with contributions from Natalie Theodosi, Luisa Zargani, Kari Hamanaka
 on January 12, 2017

For once, designers got the memo.The one about the importance of seasonally appropriate fabrics that retailers from Denver to Dubai have been squawking about."It was the first time — maybe ever — that so many brands had gotten the message about transitional-weight fabrics," said Neiman Marcus senior vice president and creative director Ken Downing, who's been preaching about the virtues of lighter fabrics for years. "The customer isn’t responding to all of the heavy fall and winter clothes that are shipped to stores in August. Brands have seemingly come to the table understanding that weather patterns have changed. Customers are buying in-season, color stories and fabrics are much more transitional and see-now-buy-now."Pre-fall has become a big business; it's the main revenue driver for some retailers, accounting for up to 75 percent of the annual spend. While there's no doubt that pre-fall is important and lucrative, viewing and buying pre-fall isn't fast or easy for retailers. Depending on the designer, the pre-fall season can start in November or December and continue through February. Unlike the fall and spring runway seasons, which have official beginnings and ends, the pre-fall calendar is more diffuse. Pricing and production time tables are issues retailers have to reconcile.London retailer Browns, which was acquired by Farfetch and underwent a re-branding under its new chief executive officer, Holly Rogers, increased its budgets for its pre-fall 2017 to between 60 and 70 percent of its annual allocation."April and May deliveries are becoming serious business and more important than ever before," women's fashion director Laura Larbalestier. "We see pre-fall as a bridge between spring and fall."Jeffrey Kalinsky, executive vice president of designer merchandising at Nordstrom, said pre-fall may not be as sexy as fall and spring on the runway, but the solid meat-and-potatoes season represents 75 percent of the retailer's business and budget allocation. "The runway is the icing on the cake, because it ships later," he said. "We need goods early and we need a good flow throughout the season. The earlier things come, the better chance you have at full-price sell-through."For Coco Chan, head of women's rtw and accessories at, the pre-collections sometimes feel like a distillation of the message of the previous season, re-affirming dominant trends. This was especially true of pre-fall 2017, which provided many carryovers, including slip dresses, pantsuits, lingerie detailing and pleated skirts. "There were great iterations [of these trends] from Valentino and 3.1 Phillip Lim," Chan said, adding that Gucci's, influence was evident in many presentations. "In terms of fresh ideas, I loved the subtle use of gingham that popped up in unexpected guises and the Forties-inflected glamour that defined Fendi and Max Mara. It was strong and powerful and bodes for interesting things to come."Designers seemed keen on perfecting the greatest hits of the past few seasons by adding subtle tweaks that go a long way," Chan said, referring to wardrobing pieces. "The attention to detail and refinement was quite evident."

Most retailers said pre-collections aren't just watered-down-but-necessary versions of fall and spring runways. “Pre-collections are also about how to reflect the DNA of a house while staying a bit more commercial," said Le Bon Marché women's fashion director Elodie Abrial. "The pieces have to have staying power as they arrive earlier on the floor. They need to be creative, but take fewer risks than the main collections. We’re targeting a local clientele. It’s important that they can find wearable pieces for every day."Abrial said pre-collections represent about 70 percent of the buy for the season. For the remaining 30 percent, she looks for stronger creative statements. "It's about having the right balance," she said, noting that Chloé channeled the Seventies with shades of terra cotta, rust and green. "There was a focus on flared pants and dresses. A play on necklines will also continue to be big next season."As the seemingly never-ending season wound down, retailers gave their assessments of the pre-fall collections.Jennifer Sunwoo, executive vice president and general merchandise manager, women’s at Barneys New York, said purchasing behaviors are increasingly shifting toward see-now-buy-now. "The opportunity for pre-collection deliveries, from May through July and August, is in the flexibility of transitional wardrobing and offering pieces that are seasonally appropriate, such as summer tops and dresses, lightweight knitwear and open-toed shoes and sandals."We loved Sies Marjan, The Row, Balenciaga and Fendi, which all showed beautiful, novel pre-collections."Elevated streetwear, including a bevy of embellished bomber jackets, has been adapted for pre-fall, Sunwoo said."Pre-fall fashion and trends are almost like a main market," said Roopal Patel, senior vice president and fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue, noting that the sartorial lines between pre-fall, fall and resort have blurred. "As we move into this season, it's about season-less clothing," she said. "We saw two different schools of thought: a true [pre-fall] meant to wear in-season and we saw this shift to more traditional fall dressing."Fabrics once associated mainly with fall and winter are being manipulated for season-round use. "Velvet is the new suede," said Patel. "It’s being treated as a lightweight fabric that you can wear in the springtime and all season. We’re seeing Victorian trends continue that started in spring, including long, tiered dresses, skirts and pearls. The idea of more is more and decadent dressing is in the air." To that end, she name-checked Gucci, Erdem, Altuzarra and Chanel.Anita Barr, fashion buying director at London's Harvey Nichols, said it's more about true summer. "Our pre-fall collections start arriving in May, so many collections are driven by summer-ready styles rather than autumnal pieces," she said. "We saw a lot of tropical, jungle and animal prints that were translated into easy-to-wear silks and plissé skirts, from Valentino, Adam Lippes, Rag & Bone and Equipment. Breathable and lightweight cottons were seen in soft shirting at Proenza Schouler and Alice & Olivia."If a lot of designers have gotten on the bandwagon for pre-fall as a season for warm weather clothes, not everyone is there yet. "After all, [regarding] the conversation about see-now-buy-now and improved seasonal appropriateness, at the very least, as part of the solution to stimulate continually flagging demand, we were disappointed to see many true fall offerings for what should essentially be a transitional time," said Linda Fargo, senior vice president, fashion office and store presentation, Bergdorf Goodman. "The collections we're buying for now are slated to be delivered in May and June, just when actual summer hits in most parts of the world. There just weren't enough offerings to address that fact."Fargo and her team "responded where we could by picking up on lighter weights; pops of color; florals; denim; khaki; stripes, summer velvets and satins as a way to address the issue and still provide newness."Kalinksy was looking for uniqueness and creativity — and he took it wherever he could find it."You see trends during pre-fall, but what’s really import to us is to buy into the individuality of each collection," he said. "When you go to Chanel, Balenciaga and Gucci, you’re looking to address an individual trend across the collection. You’re looking for newness in each of collections and things that will resonate with customers."Antonia Giacinti, owner of Antonia in Milan, also said pre-fall collections can be tricky to merchandise."Since the period of presentation lasts for so long, sometimes we run the risk of buying the collections without a fil rouge, which is what provides an identity to our stores, marking them with a very precise image," she said.

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