By HILDY MEDINA
Ask most any 14-year-old what the coolest sneakers are, and he or she will probably be able to rattle off two or three brands. Ask an old-timer past the age of 30, and you're likely to get a blank expression.
That's where 27-year-old DeeDee Gordon comes in. It's her job to educate manufacturing executives, clothing designers, music moguls, studio chiefs and others about what the hippest kids are wearing, what music they're listening to, what games they're playing, and so on.
Gordon is creator and editor of "The L Report," a quarterly trend-tracking publication that serves as a marketing bible to some of the biggest retailers and apparel manufacturers in the United States. She and her army of 1,800 scouts scattered around the world ? usually high school students ? watch and report on what is "in" and what is on its way out.
At 21, the Maryland native had made a name for herself as the owner of one of the hippest retail stores in Boston ? Placid Planet. The people at Converse Inc. noticed the young entrepreneur and offered her a job as a freelance designer and consultant. During her Converse run, Gordon introduced one of the company's most popular designs, the One Star, a retro sneaker-sandal.
Gordon says she grew tired of reading forecast reports that were "too late in the game," and decided to create her own newsletter in 1995. She approached Lambesis, a hip ad agency in Del Mar, and it immediately set up a division to publish her report. The shop charges $20,000 a year for a six-volume report, updated every quarter, that outlines trends in six major U.S. cities (including Los Angeles). Gordon also serves as a consultant for companies around the country.
Question: What inspired you to open your own store at such an early age?
Answer: After high school, I decided to go the easy route. I knew I was good with numbers and I was good at retail, so I opened up a store. I did a lot of research first; I photographed shoppers, I found out where they hung out. I was going to London and purchasing clothes there and bringing them back to the store.
Q: Why is your opinion about what is "cool" so sought after?
A: It's not my interpretation of what I think is cool. It's what 1,800 people think is cool. They're telling me.
Q: Who are these people and where do you find them?
A: We have people all over the world who are our eyes and ears. They're completely informed on what's happening globally. They're innovators. They're kids in certain cities like Tokyo, London and New York. They could be people who work for a very hip company, people in the press or certain designers. They all affect change in some way. It's about how forward someone is in their thinking. What inspires them on a daily basis. Where they look for inspiration. Are they looking into their own backyards or to another country?
Q: How do you know if your sources are plugged in to current trends?
A: We have ways of screening them, but a lot of it is instinct on my part.
Q: Have you ever been totally off on a forecast?
A: Not yet, knock on wood. That's because before I ever open my mouth, I'll go to my different sources and make sure it's true. If I still don't have enough information on a certain trend, I will fly there personally and check it out.
Q: Lambesis has some major retail clients. How do you avoid a conflict of interest when reporting on what's hot and what's not, when you might be writing about a company that's a client of Lambesis'?
A: My department is a separate entity. My report has to be objective, that's the bottom line.
Q: You seem to rely a lot on qualitative data. What about quantitative information. How important is that?
A: I think quantitative data are a lot of bull. I'm 100 percent behind qualitative. For example, you could have quantitative data that says no one is playing Hacky Sack, but there's that one kid who's very influential who's starting to play Hacky Sack. With qualitative data, you can tell if something's about to hit. It helps you get in the head of your consumer. Quantitative data is not going to tell you if something's burgeoning.
Q: Do you ever have trouble relating to or convincing the corporate "suits?"
A: Well, you don't hear me speak in marketing lingo. A lot of my clients have a huge age gap. A lot of the clients who consult with me are always saying, "Are you sure?" Yes, I am sure. There's got to be one person in the corporation who's a believer.
Q: Do you ever take time off from being immersed in trends?
A: The past couple of days moving into my new house I was trying to, but even then I wanted to know everything about my new place. It's funny, I never really take a break and I like it that way. It's definitely who I am, it's not just a job.
Q: You say you've always had a strong fashion sense. What were you like in high school? Did you get picked for "best dressed?"
A: I took fashion courses in high school and I was always the weird one. One teacher told me I knew nothing about fashion and I should change professions.
Q: Where do you shop in L.A.?
A: I shop at NYSE on Beverly Boulevard. This store is so forward, it's like shopping in a trend-setter's closet. I go to Fred Segal too. The people who work in these stores know what's happening globally. In retail, the most important thing to be successful is to have a global view. They know what to buy. You're not wasting your time. I also like to thrift (shop at thrift stores). I thrift all over L.A.
Q: What areas in Los Angeles are happening?
A: Beverly Boulevard is coming up in a major way. So is Silver Lake.
Q: The revitalization of Hollywood Boulevard has been under way for some time now. Could that area ever be another Melrose?
A: No. You'll never get the people who shop here (Beverly Boulevard) to go there. It will never happen. It's all tourists.
Q: Recently a number of interior designers in L.A. seem to be influenced by Moroccan designs. Do you see that Moroccan influence growing?
A: It's this fear of the millennium, or millennium fever. People are grasping toward spirituality ? yoga, meditation, the whole Tibet thing. Everyone finds their spiritual inspiration from different countries.
Q: What other interior design trends do you see evolving now?
A: I see people totally into the modern chrome and leather thing. That clean '50s and '60s look. It happened in L.A. first and now it's becoming more of a mainstream thing.
Q: What is the next big trend you see coming?
A: I never give out trends. That's what other people pay me for.
Title: Director of marketing research and product development, Lambesis.
Born: Silver Spring, Md., 1970
Education: Attended University of Maryland, did not graduate
Career Turning Point: Designing the Converse One Star sneaker-sandal
Hobbies: Collecting 1940s Asian figurines
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