Last weekend I experienced an unfamiliar clothing trauma (I know, I shouldn’t admit it). Coming from New York, where it was muggy and 32C, to Europe, where it was 13C and rainy, via a stop in London to see the Chime for Change concert, with two black-tie events and a conference on the menu, I was paralysed by the question of what to wear. Having decided June qualified as summer, and having packed away my winter wardrobe, I simply couldn’t get my head around what I knew I needed to bring, which involved the words “cashmere” and “knit”. It felt philosophically wrong.
Generally, as I have written before, I have a wardrobe stocked with clothing bought to solve specific problems (black-tie work events, where you need to be fancy but appropriately covered; pre-work meetings with your children’s teachers, where it’s better not to be too glossy) but the transformation of climate into a fungible concept has proved difficult. Having been trained to think in a spring/summer vs autumn/winter dialectic, I find it difficult to accept a new philosophy. Even though, to paraphrase Francis Fukuyama, it increasingly seems the End of Seasons is nigh.
This goes for clothing as well as climate. I am not just talking here about global warming (or cooling). I’m talking about the growing tension between how fashion collections are currently named – like said spring/summer and autumn/winter – a legacy of a seemingly more straightforward past, and the relevance these collections have to the actual climate at the time they appear in stores.
After all, not only do they have to respond to unpredictable weather patterns but also globalisation (how can you have a collection defined by a season when many of your consumers live in the opposite hemisphere and have different seasons?), and an increasingly complex selling cycle.
This has been much in the fashion conversation anyway, as we are deep in “resort” shows. These once-tiny collections are meant to fill the gap between A/W and S/S deliveries and to provide a niche wardrobe to be worn while on Christmas holiday in a, well, resort. They have now grown to become one of the two most important collections of the year. Because resort is on the shelves, at full price, from November to May, it contributes more to a brand’s bottom line than its more touted spring/ summer cousin. As does pre-fall, which has just hit stores, when compared with autumn/winter.
As a result, both resort and pre-fall bridge warm and cool climates alike, both contain every weight fabrication from silk and chiffon through to wool, and both have names rooted in a chronology that no longer makes any sense at all. Isn’t pre-fall actually summer? Isn’t resort actually winter? Depends where you are and in what month.
Not that the alternatives are much better. Many European brands call resort “pre-spring,” which creates situations like the one at Nina Ricci, which has introduced yet another mini-collection between its autumn/winter and pre-spring that should properly be known as pre-pre-spring, except that is really too silly to say, so they call it “Les Envies”. Others opt for “cruise”, which is similar to resort in its derivations, and equally meaningless (most of these clothes are not made for the water). That way madness lies. Or at least what Steve Jobs used to call “passionate debate”, as has been apparent as I and the rest of the fashion flock have migrated from the garment district on 7th Avenue to 14th Street, from atelier to studio, to see the American resort shows, which will be followed this Monday by most of the European shows. Save Dior, of course, which unveiled its cruise last month in Monaco, and Chanel, which took its line to Singapore – but those placements are a different story: one that has to do with new markets, and marketing.
For example, Oscar de la Renta asked, semi-rhetorically, at his recent presentation: “Resort?! Do you buy resort clothes?” The gathered editors all shrugged and looked abashed. “Of course you don’t,” the fashion designer crowed. “You buy clothes you like.”
Meanwhile, at his event last week, full of tennis-inspired leather mini-dresses and floor-length nude chiffon T-shirt gowns embroidered in silver leopard print, Michael Kors had another, very interesting, idea. To be specific, he said he had recently been at Holt’s, the Canadian department store, doing an event, and he told all the sales staff not to call their clients to tell them “pre-fall” was in store. Who wants pre-fall in June?
Kors said: “I told them to say ‘new stuff. New stuff has arrived that you should see.’” He looked around meaningfully and added: “Everyone likes new stuff.”
As a thesis, it’s harder to dispute than Fukuyama’s argument for the ultimate triumph of liberal democracy. Or am I over-thinking the matter?
More columns at www.ft.com/friedman