in fashion," reflects Anna Ross, the womenswear editor for trend forecasting hub, WGSN. "His magpie, super-eccentric eye completely changed the face of the industry. Since then, sparkle and shine have cropped up everywhere — from the usually more somber vision of Rick Owens to the utility-street aesthetic of J.W.Anderson."

Those who doubt the long-standing dominance of the trend will appreciate an overview of some cold, hard figures: WGSN's Retail Editor Giulia Pellizzon reports that high street stores doubled the amount of "glitzy applications" between January and August 2017 in comparison with the previous year. In more real terms, that mean that shoppers at big-name chains like Zara, Forever 21, Urban Outfitters and Topshop have been buying more sparkly clothes, shoes and accessories than ever before. In the luxury market, Pellizzon reports that there was "a 15 percent push in decorative applications, such as sequins and shine" during the same period.

A look from the Tom Ford Fall 2018 collection. Photo: Imaxtree

A look from the Tom Ford Fall 2018 collection. Photo: Imaxtree

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Similar market analytics aren't yet available for this year, but buyers at stores like Saks Fifth Avenue say they'll keep investing in the trend until their customers get sick of it — and that likely won't be anytime soon. "The Saks customer loves sparkle, especially on their shoes," states the luxury retailer's SVP Fashion Director, Roopal Patel. "Embellished pumps, flats and even sneakers are very popular. Sparkly luxe leisure styles, like bomber jackets and track suits, are also coveted by our shoppers.” 

Another interesting takeaway from Patel is the trend's far-reaching pull. "We find that sparkle has no age limit; there is a wide appeal to all of our customers to add sparkle and shine to their wardrobes," she says. "For so long sequins and embellishment were used for holiday dressing, but now designers are playing sparkle into everyday silhouettes. Through bejeweled necklines, sparkly collars, and rhinestone trims, popular brands like Gucci, Prada and Miu Miu have brought the idea of adornment into daywear."

Patel largely regards the trend as "fun," but there are others who point to it having darker, more ominous roots. A heavy political climate, says Ross, brings the need for fashion as escapism. "Definitely, gloom means glitter," she notes. "Turbulent times across the globe always drive a surge in bright color, sequins and maximalist styling. The concurrent '80s trend brings with it a heavy dose of 'better-times' nostalgia for designers, which goes hand-in-hand with excessive glitz, too."

However, much of the modern appeal can easily boil down to one very simple factor: the internet. "On a more conceptual level, the way we are consuming fashion on a visual basis has shifted seismically since the age of social media," Ross explains. "Literally anyone can tune in and see a collection at the click of a button. Designers are reacting to this strategically, and are more aware than ever of how their work is viewed through a digital lens." A good example of this is John Galliano's Maison Margiela Couture Spring 2018 show, in which he used reactive, holographic materials to give off spectrums of prismatic light at the flash of a smartphone click.

Despite the widespread popularity of the trend, it's important to note the marked difference between those people who are drawn to sparkly items and those who are not. Dawnn Karen, a brand consultant and fashion psychologist who teaches at the Fashion Institute of Technology, explains the concept in further detail. She levels that, as humans, we are attracted to shiny things because we have an innate desire for water, but the real-time impact of wearing something sparkly depends on the value that we attribute to it. "There are many things happening in the world simultaneously that are traumatic and catastrophic — think of the #MeToo movement, police brutality, the war in Syria," she explains. "For some, wearing sequins offers a celebratory moment; a sense of finding the silver lining. In that sense, sparkle evokes some sense of optimism and hope that good things are about to come." For others, wearing a shiny object can mean prestige; a sparkling diamond ring, for example, imparts a sense of power and luxury.

Susan Miller — aka fashion's favorite astrologer — adds some scintillatingly starry insight: "Sparkle helps us rise above the mundane and brings us into the realms of dreams," she says. "Pisces are loving the trend the most because they are so romantic. Other signs that adore it are Cancer and Aquarians, like Paris Hilton. Leo is open to the dramatic glamor of sequins." Zodiacs unlikely to fall prey to the allure of glitter, according to Miller, include all of the Earth signs, Sagittarius, Scorpio, and Libra. "All of the planets influence fashion," she says to close. "Neptune rules creativity and the arts, which is why sparkle has been so strong this year, but when Jupiter moves to Sagittarius in early November we're going to see very sporty clothes take the lead."

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