As the world's foremost trend forecaster, Li Edelkoort predicts what we'll be wearing, wanting and buying in the future; a sort of style mystic, if you will. She takes her cues from the world around her, channelling these ideas into spot-on predictions for the future.

What colour will be big in two years' time? What will we be cooking with? What will we be driving? It is Edelkoort's job to sense what the world wants next, and examine the reasons behind it.

Dutch-born Edelkoort began her trend forecasting career after graduating from studying fashion and design at the School of Fine Arts in Arnhem and becoming a forecaster at Dutch department store, the Bijenkorf. In 1975 she moved to Paris to work full-time as a trend consultant, offering her special skills and services to companies who wanted to know where to next. She has since worked with companies including Armani, Zegna, Gucci, Sony, Coca Cola, Estee Lauder, Nissan, LaCoste and L'Oreal.

The limited edition trend books that her company, Trend Union, releases every six months are sold to around 300 of the world's most important brands; this is a publication that sets forth trends two years in advance.

Edelkoort's influence has been acknowledged many times - in 2003 she was named as one of the world's 25 Most Influential People in Fashion by Time magazine, and honoured by the French Ministry of Culture as a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres in 2008. Her work is not solely focused on predicting things, it's also about fostering creative talent: she co-founded the Heartwear foundation in 1993, a non-profit association that aids creatives in developing countries tailor their products for export, and was chairwoman at the Design Academy Eindhoven from 1999 to 2008. She tells us more about her unique career - and what we can expect next.

What exactly is a trend forecaster?
The difference between trend scouting and trend forecasting is obvious. Trend scouting is looking at things that are already there; you weigh the repercussions, estimate how long it will last. Whereas what I do is forecast what is but a breeze on our neck; a glimpse into the future without much evidence to support it. I have to make do with shreds of information. My work is first based upon intuition. Only then do I add reason and philosophy.

You started out back in the 1970s, predicting colour and fabric trends for the fashion industry in the Netherlands. Tell us about that era and time in your career?
My first job at the Bijenkorf (a leading Dutch department store) was at an extremely young age, I had not even finished yet the final exam of the Art Academy in Arnhem! Therefore I was very young and inexperienced in life. I came straight from a small provincial town to a world centre of culture and the best job I could have found in my field. It was very exciting and I enjoyed every minute of it.

My world changed rapidly and my new friends were much older and very world-wise; Annie Apol, Benno Premsela, Hans Eltink to name but a few.

We started to travel with the buyers to create the collections and I became friends with all of them, working, drinking, dancing and working again. An intense and extremely happy family of taste and dedication.

The Bijenkorf does have a quality of work and creative play which is quite remarkable, influencing its family members for life.

Since I was creative and inventive without much knowledge I could bring a dynamic point of view and I was often right in my approach. We lost money on the safari short, yet earned lots on the arrival of the oversized tent dress we spotted very early and exploited for several seasons.

For four years I organised fashion events and audiovisual presentations to the press that have shaped my future. Without doubt the best school of life I have ever had.

How do you become a forecaster?
That was totally accidental in my case, since forecasting was not a well-known profession in the early 70s. I was a student. My strength was not creation or illustration but I knew exactly and at each time what turn fashion would take next. Then one day, a lecturer told us about companies whose business was the study of future trends. I immediately felt this was what I knew how to do. My first job, at the age of 21, was forecasting trends for de Bijenkorf. At the same time and through my work in the Bijenkorf I got in touch with the most famous French style house called Mafia, founded by two amazing ladies, Maime Arnodin and Denise Fayolle. They were my heroes. I learned the trade from them. Over the years, I have invented a large part of what is now called the forecaster's profession.

How do you work? Where do you get your information, ideas and inspiration?
Trends can be born out of anything; for example the arrival of skin as an idea for colour and tactility came in the 1980s when multi-culturalism was in our minds and advances in textile technology led to flexible materials that started to behave like second skins.

The minimalist period of the 1990s fit this theme well and flesh tones were expanded in the cosmetic industry. Design later took on the trend, mimicking nature and developing newer materials that could breath and even grow. And now, more than 20 years on, our fashion magazines still announce "skin" as an avant garde new thing when it hits the runways.

