Looks from Chanel’s recent Pre-Fall Métiers d'Art collection in Rome. Photo Illustration: Stephanie Jones
Winter, spring, summer, fall. Everyone has a grasp on these four seasons and their corresponding weather patterns. Except, it would seem, for fashion people. At this very moment, editors are scurrying around to view designers’ collections for the Pre-Fall season, which, like Resort (a.k.a. Pre-Spring, a.k.a. Cruise) has, from a retail perspective, eclipsed the traditional Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer outings, i.e. those we see march down the runway in February and September, respectively. That’s kind of hilarious, considering most of the world has no idea what these seasons are—and for good reason. Pre-Fall? Wouldn’t that just be summer? False. Sure, Pre-Fall typically begins trickling into stores in July, but the fur coats, tweed looks, and cashmere sweaters designers have shown over the past week or so dispel that hypothesis. And Resort? Why on earth would a collection that hits shelves in November deserve that title? (Actually, it’s because luxury brands embraced this season in the ’80s to cater to jet-setting clients who preferred to spend their winters in warmer climes. But as you’ll soon learn, it has become another beast entirely.) Furthermore, does anyone need this much clothing?
The answer is no. But the fashion business needs you to need—or at the very least, want—it. Our industry, especially in the age of the Internet, is obsessed with the new, and these seasons, which essentially offer transitional garments, give brands the opportunity to pack more newness into each year. “People used to shop less frequently,” says Linda Fargo, the senior vice president of famed New York department store Bergdorf Goodman. “But now, the consumer is always shopping online or coming back to the store, and they don’t want to see the same thing.”
However, pre-seasons have evolved. No longer are they solely comprised of filler garments intended to keep the consumer’s attention while he or she waits for the big S/S or F/W event. In fact, retailers are putting the majority of their funds toward these in-between collections. “You might allocate 70 or 80 percent of your budget [to pre-collections] because they live on the floor longer at full price than a runway collection,” Fargo continues. Is all that clear? No? Blame it on fashion’s nonsensical see it now, buy it five months later delivery cycle. Long story short, the pre-collections are traditionally less complex than what is shown on the ready-to-wear runway, thus there is less time between presentation and sale date, allowing for more time on the racks at full price, but not quite enough time for shoppers to get bored. That being said, houses like Dior, Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and more have begun hosting extravagant pre-collection shows in far flung locals that boast equally extravagant garments (for instance, Chanel, which arguably pioneered this trend, just debuted its nearly 100-look Pre-Fall Métiers d'Art lineup in Rome), so the earlier mentioned swift production period may very well change.
Celebrity and globalization, too, have a role in the success of pre-seasons. The former comes into play because award season happens to kick off just after the Pre-Fall presentations end. If you were walking the Oscars red carpet, wouldn’t you rather have a fresh-out-of-the-studio Pre-Fall gown, rather than one that was seen on the S/S catwalk five months prior? The latter is influential because travel is easier and more prevalent today than ever before. Shoppers lead global lives and may not experience the four seasons in the same way people did fifty years ago. The idea of abandoning seasonality has been circulating for some time, and a transitional pre-collection, which can span from parkas to swimwear, adheres to that concept.
There’s no arguing that pre-seasons are good for business. But as demand grows, and the public becomes more and more fashion obsessed, this hamster wheel of seasons is taking a toll on designers. “There’s no pause anymore,” says Fargo. “There’s an exhaustion and a churn on the designer level, and I think there will be a lot of people—editors, designers, retailers—coming together to ask how we can reset the system.”
Considering the recent shakeups in the industry, that reset may need to come sooner rather than later. Take the case of Raf Simons. In October, after three and a half years at Dior, he stepped down from his post as creative director. His reasons were vague, but in an interview with Cathy Horyn for System magazine, which took place just prior to his departure, he lamented the relentless fashion cycle. “Everything is done in three weeks, maximum five,” said Simons, who, including haute couture, was rolling out six collections a year for Dior. “There’s not enough time for the whole process.” Similarly, Alber Elbaz, who was pushed out of Lanvin in October after 14 years at its helm, has frequently spoken against the fashion cycle, most recently during Fashion International’s Night of Stars, where he received a Superstar award. “We designers started as couturiers with dreams, with intuitions and with feelings,” he said in his speech. “We started with, ‘What do women want? What do women need? What can I do for women to make their lives better and easier? How can I make a woman more beautiful?’ That is what we used to do.”
Not to mention, the current production calendar creates a baffling amount of excess product. Has anyone seen the winter sale racks at department stores? They’re quite literally about to collapse! “There’s too much stuff in the world in general, but we don’t personally find it frustrating,” say Beckett Fogg and Piotrek Panszczyk of emerging brand Area, which, after launching to much acclaim in 2013, is set to unveil its first ever pre-collection next week. “We enjoy working, and from a business perspective [Pre-Fall] is really just doubling our exposure and opportunity. Our only concern is the abundance of clothing that comes as a result. [But] it’s how the game has evolved, and how it must be played.”
Must it be played this way? That is precisely the question the fashion industry needs to address. If veteran designers at luxury houses, who have entire teams to assist them with realizing a collection, are struggling with the production grind, one can only imagine the pressure it places on the all-important up-and-comer, no matter how promising or talented.
After over 50 years in the industry, Karl Lagerfeld, who, between Chanel, Fendi, and his namesake range, may very well design more collections annually than any of his peers, has developed some rather strong opinions on this matter. “It goes with the times we live in. There is no way to look back,” he told WWD back in October. “For some people and smaller companies, it could become too much, but big companies like Chanel, Dior, Vuitton, etc., are organized to face the speed. The thing that I hate most are designers who accept those very well-paid jobs and then think the demand is too strong, that they are afraid of burnout, etc. It’s a full-time job, not an occupation between others. Fashion is a sport now: You have to run.” Indeed, the case of the pre-season is a complicated one.