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Bridget Foley’s Diary: Pre-Fall — It’s a Long Story

Despite energetic p.r. to the contrary, the more we see during a 10-week pre-season, the less the fashion resonates.

Summer school at Harvard. Purdah, the campaign period for British prime minister. Standard in-patient 12-step rehab. Joyce’s “Ulysses.” Lent.

All are shorter than pre-fall. And more interesting.

The pre-seasons don’t just have the longest selling season. Pre-fall has the longest showing season as well — is there anyone on the circuit who wouldn’t love to hit reset?

WWD’s coverage started with Akris on Nov. 13 and ran through Friday, with private-appointment coverage of Roberto Cavalli and Irfé. That’s a span of 10-plus weeks — nearly 20 percent of the year. For pre-fall.

It’s crazy, boring and counterproductive. Even if 70 percent of what we’re seeing is extraordinary fashion — and it isn’t — the season is too long and too drawn out to generate the kind of excitement once considered essential to the fashion professional’s job.

I’m not suggesting that it’s the job of a job — yours, mine, anyone’s — to be endlessly entertaining. It is fashion’s job, and essential to its raison d’être, to excite and entice. That should start with the retailers and press who present the clothes to consumers. In order to transmit excitement to the women who ultimately buy and wear the clothes, those fashion professionals must themselves be excited, and genuinely so. That used to happen easily, back in the days of two collections six months apart. That wonderful anticipatory rush set in as the new season approached.

Now, we’re never not looking at clothes. Or so it seems. It’s thus harder to marshal that same level of excitement. And despite energetic p.r. to the contrary, the more we see during a 10-week pre-season, the less the fashion resonates. This pre-fall, we’ve seen rare glimmers of fashion (among them, Chanel in Dallas, Calvin Klein, Proenza Schouler and Lanvin in New York), and plenty of perfectly nice clothes that will indeed keep the commercial train chugging along.

See WWD’s Coverage of the Pre-Fall 2014 Collections Here >>

So what’s wrong with that?

There’s nothing wrong with producing, marketing and selling these clothes. But the elongated faux-fashion week context in which they’re shown minimizes the role of real fashion. If this is the important stuff — the bread, the butter, the skirts, pants, jackets and all else that sells — what’s the point of the spring and fall shows? Marketing? Tradition? Mere indulgence? Or are they essential expressions of each designer’s point of view, pushed to its most intense and provocative? Does the industry need such concentrated creative expression, or are endless parades of attractive, serviceable, largely forgettable clothes enough?

In the midst of a dense pre-fall week earlier this month, WWD covered the “Girls” season premiere party. Our coverage included a photo of Anna Wintour in a mink face coat by Miuccia Prada. My first thought: That’s real fashion. While none of us expect to see coats and dresses ablaze with giant faces coming and going on the streets this spring, we hope to see one every now and then. When we saw them distilled into Prada’s fierce, vibrant statement on the spring runway, they thrilled.

That’s a problem for this lengthy pre-fall season. When it comes to fashion shows, the bar is extremely high. The best of the spring and fall ready-to-wear seasons knocks our socks off. And not just the megaproductions — Chanel, Prada, Marc Jacobs, Vuitton, Dior — but those of designers who say something powerful with low-key production values, whether Rei Kawakubo showing Comme des Garçons on a simple plank runway or Joseph Altuzarra in a sparely decked Industria studio.

Don’t get me wrong. I think spring and fall have too many shows, particularly during the user-unfriendly madness of New York. But the concentrated fashion weeks schedule, with each city having a clear start and finish line, provides clarity and context. Within that schedule, the amazing fashion, the fashion that takes your breath away and reminds why you’re in this business, jumps out.

Proclamations to the contrary aside, most designers save their most exciting ideas, their boldest fashion, for spring and fall. Still, were the pre-seasons shown more concisely, they would resonate with more impact and less ho-hum.

I don’t pretend to speak for everyone. But I have not heard one person say, “My, how I love the way pre-fall is handled, how it starts well before Thanksgiving and extends past week three of January, allowing itself to be interrupted by the winter holidays before meandering through the men’s shows and couture. I love that.” I have heard countless critiques along the lines of “a pox on the season.” So why can’t something be done?

I have two ideas.

1. Beginning with pre-fall (which has become longer and more tedious than resort), the organizers of the four major fashion cities should pick a three- to four-week period within the current span of 10 that would become the definitive pre-fall fashion season. Early- to mid-December makes more sense than January. (Sure, there are reasons — fabric deliveries, Christmas, etc. — why some houses show in January. Way back, there were reasons why New York showed spring in November and fall in May; the business changed and designers adjusted.) The city organizers could opt to show consecutively as during fall — New York, London, Milan, Paris — or designers could present at any time during the designated span. New York would remain the primary location, but, as happens now, European houses preferring to show at home would continue to do so.

2. As above, but present 90 percent of pre-fall — the nice, serviceable fare — digitally, via Digital Fashion Shows or a similar medium that’s more than adequate for such clothes. This would reclaim the in-person fashion show for statements of real fashion. How great would that be?