The name “pre-fall” doesn’t accurately describe the current fashion season that began at the end of November and lasts throughout January. It’s really a non-season season: Designers put out collections featuring a mix of warm and cold weather wears, items that can sit on department store floors and in online retailer lineups for a few months without being marked down by discounts. The collections are money makers, too, padding out the spring collections with core wardrobe items that customers often flock to.
While still a commercially viable season, pre-fall is facing changes along with every season in the fashion calendar. And the nature of the far-flung show season — it’s geographically diverse, with looser time restrictions over nearly two months — has made it a blank slate for brands to experiment with how, and where, they debut new items.
“Pre-fall has always been a good business driver, from a sales perspective rather than an image and marketing perspective,” said Rony Zeidan, the founder of the agency Ro NY. “It’s been the hidden-away child that actually runs the business, but the fact that brands are now having presentations shows that they’re following their customers to become more relevant.”
Being relevant to customers means seeking out the proper market. This week, Valentino held its pre-fall show in New York for the first time, with a dinner followed by a runway presentation taking place at The Beekman Hotel in lower Manhattan. (It wasn’t the brand’s New York debut, however — its Couture 2014 collection was also shown in the city.) Valentino, which typically shows in Milan, chose the new backdrop to debut a pre-fall collection largely consisting of blouses, sneakers and fur stoles. Missoni followed suit: The Milan-based brand held its presentation in New York, at its Madison Avenue store. Givenchy staged its pre-fall presentation at three different locations in Copenhagen: the Vega concert hall, the Hotel Astoria and a gas station. Each backdrop corresponded to a different theme for the collection, which included both men’s and women’s clothing.
Missoni’s in-store presentation, which was in December, took the shape of a party, a loosened-up alternative to the traditional runway show.
“I think it was the right moment to show our pre-fall collection in New York,” Angela Missoni, the brand’s 20-year creative director, told Forbes. “There are many people that I don’t know in the business, and I thought it would be nice to have a little event. The United States has always been a good market for Missoni, and I think we need to become stronger.”
Missoni’s not the only brand to find value in a pre-fall party: Stella McCartney staged her pre-fall presentation at the Cotton Club in New York’s Harlem, more of a party than a fashion show, headlined by Alicia Keys.
Now that fashion shows are broadcast across multiple social media platforms, designers are recognizing that a star-studded party, rather than a monotonous runway show, ups the engagement level for observers. Customers will largely end up seeing and shopping the pre-fall collections on sales floors for months — like many retailers, Net-a-Porter’s annual buys of the season’s collections are larger than that of the tentpole runway seasons of spring and fall. So, building up some consumer buzz around the events makes sense.
“Companies’ dollars are being spent on a direct-to-consumer approach, hence social media is very valuable in driving purchases,” said Zeidan.
The season also falls into the ‘more is more’ mindset that some designers have adopted as customer demand for newness increases. As Edited senior analyst Katie Smith recently told Glossy: “When brands are struggling to engage today’s increasingly brand disloyal consumers, the seamless transition between [main] seasons helps keep the conversation running between brand and consumer.”
That conversation can sound tone-deaf throughout the year, though. Resort collections (which are made up of warm-weather garments, shown in the summer and put on sale the following winter) feel more like a relic of fashion’s past than a sensical business play for a modern brand — particularly when brands like Chanel and Louis Vuitton invite controversy by staging lavish runway shows in lesser-privileged areas, like Havana, Cuba and Rio de Janeiro.
Pre-fall isn’t safe from fashion’s current identity crisis, either. Since presentations take place during the winter and items are put on sale in the summer, brands are meeting the same disconnect that has put the traditional fashion calendar in jeopardy, sparking the see-now-buy-now movement. As a result, some brands like Mary Katrantzou and Burberry have pushed back: Mary Katrantzou refers to pre-fall and resort as “May” and “November,” respectively, while Burberry will only be showing twice throughout the year, with collections dubbed “February” and “September.”
Zeidan foresees a future of the fashion calendar where brands either retreat to two tentpole shows per year, or commit to monthly or bi-monthly item drops.
“Right now, there’s got to be some change, something’s going to give,” he said. “Brands are all over the place.”