High-speed ride on trend track

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It used to be so easy to see where fashion trends started. They either kicked off in the high-fashion world and filtered down to the streets or started with a streetwise style that bubbled up to the world of couture. Trends could be tracked without much debate over who had fostered their growth. But now, things aren't so simple: marketers are smarter, celebrities can send sales skyrocketing with a single photograph in People and new products or product rip-offs can be developed practically overnight.

Take, for instance, bowling shoes, which have moved out of the alleys and into the streets as high-price footwear. At Kenneth Cole Productions, a sell-through of 2% to 4% is considered a good week for men's shoes. But when Time Inc.'s People recently ran a story on the bowling shoe trend, Kenneth Cole's Tenth Frame bowling-style shoe, which retails at $140 a pair, ended up with a sell-through of 12% to 15% for the week of May 14.

Designers "take it from reality and people are wearing [sneakers] all the time. Urban life is requiring this kind of convenience," says Michelle Kessler Sanders, accessories director at Conde Nast Publications' Vogue.

`SO MANY FASHION EDITORS'

The proliferation of media also has contributed to the quick growth of many trends. "There are so many fashion editors, and non-fashion magazines have fashion editors," she says. "Everybody gets a bit of fashion now."

Notes Dany Levy, founder and president of DailyCandy, a New York-based e-mail newsletter and Web site that spots the latest trends: "I always used to joke at New York [where she worked on `Gotham Style'] that three was a trend. Now it's more haphazard. It's three but it's also who. Look at the power of something like In Style."

Another hot trend these days: rhinestone- and crystal-studded apparel. Who's to thank? Madonna and all those crystals on the cover of her Music album? The people behind the Be-Dazzler? Swarovski? Try all three (plus a few other innovators along the way).

The $34.95 Be-Dazzler can be used to create some high-fashion merchandise. The device, which affixes rhinestones and studs to clothing, has a 30-year history that has included several different marketing tactics by NSI Innovations. Originally hip and happening in the '70s, the Be-Dazzler regained glory during the Madonna '80s, as a toy in the '90s, and now as the ultimate do-it-yourself fashion accessory.

NSI a year and a half ago started working on current Be-Dazzler marketing, which relies on guerrilla- type tactics rather than traditional media advertising. "This time, we put together a program that looks at it as not just the machine, it's also the rhinestone packs and studs," says Josh Piezas, NSI business manager. "All those infomercials have built up in people's minds. We don't have to educate the consumer, and there's a lot of good will out there for the product."

swarovski tattoos

On the top end of the trend is Swarovski. Although the Wattens, Austria-based company has seen its high-end crystals used in couture houses for many years, it also has expanded its product line to include more accessible items, such as stick-on crystal tattoos, that will appeal to the non-couture set. And the company has closely aligned itself with this summer's sure-to-set-trends movie, "Moulin Rouge" from Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.

What was once seen as trashy is now trendy, and several high-price items this season carry the bejeweled look. For instance, on upscale retailer Saks Fifth Avenue's Web site (saksfifthavenue.com) are D&G Jeans' Sun Glasses sleeveless top, a "gently fitted, sleeveless cotton jersey top with sparkling rhinestones," imported from Italy and retailing for $170; Moschino Jeans' rhinestone stretch denim skirt, "with glittering rhinestones on the prominent side slit," just $260; and Moschino's sleeveless rhinestone top, in which "scintillating rows of rhinestones circle the neckline of this brilliant orange pullover top," also imported from Italy, $385.

Call it Lodi, N.J., meets the Upper East Side. Call it rock meets royalty. However you see it, the crossroad where the Be-Dazzler set rubs elbows with the Swarovskis is in personalized products from two New York City companies, 2funkychicks and Project Stud.

At 2funkychicks, the main product line features T-shirts and thong underwear emblazoned with words spelled out in studs or Swarovski crystals. Project Stud's roots are in cell phones covered with a glittering array of Swarovski crystal designs.

Says Project Stud co-owner Jennifer Wallack: "My partner Jennifer [Oz LeRoy] and I were futzing around. She studded her cell phone and I studded my Yankees hat, and people were asking, "Where can I get that?' "

The company has personalized products for everyone from high school students on New York's Upper East Side to members of the hip-hop group Outkast.

Both Project Stud and 2funkychicks dismiss the idea that a company based on a trend is a risky proposition. "I think trends are created. We're deciding what we think is cool to do and putting it out there," says Angela Lowe, co-owner of 2funkychicks.

"Everything today is becoming mixed up. Everything is influencing everything else," says Richard Sardouk, art director of Promostyl, a Paris-based fashion forecasting company that works with Swarovski. "There are no boundaries."

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