View Slideshow

NEW YORK — Long skirts, slouchy pants, military jackets and fur-trimmed items are some of the early winners with stores shopping for pre-fall.

The timing of pre-fall, which typically opens in January, is becoming increasingly important for designers trying to get a jump on their competition. In an aggressive move, Oscar de la Renta opened its pre-fall collection on Dec. 15 — a month earlier than last year — to be more in sync with European designers, to try to improve deliveries and to have more time to sell more product at full-price, said Alex Bolen, de la Renta’s chief executive officer.

The company has seen a 35 to 40 percent increase in pre-fall orders in a variety of classifications, including blouses, long evening gowns, daytime suits and separates. In that regard, the growth has been consistent with the past year as the company has expanded the breadth of its collection, Bolen said.

Having seen pre-fall collections from de la Renta, Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors and Donna Karan, Roopal Patel, women’s fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman, said there will be “a much more sophisticated way of dressing for fall.” What that all means is there will be more longer jackets, such as barn and riding jackets trimmed with fur worn with midcalf-length skirts. Long and slouchy pants “look very fresh” after several seasons of cropped pants, Patel said.

There are also military touches such as epaulets and sterling silver details on a short double-breasted leather jacket. Embroidery and fur details hint at “a luxurious bohemian look or Jade Jagger influence that runs through some collections,” Patel said. In terms of the color palette, designers have taken a more straightforward and subdued approach with pale and charcoal gray, chocolate brown, cognac and ivory being the dominant shades.   

So far, so good, according to Neiman Marcus’ senior vice president and fashion director Joan Kaner, who has seen pre-fall from Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren. “What we’re seeing looks good and we’re excited about it.”

The Victorian-inspired combo of fitted jackets worn with longer skirts should be a key look, as well as wool jersey. Kaner also said she sees a return to a darker palette, such as lots of gray, black, dark blue and dark wine.

This story first appeared in the February 2, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

She, for one, was happy to hear more designers say they will unveil pre-fall on their runways. “There seems to be no breathing space for anyone. Pre-fall is usually an important buy and a large buy,” she said. “If they show at least a portion of pre-fall, that’s good. Customers can see it and know what it’s about.”

For the first time, Vera Wang plans to show pre-fall on the catwalk next week. The designer has bolstered her ready-to-wear offerings for fall compared with a year ago, said Susan Sokol, president.

“The old format for pre-fall was a more merchandised collection,” Sokol said. “For us, it’s more runway-driven product. It made more sense to show as one collection and then we can indicate the earlier deliveries.”

Michael Kors has introduced its first pre-fall collection and retailers are interested in the designer’s black-and-white tweed group, a black leather fur-trimmed double-breasted jacket, black distressed jeans, bouclé jackets and black bouclé dresses with necklace detail, said a spokeswoman for Kors.

“Retailers are excited because it brings product onto their floors in May and keeps the Michael Kors assortment, as well as their floors, fresh and new,” the spokeswoman said.

Feminine tailored jackets paired with pleated pants is a key pre-fall look for Ralph Lauren. The designer has doubled his pre-fall offerings compared to a year ago, a company spokeswoman said. Ralph Lauren looks at pre-fall and runway as one statement for the season and designs both collections at the same time.

“Stores are buying a higher percentage of the pre-fall line and we’re seeing an overall lift,” she said.

At Donna Karan, stores are homing in on key pieces such as military jackets, chiffon blouses and voluminous, pleated skirts and jersey dresses, said Felita Harris, director of collection sales.

“We’ve also had a lot of calls from specialty stores who are hearing the buzz about the collection and want to come in to see it,” Harris said.

Diane von Furstenberg is planning for a 40 percent increase in pre-fall orders, due largely to a strong reaction from East Coast and international retailers, said president Paula Sutter. Jacquard suits, full skirts in chiffon and charmeuse, gray wool men’s-inspired pants with tie jacquard details and wrap dresses have been popular items, Sutter said.