For Pre-Fall, One Size Doesn’t Fit All

On Planet Fashion, pre-fall is many things.

It’s the longest-running season, opening to buyers and press in November and wrapping up on the heels of spring couture in January. It’s undeniably one of the most commercially important seasons with merchandise sitting on the sales floor for up to six months. It’s also increasingly difficult to define, as designers take broad interpretations of what exactly “pre-fall” means clothes-wise. The moniker alludes to autumn, but the deliveries hit stores at the beginning of summer. Designers present everything from fur coats to cotton eyelet dresses.

It can confuse. So much so that in December of 2013, while presenting his pre-fall 2014 collection, Michael Kors rejected the “pre-fall” terminology altogether, telling WWD, “We banished the phrase pre-fall. Considering that in September it’s still warm, ‘pre-something’ that doesn’t actually happen until November makes no sense to me. It’s trans-season.”

More recently at Diane von Furstenberg, chief creative director Jonathan Saunders declared that as of pre-fall 2017 the brand will refer to the season simply “summer” — a name that more accurately reflects the timing of the delivery — with clothes to match.

Okay, so pre-fall is a silly name. Moving on. The more pressing issue for many designers is figuring out the wants and needs of their customers. As summer inches near, are shoppers on the hunt for easy, breezy pieces they can wear right away? Or are they taking the long view of their wardrobes, stocking up on knits and coats to save for fall?

It’s a question that continues to puzzle as shopping habits ebb and flow, and the answer, after surveying many designers on how to clarify pre-fall, seems to be that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.

“I think it’s going to be different for every designer,” said Christian Siriano, who maintains steady clientele in the Middle East and American South. “For us, it’s based on where our largest market is spending money and what type of climate they live in. Where most of our customers live, it’s warm most of the year. So even though I love a chic coat, I could never fill a collection with them.”

Prioritizing clothes that match the season in which they’re shipped hasn’t always been top of mind. Take Lela Rose, who launched pre-fall collection back in 2013. “When we originally started doing pre-fall, we designed it as literally pre-fall — having weights that were transitional and taking you into the fall season,” she said. “Now, we have completely transformed that delivery.”

Rose’s pre-fall collections currently include skirts and shirtdresses in cotton and other lightweight fabrics that are meant for function in the summer months. “We ship a little earlier than other brands — in April and May — so, we really have figured out that we need to be offering summer weights,” she said, noting that summer doesn’t always mean vacation. “Our customer is so event-focused with an entertaining lifestyle — she’s going to baby showers, graduations, weddings…It’s not beachy-casual. It’s more about: What do you want to wear to work in the summer while living in New York City, or in the South when you’re going out? What do you want to wear to a luncheon?”

Joseph Altuzarra used to approach pre-fall as a cold-weather season, too, but has shifted to a more diverse approach to accommodate his June ship date. “One of the main design challenges is addressing many different climates, end-uses and markets, while telling a cohesive story with a unique vision and look,” he said. “For us, it is really important to offer a variety of weights and styles to satisfy both a customer looking for a summer outfit in July that they can transition into fall, as well as someone buying a coat or knit that they can wear through the colder months.”

Sachin and Babi Ahluwalia of contemporary label Sachin & Babi have also fine-tuned their strategy to the weather, with their latest pre-fall lineup offering day and eveningwear looks in softer fabrics such as silk georgette and mikado. “Based on feedback from our brick-and-mortar retailers, we completely stopped producing outerwear for pre-fall as it is not being purchased,” Babi said.