Waiting for the fall

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 July, 2012, 12:00am

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There's that traditionally lacklustre period in stores when the spring sales rack has been ransacked, but shoppers aren't ready for the heavy commitment of autumn. But they still need something new to buy. Enter 'pre-fall'.

The category - now increasingly catered to by just about every designer label of note - is a growing one in an industry that needs to find ways to be all things, to all people, all the time. In much the same way that resort was a boon to fashionistas wanting to refresh their spring wardrobes before heading off on their summer holidays, pre-fall is here to fill that awkward gap between the ethereal lightness of maxi dresses and the elegant tailoring of a boucle jacket.

Pre-fall has been around as a category for about a decade. But it has only recently become an entity unto itself. Occasionally, the designs are even given their own fully-fledged shows. As a result, they have stepped into the limelight.

Michael Fink, former women's fashion director for Saks Fifth Avenue and the dean of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), says that, until recently, pre- fall was considered a more basic season. 'Luxury brands would replenish best-selling work silhouettes, presenting them in a new colour palette and perhaps modifying the silhouette,' he says.

The internet changed everything, providing real-time photos and coverage of all new collections.

'The entire world was in on the action,' says Fink. 'There was no mystery left.'

As a result, designers have had to up their game. That has endowed pre-fall with its own identity and a new verve.

'Pre-fall is now about delivering new fashion, new silhouettes and new technology before discounters can copy them,' says Fink. 'Luxury customers no longer want 'basics' from the luxury collections. They are buying those anywhere. They want fashion all the time.'

The brands are delivering. Chanel's pre-fall 2012 offerings dominated the blogosphere and captivated consumers. Creative director Karl Lagerfeld took fashion fans on a trip to India with his Paris-Bombay collection.

There were signature boucle dresses adorned with strands of luminous pearls and worn over tight churidar pants, breezy tunics that remained architecturally pure tossed over draped trousers, and shoulder details that resembled the artful toss of a sari.

That singular attention to detail is showing up across the high-end designer spectrum. From Yves Saint Laurent, there are impossibly sleek beige suits with lush fur trim and leopard-print boots - animal print motifs are a strong indicator for pre-fall this year. Salvatore Ferragamo has moss green printed separates and burgundy plaids.

From Emilio Pucci come eye-popping prints and cigarette-thin fuchsia pants. Valentino hews close to its signature red, now offering an evening gown with layers of organdie petals scattered across the skirt. From Gucci, there are flowery printed strapless maxi dresses, in case customers didn't get enough of those in the summer.

Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen doesn't disappoint with tailored neo-classics like a peony print on a black strapless evening dress, worn over leggings. Her designs possess a very distinctive couture sensibility.

It all goes to prove that pre-fall is nobody's poor relative. Mariana Leung, founder and editor of fashion blog msfabulous.com, says that because pre-fall is a transitional period from summer to winter, designers are apt to cull from the best of both words.

'Bolder, darker colours help ease the colour palette back to cooler temperatures,' she says. 'Fabrics might be slightly more structured, less transparent, more embellished.'

All the different designations - resort, cruise, pre-fall - are arguably just a way for design houses to stagger their offerings to retailers. Pre-fall, like resort, generally follows the overall aesthetic of the main spring and autumn collections. But it has now become more significant.

For that, fashion lovers everywhere are thankful.

What's my line?

Our pick of pre-fall looks

- Animal-print motifs are found on everything from boots to blazers.

- Ombre: shaded neutrals are given extra depth when colour treated.

- The resoundingly feminine silhouette of the 1950s appears in gorgeously constructed dresses and skirt suits. Very grown-up.

- Pants are either wide-legged and fluid, or slender and cropped. Slim cigarette pants work great with the elegantly tailored jackets.

- Red, as done by Valentino with his signature scarlet, is everywhere, providing a pop in the seas of beige.

- Brocades, velvet and gold glazing amp up the luxury quotient.