December 16, 2011 9:57 pm

The problem with pre-fall

There are some who find the concept mind-boggling. But there are two fashion breeds whose needs are satisfied by it

’Tis the season for ... pre-fall. Hah! Bet you thought I was going to say something about chestnuts roasting on an open fire. But no. For while outside it might be all bell-ringing santas and frost-covered store windows, in showrooms from New York to Paris it is next June. Or May, in some cases.

But not May or June as you and I know it – when temperatures start to go up and bikini-bared stomachs get sucked in – but May/June as fashion knows it, when coats and sweaters replace bathing suits in stores. It’s enough to turn any calendar-sensitive consumer into the Grinch.

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Vanessa Friedman

Given that I am the kind of person who even at her most organised does not think about buying winter coats until at least September, I find the concept of pre-fall something of a mind-game. Indeed, Michael Kors, who was first out of the gate for the pre-fall season, said the problem was rooted in the name, “pre-fall.”

And it’s true, if you think about it. Pre-fall. What is that? Isn’t that ... summer? But these clothes are not summer clothes. Or not really, though they do have summer elements (Kors, for example, included ultra-cool tank tops with leather mini-harnesses under his neat cashmere coats, and at Reed Krakoff there were double-layered sleeveless silk tux dresses). Try saying it three times fast, though: pre-fall pre-fall pre-fall. Sounds like freefall. Not an optimum association.

Indeed, Kors hates the name so much he has his sales staff refer to the collection, in stores, as simply a “new drop”. They don’t call it pre-fall.

That works for me, although it also plays down the importance of pre-fall as a season, or fashion’s version of a season, which is not insignificant as far as revenues and aesthetics go. As Christophe Mélard, chief executive of Sergio Rossi, told me when we were chatting in his showroom while looking at pre-fall, it’s an opportunity to introduce products as full price at a time when stores would otherwise be full of the spring/ summer sales. You can’t fight the ka-ching factor.

Anyway, Kors was considering launching a competition on his Facebook page to see who could come up with the best replacement name but it seems to me the easiest way to think of all this would be to split the current two main seasons – spring/summer and autumn/winter – into four, with the spring and the autumn parts referring to the pre-collections, and summer and winter hitting the main ones. If it doesn’t entirely obey the natural calendar, at least it has its own internal rhythm and reflects the fair share that pre-fall and pre-spring (aka cruise – don’t get me started), play in a brand’s bottom line.

In which case, I think it is my responsibility to review it. However, as the pre-fall collections, unlike the spring/summer ones, are not organised but rather strung out over a period of about nine weeks with Christmas and New Year in the middle, and some of the collections are shown on the runway and others just on hangers and a model or two in a showroom, this is complicated; waiting for a critical mass is a bit like waiting for Godot.

. . .

What I can tell you is that, of what I’ve seen so far (Michael Kors, Oscar de la Renta, Reed Krakoff, Calvin Klein), there seems to be a universal relaxing into the aesthetic comfort zone, a perfecting of the personal style vernacular.

Models in Calvin Klein dress and felt suiting

To wit: Francisco Costa’s coolly proportioned (waists nipped-in but a bit too high, shoulders a bit too large) take on 1950s felt suiting and dresses at Calvin Klein (pictured, right);sparkling tweed lunch looks at Oscar de la Renta; elegant ribbed cashmere-meets-tissue-paper leather-meets-silk-meets-neoprene at Reed Krakoff; and, at Kors, asymmetric flounced hemlines, high in front and floor-sweeping at back.

Kors says pre-fall is primarily for two types of people. First are crazed fashion types who can’t wait to buy their coats in June; hence the preponderance of tailored cloth styles at Kors, Klein and Krakoff with the twist at each being, respectively: a collar that wraps around the body to turn into a belt, so the coat lies perfectly through the waist; a princess style with belted waist and pleating in the back; and a collarless coat worn over a long tailored vest.

As for the second pre-fall person, think Hollywood stars who need something new for the awards season, which starts this month with nominations for the Golden Globes and SAG awards (not to mention the ceremony for the British Independent Film Awards). “They don’t want runway any more,” Kors says. “It’s been seen!” It’s so next season. No wonder, thus, Oscar de la Renta peppered his collection with a finale of flashbulb-fantastic goddess gowns in lamé and bronze guipure lace (pictured, left) embroidered in 24-carat sequins and paillettes that can go straight to Los Angeles. In fact, I rather expect they are on aircraft now.

So here’s an idea: forget pre-fall. Call these collections pre-show. The pre-show shows? It has a certain inane accuracy.

vanessa.friedman@ft.com

More columns at www.ft.com/friedman

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