Tell us about your company, Trend Union?
My company is based in Paris, where I have a studio of 15 creatives and production managers. I also have smaller studios in Tokyo and New York and a network of agents in 28 countries around the world. In New Zealand and Australia, I am represented by Kathy Demos and Colourways.

What is your company's philosophy?
I guess that Trend Union's philosophy differs from others in that we are not afraid to take risks and always follow our intuition. This always produces successful results. I am also an advocate of creativity and the importance of craft and education.

What are some of the highlights of your career - a big successes where you've predicted something?
I am proud to note that I accurately discussed the revival of authentic values, organic living and a return to the farm ahead of many others, and our current interest in narration and telling stories is a topic I have been addressing since 2002. Trends and colours usually evolve slowly and quietly, a little like the weather changes from day to day.

How important to businesses is trend forecasting?
There is no creation or strategic planning without advance knowledge, and without design, a product cannot exist. Forecasting is important for all businesses since trends in other industries each cross-pollinate and affect one another. Even bankers and economists rely on closely watching society in order to decypher how the market is going to turn.

When you look at the world we live in today, what do you see? What does it say about our morals, integrity and values?
We are moving towards slowing down. We yearn for more authentic things, we are searching for honesty, looking for a more truthful, more direct approach.

We will definitely want regional colour, local flavour, outsider designs. Sunday artists will have their day. We prefer the exclusive, the things that cannot be found on every boutique shelf. The importance of the farm and the organic movement have been a carrying wave for this mood, as we seek to bridge the country and the city within this century.

This crisis is different since it is based on a financial crisis and not an economic one in the first place. This time, we have accepted that life and culture will go on and we refused to give up our need for beauty and shine; it's for this reason that the design and fashion industries are still experiencing a strong presence of metallics, even if at times they are a little more matte.

The big thing at the moment is being "green" - sustainability, lessening our carbon footprints, growing our own vegetables, the resurgence in community. That is now, but what is the future? What will be stylish in five years time?
Our relationship with the natural world will need to become in symbiosis if we intend to survive as a species, and by learning lessons from nature. Humankind is after all a part of the animal kingdom. Animals construct their architecture based on their lifestyles, affected by geographic and climatic influences, and inspired by locally-available materials and perfected innate skills. Their habitats respect nature, are biodegradable, self-sufficient and integrate into the environment, expressing an organic state of being that simply comes naturally.

Taking Flight is one of the seminar topics. In a positive and optimistic mood, fashion and design will take flight and give us wings on the road to new colours, more texture and exalting creativity.

The world of birds is therefore our source of inspiration, with their interesting behaviour patterns previewing the society of man. Living in flocks they inspire us to congregate and share, building nests and inviting us to rekindle the love and care we want to give our family and friends; transgressing borders they install in us a new sense of freedom from convention and control; gathering food they initiate the idea of local produce and seasonal harvest.

The collecting of twigs and debris to weave birds' nests will inspire us to rekindle a keen interest in artistic and crafted weaving, with designer yarns spun from opposing and complementary matter like mohair with silk ribbons and leather and lurex. The rituals of courting and mating by the male specimens drive us towards a more erotic experience of the night and a more exotic take on rituals, using colour, dance and sound as essential attributes.

What changes do you predict in retail and how we shop?
The most innovative stores are those that keep us guessing, offering innovative merchandise and pop-up ideas. Barneys, Selfridges, Liberty and Takishimaya are good examples of interesting department stores, but there is a lot to learn from smaller retail environments such as Dover Street, Corso Como and Spazio Rossana Orlandi. Stores should include local merchandise that is not available in other cities and the idea of evergreen products (classics and basics that transcend seasons) is also an important direction.

The department store of the future should mix more freely interior, fashion, bedding, food and lingerie. The way merchandise is clustered always in the same categories has become very boring.

Also the organisation by price point such as basics, bridge and luxury is now redundant. My ideal department store would be organised by design directions allowing the customer to do mood shopping.

* Li Edelkoort will be holding a seminar in Auckland on May 6. Go to colourways.com.au for further details and bookings.