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Bridget Foley’s Diary: Resort Shows Great Clothes, but No Vacation

The good collections have ranged from appealing to exciting, but the season is far from where it needs to be.

Resort, which started more than five weeks ago with Chanel’s traditional extravaganza, this one at Versailles, is petering toward its close. In a strong season, the good clothes have ranged from appealing to exciting. So good, so far, but the season is far from where it needs to be. I’ll start with the negative so as to end with the positive.

Resort remains way, way, way too long. If the fashion associations of the four cities in primary rotation can plan out spring and fall in a reasonable manner (albeit most recently with some petulant sparring between Milan and New York), why can’t resort and pre-fall be handled similarly? This season should be condensed into the three weeks, beginning either immediately following Chanel (May 14 this year), or, if Karl’s schedule is too early, letting Chanel stand alone as its own elaborate thing. The rest could commence on the first Monday of June, CFDA Awards day, with New York, where a majority of the houses show, as the base, and the Europeans who choose to present at home doing so within that same span. The current concentration within the first two weeks of June is a great start; the one European-packed Milk Studios day particularly so.

With the likes of Nina Ricci, Celine, Chloé and Lanvin presenting, typically (though not always) in informal presentations to groups of retailers and press, people could see a collection every half hour. The scheduling is considerate and, even better, efficient. The informality lets designers focus primarily on the clothes without worrying about the grander aspects of megashows, while allowing the designers to narrate their presentations if they choose; the group audiences make for greater ease of booking than do individual appointments. This is not to say that New York houses should book studios they don’t need. Oscar de la Renta’s show was delightful (and would have been more so at a time earlier than 6 p.m.). Calvin Klein’s Francisco Costa has for several seasons shown in relaxed fashion at the brand’s offices. This time around, Donna Karan switched from individual appointments in her Home showroom to a group presentation — a step in the right direction, although she needed a few more models for a proper show pace. Nor should all-in-one-place ease always trump individuality; Stella McCartney’s late-afternoon “garden party” has become a tradition.

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All of those presentations were during the period of highest density, those first two weeks of June. Yet on June 19, we’ve yet to put the proverbial bow on resort 2012-13, which continues this week. Even were Diane von Furstenberg not president of the CFDA she would likely be a rational, vocal advocate of working together in the name of group sanity, so why did she wait until yesterday to show? One could wonder the same of Ralph Lauren — why Monday? — but he offered an explanation: As in the recent past, Ralph didn’t plan to show to the press, but as the collection came together last week, he found it too significant to keep under wraps. And last week, on Tuesday, WWD got a call to say that Giambattista Valli had come to New York and would present his collection the next day. Did he plan a NYC holiday and then whip up his collection on the plane? Openings continue this week through next Thursday, bumping into men’s and closing in on couture.

The stretched-out, sometimes last-minute presentations make it difficult for those covering the shows to schedule other parts of our jobs within the time frame, and more importantly, water down the season’s impact. Which is too bad because as we all know, resort has the longest selling period, remaining on the floor for a retail eternity and often comprising well over half of the full spring business.

Which segues to the positive. No one argues — in fact, most celebrate — the deliberate commercial nature of the pre-seasons. But while not long ago that often meant boring, uninspired design, resort has now become interesting. While the season’s not primarily trend-driven (for that matter, fashion isn’t as trend-driven as it once was), the photos seen here represent a few of the concrete motifs that should make women want to buy.

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Bottom line, this is a business that is in large measure about that bottom line. With resort’s commercial appeal now a given when it comes to the clothes, designers and brands are giving accessories the kind of play they do during spring and fall. One would be hard-pressed to cite a presentation that didn’t feature a major shoe-and-bag tableau in plain view.

But there’s another side to the fashionable commercialism of resort. It allows designers to take liberties, and often chances, elsewhere. At both of his domains, Marc Jacobs takes a step back, entrusting much of his pre-season collections to the very capable hands of women’s studio director Julie de Libran at Louis Vuitton and, at his own house, head women’s designer Joseph Carter. This allows Jacobs essential time to focus on his upcoming runway collections, while allowing de Libran and Carter their moments to shine. Similarly, in recent runway seasons, Proenza Schouler’s reputation as one of the more highly anticipated runway shows has escalated. Lazaro Hernandez noted that the season’s more obvious commercial slant allows him and Jack McCollough the freedom to push their runway efforts with more daring than they might otherwise feel comfortable doing.

That said, the Proenza guys and Jacobs and his deputies are among the many designers who have elevated resort from the creative afterthought it once was. At least one designer, Lanvin’s Alber Elbaz, spelled that out. Alber is a master at delivering editorial reality; women sit at his runway shows in awe of the professional glory of it all while inevitably doing their mental shopping. Aware that his audience would hear about the commercial nature of resort again and again for the next month or so, he chose to remind us that, no matter the name of the season, fashion must never be perceived as a commodities business. While preparing his lineup, Alber recounted, “I thought, are we turning into just a bag industry? Isn’t fashion also about the dream?”