Last week was menswear week in London – see Charlie Porter’s review – but in New York, it was womenswear everywhere. On Monday I saw eight “pre-fall” collections. Tuesday I saw another and, on Wednesday, I saw a 10th. What did I see? Well, tailored wool jackets. Mini-skirts. Prints – leopard and cheetah and floral and what Carven’s Guillaume Henry described as “sort of layered posters for Françoise Hardy albums”. Tuxedo dressing. And evening gowns. Lots and lots of evening gowns.
But the latter aren’t for pre-fall – that is, from next June/July until November, when this ridiculously named “season” is stocked in shops. The gowns are for tomorrow.
Yes, that’s right, tomorrow – that is, the beginning of awards season, which kicks off on Sunday with the Golden Globes, followed by the Baftas on February 10, and the Oscars on February 24.
The Oscars used to take place in March, conveniently just after the autumn/winter fashion shows, so designers could jet straight from the catwalk to LA to outfit nominee(s). But when the date was moved forward, pre-fall became, for celebrities and those who dress them, the de facto red-carpet season.
It was Michael Kors who best parsed the situation in his presentation last December. Amid a show of Capri trousers, batwing angora sweaters, leather frocks and floral sheath dresses inspired by 1950s stars like Elizabeth Taylor and Ava Gardner, he said: “Today’s stars don’t want spring/summer clothes – the ones we showed in September. Those are OLD by now. They want clothes that haven’t been seen. They want the latest.”
The stars (or their stylists) want, in other words, pre-fall. And designers have stepped forward to oblige.
It’s a pretty clever set-up: despite the fact that pre-fall is on-shelf at full price longer than any other seasonal collection, and hence is a major profit-spinner for most brands, it doesn’t have a marketable show or major ad campaign to promote it. Doesn’t make sense, I know, but then much about fashion doesn’t make sense, be it harem pants or buying bathing suits in the depths of February and fur coats in June.
However, by clothing celebrities for their pre-awards lunches, press conferences and red carpets in pre-fall, designers not only satisfy that never-before-seen sartorial requirement but, in return, are provided with, effectively, free advertising for the collection. It’s a neat quid pro quo.
Back in the day, pre-fall was a bridge between spring and autumn – think silk cardigans, neat jackets, dresses with sleeves. Now it’s that and more: everything from leather T-shirts (as seen at Reed Krakoff and Calvin Klein) to sundresses with matching car coats (wear ‘em alone in July and together in September!), tailored collage knits (Narciso Rodriguez) and boxy lace mini-skirt suits (Louis Vuitton). All finished with a flourish of over-the-top gowns.
The immediately post-9/11 Golden Globes red carpet was played down but, from Oscar de la Renta’s beaded taffeta numbers to Nina Ricci’s pleated champagne dress and a va-va-voom body-hugging jacquard at Rochas, it has rebounded to a Marie Antoinette extreme, recession or not. Kors did make a plea for dressed-down cool, noting of his black sweater tucked into a black fishtailed ball skirt: “Celebrities don’t like to wear black but it looks so cool. I wish they’d be more daring.” But generally, escapism is the order of the season.
And there are plenty of Golden Globe nominees to embrace it. It’s a good year for fashion plates, with Best Actress in a Drama nominees Jessica Chastain, Naomi Watts, Rachel Weisz and Marion Cotillard; Best Actress in a Comedy nominees Jennifer Lawrence and Emily Blunt; Best Supporting Actress nominees Anne Hathaway, Nicole Kidman and Amy Adams. The TV gang includes Sienna Miller, Julianne Moore and Prada-philes Lena Dunham and Zooey Deschanel. All of them ensuring eyeballs on a dress and, ideally, consumers in stores.
Indeed, this is now so reliable that instead of putting money on celebrities to win certain gongs, I’d put money – if I were a betting gal – on them to wear certain pre-fall dresses (or personalised permutations thereof). To be specific: a sky-blue satin gown from Nina Ricci with black rose appliqués; a silver draped, fringed and beaded Oscar de la Renta; an asymmetric champagne silk cocktail-length frock with a shoulder ruffle from Lanvin – or the leopard-print silk from the same; the sartorial equivalent of a starburst on the night sky from Carolina Herrera; and a gold lamé caped gown (“Every girl should have a gold dress,” said designer Peter Dundas) and black velvet-on-chiffon peekaboo sheath from Pucci. To name a few.
Then what would I do with my winnings? Save them until summer, of course, when pre-fall finally shows up in stores – although by then I will have seen autumn/winter and presumably be filled with desire for those dresses instead. And so the fashion cycle continues …
More columns at www.ft.com/friedman