Trans-seasonal styles from Carolina Herrera, Bottega Veneta and Versace.

Timing is everything.

This story first appeared in the October 12, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Designers who want to play the instant fashion game have to negotiate a supply chain that starts with fabric and fiber choices that address weight and comfort.

“See-now-buy-now is a function of the consumer and their demands,” said Stuart McCullough, managing director at The Woolmark Co. “In my view, it’s being driven by the Gen Y consumer who is not used to waiting, and whose lives are structured around immediacy. No longer are seasons as relevant, with product now dropping into stores at irregular intervals and available in all corners of the globe, especially through online shopping. As such, fabrics that have trans-seasonal appeal have become ever more important.”

Lightweight and naturally thermo-regulating, merino wool can keep wearers warm in the winter, but also cool in the summer by drawing moisture vapor away from the body, he said.

“It makes sense, then, that so many designers used merino wool in their recent spring 2017 collections,” McCullough said. “Jason Wu, for example, used it in a series of beautiful dresses and coatdresses, elevating them with metallic finishes.”

Wu said, “The flux in global climate patterns means there is now a blur in seasonality in fashion. With these changes, merino wool is becoming increasingly important in my collection because of its trans-seasonality and versatility.”

This year’s International Woolmark Prize women’s wear winner, Teatum Jones, has begun to drop its winning collection into global retailers from Harvey Nichols in London to David Jones in Sydney.

“The climate varies considerably in September, so the need for a collection to have trans-seasonal appeal is essential,” McCullough added. “Key to this collection are 17.5 and 19.5 micron merino wool dresses and fine wool knits, as well as a wool lace appliqué, developed in collaboration with a guipure lace mill in France. That sort of creative development of wool points to the inherent possibilities of the fiber, no matter the season.”

Tricia Carey, director of global business development at Lenzing Fibers, said, “Advances in technology for fibers, yarns, weaving and finishes can create fabric effects like bulky fabrics that are lightweight.”

Tencel fibers are commonly blended and utilize varying wash treatments so they’re appropriate to wear year-round.

Carey noted that the time has passed when people would change their wardrobe by season. “Consumers do not have the time to manage this process or think this way any longer. Modern dressing is to add or subtract layers to adjust to the temperature. Stores even merchandise apparel this way for multiple sales.

“We are now living the influence of activewear and technology,” she added. “Merging these two areas, even in denim, is leading to universal fabrics that are multifunction and not season-specific.”

Fabrics with thermo-regulating properties are key for growth in the segment, according to Dagmar Signer, director of marketing and communications at Switzerland’s Schoeller Textil. The company launched its Cosmopolitan collection of functional fabrics two seasons ago. Innovations include technical fabrics with micro-encapsulation that absorbs heat and redistributes it to the body to balance temperature, and “fashionable” materials that combine wool with a membrane to make the wool water and weather-proof.

Regardless of season, cotton is the number-one fiber used in major women’s and men’s wear categories in U.S. retailers, accounting for about 60 percent of offerings on a fiber-weight basis, according to research from Cotton Incorporated.

Data for the second quarter showed cotton with a 64 percent share of products at U.S. stores by fiber weight, followed by 23 percent for polyester, 8 percent for rayon and 6 percent for other fibers.

A survey from Cotton Inc.’s Lifestyle Monitor revealed 60 percent of consumers said cotton-rich styles are best suited for today’s fashions, scoring well for being most comfortable, sustainable, trustworthy, authentic, versatile and durable. About 54 percent said they are more loyal to brands and retailers who use natural fibers like cotton and wool.

Yvonne Johnson, director of product development at Cotton Inc., said, “The concept of seasonal fabrics goes back to the days of not wearing white after Labor Day and that’s certainly changed.”

She said the instant fashion approach does lend itself to making fabric choices that maybe wouldn’t have been made before, likely with a focus on fabrics that have longevity in availability and style appeal, “that can transcend seasons, that have a comfort level, as opposed to a polyester-lined wool jacket that has a limited seasonality.”

Fabric blends have become more important at all price levels. Blends allow for a wider range of fabric attributes, from hand and drape to weight and performance. Johnson said cotton is being blended more with wool to bring warmth and breathability together, and with Tencel, which adds drape and a luxurious sheen.

Teodora Nicolae, marketing manager for Texworld USA, said, “We do as much market research as possible to figure out where the industry is going, to provide products that people will be looking for. We’ve noticed the in-season trend in spending time talking to buyers before and after the shows.”

Nicolae said Texworld has implemented a selection committee to help take market intelligence into use. “If we find more buyers looking for seasonless fabrics, or fabrics that aren’t necessarily for fall 2018, which is the seasonal focus of our January show, we’ll be able to curate that offer and exhibitors to [accommodate buyers at] the show.”

Starting in January, Texworld’s Trend Forum will showcase “best of show” instead of a broad trend array. “We’re going to take the best of what the exhibitors are showing, and I assume a lot of them will be seasonless fabrics because we have a lot of elite exhibitors that focus on one specific type of fabric — shirting, knits, silk prints — so our attendees will be able to find a lot more variety in that forum.”

While the instant fashion trend is more prevalent in the U.S. and U.K. at this point, many European mills that supply American and British labels have stepped up to serve their needs. The change is more evolutionary for some mills, according to Pascaline Wilhelm, fashion director of Première Vision Paris, who added that demand so far has not risen for trans-seasonal fabrics. With clients based in different hemispheres, trans-seasonal offerings have always been part of fabric collections, and tend to be more classic and commercial in character, she said. But mills nonetheless “remain focused on seasonal collections.”

“If anything is impacting the field, it’s the active leisure trend, which is pushing demand for functional fibers that adapt to different climactic conditions,” she said. “The sector is seeing a lot of innovations regarding natural functional fibers. Synthetics were imitating wool, drapery — now the innovations involve real wool — it has nothing to do with [hippie] cool, but real functionality.”

The change has been faster in Italy. The Milano Unica trade show moved its fall 2018 edition up to July from September 2017 partly owing to “see-now-buy-now” collections. Show president Ercole Botto Poala said the choice was made in “rapid” response to changes affecting the fashion industry. The calendar shift will give U.S. customers more time to work on their collections. The burden is on mills to produce their collections early.

“See-now-buy-now means we need to be ready, and we’re really trying to meet the market’s needs,” Botto Poala said, “but it won’t be easy for companies to be ready with their collections two months early.”

At Première Vision Paris’ recent show, Eurojersey presented a range of innovations under its Sensitive Fabrics range geared to any occasion or season.

“Brands from the lifestyle segment are looking at technical fabrics and exploring new types of manufacturing, such us bonding, sew-free technology, taping and laser-cutting as well as raw edge, which is making a big comeback,” said Andrea Crespi, Eurojersey’s managing director, adding the Sensitive Fabrics are lightweight, breathable and noncurling, while offering a high level of UV protection. “They are fresh and breathable, but at the same time structured and high-performance…and lend themselves to cutting-edge tailoring techniques.”

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