Once the looks hit the runway, demystifying the process of identifying trends is not that complex." said Vincent Quan, an associate professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
"Here's really the secret formula," he said. "You look at the upcoming calendar. Who are the fashion influencers? You pick a couple [like Diane von Furstenberg and Marc Jacobs]. … What you're looking for then is commonality."
From there, Quan said, the industry's job is making couture commercial. For luxury department stores buying designer duds off the runways, that means selecting the key pieces that can be tweaked to be more salable.
For fast-fashion shops, which can turn around similar looks in six weeks to three months, it means stripping a garment of the high-end materials and embellishments that would make it more costly—and time consuming—to produce.
At mid-tier retailers like Gap or Ann Taylor, it's about tweaking a silhouette to make it slightly more wearable, or turning a bold pattern into a single graphic for a T-shirt, Jones said. These influences, however, likely won't carry through for about a year.
For a mass merchandiser like Wal-Mart, Jones said it can take two or three years for the runways' influence to trickle down. And even then, it's at the most basic level, she said.
"To me, [how and when styles are adopted] depends on the store's customers and how privy they are to what's going on on the catwalks," Jones said.