With brands and retailers feeling pressure to produce fresh, sharable ideas on a consistent basis, most would agree downsizing content in any way would be a step in the wrong direction — more isn’t just more, their customers demand it.
So in February, when Burberry’s chief creative and chief executive officer, Christopher Bailey, announced the brand would be scaling back on runway shows (from four yearly to two), it came as a bit of a shock. The plan? Its menswear looks would be shown on its women’s ready-to-wear runways, and pre-season collections (resort and pre-fall) would also be included.
“We’re just thinking more about what will we have in the store. It will be more of a creative capsule approach than just two collections per season,” Bailey told Women’s Wear Daily.
In order to appeal to shoppers in every climate, Bailey decided to label his shows after the months they debut — “February” and September” — rather than “Fall” and “Spring.” Recently, Mary Katrantzou revealed she is taking a cue from Bailey: She will be labeling her resort and pre-fall collections “November” and “May,” respectively.
At this point, such changes to the fashion calendar are simply expected among fashion followers. The pre-fall collections are clearly caught up in the changes, but it’s no reflection of their stability. They’re important as ever.
Currently a few weeks into the Pre-Fall 2017 season (it started on November 28, according to CFDA’s fashion calendar), it’s clear that popular designers are invested in the season’s success. More than 70 have debuted pre-fall collections, and pre-fall shows are on the calendar through January.
“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,” said Katie Smith, Senior Retail Analyst at Edited.
What’s more, the lack of downtime between spring and fall (pre-fall collections hit stores in June and hang around for up to six months) can help a brand’s internal workings: “Not only is there a more constant cash flow, but by manufacturing throughout the year and keeping communication channels with buyers open year-round, their processes may actually speed up,” Smith said.
Michael Kors told Vogue Runway his pre-fall styles typically make up 65 to 70 percent of his retailers’ fall buys. In preparation, he debuted a collection peppered with fall-perfect coats, in addition to transitional pieces. On the same note, Christian Siriano revealed his pre-fall collections make up the bulk of his business. They sit in stores longer than his other collections, he explained — so for Pre-Fall 2017, he upped his number of looks to nearly 60, the most he’s shown for the season.
A strong pre-fall lineup is especially crucial for Irish contemporary designer Orla Kiely because she owns several retail locations. “Pre-collections are important to us as they give our stores a seasonal refresh,” she said. This year, she debuted a capsule collection that’s easy to mix and match.
“Usually, Q2 and Q3 have fewer new products introduced than Q1 or Q4,” Smith said, which makes pre-fall collections critical elements of retailers’ content. What’s more, pre-fall collections have historically had the longest full-price run in retail. “They’re introduced at a safe distance from Black Friday and holiday discounting, and miss the summer sales,” Smith said.
Consequently, designers have long ensured their commerciality by focusing them on updates to their most wearable core pieces. Those who don’t fall back on safe styles tend to preview fall ideas or build upon spring themes. Already this season, Altuzarra and Sachin & Babi have called their collections continuations of Spring 2017. Kiely turned out a bold graphic collection — “Back to our signature roots,” she said.
But in terms of predictability, that’s about where it ends with pre-fall. For starters, collections drop on a seemingly random schedule, over a period of months rather than a four-week span. What’s more, their presentations are widely varied: Missoni debuted its lineup on models mingling at a cocktail party at its Madison Avenue store in New York City. Chanel, on the other hand, employed a star cast to walk a “runway” that wove through the Ritz in Paris.
In addition, the featured product isn’t confined to a specific season. Some looks are ultra-summery, while others are true preludes to fall, heavy in layers and knits, and anchored by boots. As a result, Diane von Furstenberg’s new creative director, Jonathan Saunders, felt the need to rename his lineup for the timeframe: Full of slip dresses, wrap dresses, and gingham, he labeled it a summer collection. Others, including Lela Rose, could easily have done the same.
Overall, compared to pre-seasons past, there has been an overwhelming amount of fresh, noteworthy ideas for Pre-Fall 2017. For instance, Coach launched an original ode to America, complete with prairie skirts and Nasa sweatshirts. And Tory Burch revealed a heavily gilded, embroidered collection inspired by a new muse, Milanese furniture designer Gabriella Crespi.
Pre-fall collections don’t often receive much press — in fact, Business of Fashion recently revealed in an article that it would no longer be reviewing them as doing so “doesn’t serve the interests” of its community. However, they work wonders to keep fashion fans engaged. What’s more, they help tell brands’ stories, which have become key focuses in recent seasons.
In October, during a Glossy podcast, Rachna Shah, managing director of fashion PR company KCD, stressed the importance of brand storytelling — and voiced her concern for current brands that don’t understand it. She used the example of those that still produce just five campaign images, thinking they’re enough to sustain momentum for a season. Thanks to social media, she said, such is no longer the case. “There’s a bigger story that people are interested in.”
For now, pre-season collections are key chapters in the book, or posts in customers’ feeds.
“Consumers demand newness and are used to an ‘endless scroll’ style of receiving information and product,” said Smith. “Pre-Fall plugs this perfectly and is a vehicle for newness at an otherwise stagnated point in the retail year,” said Smith.
Chanel image via Now Fashion.