By  on January 23, 2006

"I have a shopping mentality," said Karl Lagerfeld. "The boredom of a shop where nothing is new for several months is horrible."

Lagerfeld isn't alone when it comes to shopping. Neither rain nor sleet nor hail can stop a fashion devotee from crossing the boutique threshold once, twice or more times a week to splurge on the newest designer merch.

To serve their customers in the long gap between the spring and fall deliveries, retailers are devoting increasing amounts of open-to-buy to pre-fall collections. In the process, the season has transformed from the commercial footnote to a company's fall runway collection into a major fashion force that often accounts for up to 70 percent of its total fall business.

"Five years ago, pre-fall was a very small business of mostly classic pieces," Caroline Brown, Giorgio Armani's senior vice president, marketing and communications, noted. "But then the designer consumer became so trained in shopping early and steadily that the business grew significantly, driven by just that."

Designers, for their part, are realizing pre-fall's business potential and have started channeling more creativity into the collections. Lagerfeld, who added a luxury Atelier collection to Chanel's pre-fall assortment in 2003, said that pre-collections must be as enticing as clothes made for the runway. "There is no commercial part anymore," he said. "That doesn't sell anymore."

Oscar de la Renta has chosen for the past two years to unveil pre-fall at an intimate fashion show for editors and buyers at his Seventh Avenue showroom in December. "Showing a collection that stands on its own and delivering it sooner helps get the customer into stores, and it gives the merchandise more time to sell at full price," said Alex Bolen, chief executive officer at Oscar de la Renta, where pre-fall bookings are up 15 percent from last year.

According to some, pre-fall's growth was triggered by changing consumer habits. Where once fall purchases were made in August, educated consumers, aware of fall trends by going online within hours of the runway show, now tire of spring looks quickly. Come mid-May, they are ready for pre-fall — especially to secure early on the key looks to wear through fall.

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