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Globally United (But Forever Diverse)

Laura Neilson

Newton’s third law doesn’t just apply to physics. In everything, it seems, one action usually yields a—not always equal—but opposite reaction. On a very grand scale, just as technology and globalization might make this world feel smaller by the minute, such international influences are also expanding our horizons. Just look to fashion: for every mass chain store that opens in a once inaccessible foreign location, there’s a smaller but equally impactful channel also open to expose and reveal that locale’s own distinctly unique culture. Thanks to Instagram and Tumblr, we’ve never had such instant access to what people are wearing on the streets of Tokyo or Stockholm, or Cape Town.

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Swedish street style. Photo by Ellen Claesson

Here in the US, fitness-inspired clothing made an undeniable impact last year, a trend that doesn’t seem to be on the wane anytime soon. But perhaps more realistically, we should refer to that type of dressing as “activewear”—for our packed, endlessly on-the-go days, regardless of whether or not a gym session makes it onto the schedule. Especially in city environments, where people are driving less and walking or biking more, particularly during the winter, there’s a growing demand for functional urban armor: comfortable, performance-wear that’s also fashionable. Of course there’s fur, forever a staple in eastern Europe and Russia, which goes through its flicker and fade moments elsewhere, but many fashion plates seem to be looking to Scandinavian street style during these colder months. In Stockholm, where winters are spent in perpetual darkness, stylish Swedes rely on lean layers, sometimes in varying lengths, to stay warm, while looking cool and effortless—and yet, somehow timeless, too. Or there’s the urban-ninja-slash-bike-messenger, a chic and sporty nearly all-black look adopted from Japanese draping of billowy, looser layers over slimmer pieces like leggings and tights paired with boxy, knee-grazing shorts.

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Cashmere from Mongolia

It goes without saying that global access to trends and style around the world is influencing fashion in countless ways. While that’s always been the case behind many a designer’s seasonal mood boards, we’re seeing foreign styles appropriated more authentically, thanks to the growing access we have to centuries-old traditions and manufacturing techniques. The more we recognize a garment or accessory from a particular faraway place and glean a sense of its nationality (who wears it, why, and how was it made?), the more we appreciate—and yes, desire!—that actual item, versus pieces merely inspired by it.

Going back to Newton’s law, the inevitable digitalization of just about everything around us has also spawned an exciting appreciation and renewed cultivation of handcrafted traditions: block-printing in India; metalsmithing in Columbia; brilliant textile-weaving in South Africa; and cashmere production in Mongolia, just to cite a few. You might say the old world is the new world. Or in other words: the old world is the now world. And just as relevant to the fashion industry’s growing concerns with manufacturing materials and techniques that are kind to the environment, most of these centuries-old processes never relied on the aid of chemicals or carbon-emitting machinery. They’re inherently organic and sustainable, not out of trendiness or for marketing purposes, but because they always were.

Most trends spark and burn out faster than a New York minute, but it’s the purposeful, culturally-driven, and traditionally-crafted aspect of global fashion that transcends the decades—even centuries. Indeed, the more things change, the more things stay the same. That should be Newton’s third law of authenticity.